Taiwan’s Premier Jiang Yi-hua said for the first time on Monday that the government may support a referendum on the island’s half-completed and hugely controversial fourth nuclear power plant.
The plant, in the coastal Kungliao district near the capital Taipei, is about 90 per cent completed and due to come on line in 2015, according to its owner state-run Taiwan Power Co (Taipower).
But opposition to the project has been mounting after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami ravaged a Japanese nuclear power plant in March 2011.
Jiang, who assumed office last week, surprised many on Monday by saying that the government, which had pushed for the costly project, is willing to hold a referendum on the issue.
“Through this process, we hope an issue that has troubled Taiwan for more than 20 years can be solved once and for all, so that Taiwan can regain momentum,” he said.
But the premier warned that the public would have to pay for scrapping the project, as it would face rising electricity prices and power shortages in the future.
The remarks came ahead of a huge anti-nuclear rally to be launched by the opposition and activists on Saturday.
Taipower operates three nuclear power plants, which supply about 20 per cent of the island’s power.
Construction of the new plant kicked off in 1999, but it has been the subject of intense political wrangling ever since.
Taiwan is regularly hit by earthquakes as the island lies near the junction of two tectonic plates.
In September 1999, a 7.6-magnitude quake killed around 2,400 people in what was the deadliest natural disaster in the island’s recent history.