DPP urges 'yes' vote to block nuclear plant

Opposition party leader says he will push to make it easier for referendum to pass

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 March, 2013, 4:17am

Taiwan's main opposition party has urged people to back a referendum on halting construction of a fourth nuclear power plant.

"All people must stand up at this historic moment to demonstrate their will to vote for the establishment of a nuclear-free homeland," the head of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, Su Tseng-chang, said yesterday.

To ensure it passes, Su vowed to fight for an amendment to the Referendum Act to lower the threshold for its success.

Under the act, more than half of eligible voters must turn out and more than half of the ballots must back the proposition.

Su said the DPP would join anti-nuclear civic groups in demonstrations across the island this weekend against the continued construction of the almost-complete project.

The DPP, which has long favoured a nuclear-free Taiwan, originally wanted to propose its own version of the referendum. But it was caught off-guard by the ruling Kuomintang, which plans to ask the legislature to pass a proposal for a referendum before August to put an end to the long-running dispute.

Su said given the high threshold for the referendum to pass, the KMT's proposal was just a gimmick to ease public pressure over the potential risks of the fourth nuclear power plant, following the meltdown at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in March 2011.

The KMT move came after Premier Jiang Yi-huah last month declared his support for a referendum to decide the fate of the project.

"Through this process, we hope the issue that has troubled Taiwan for more than 20 years can be solved once and for all, so that Taiwan can regain momentum," Jiang said. But he also warned of rising electricity prices and power shortages without a fourth plant.

Construction of the project in New Taipei City - previously known as Taipei county - in northern Taiwan began in 1999, but various stoppages due to protests and engineering problems have delayed its completion.

Tsai Fu-feng, a spokesman for the government-run Taiwan Power Company, which is building the plant, said it was now 95 per cent complete, with 74 per cent of the work tested. If the project is not voted down in the referendum, nuclear fuel rods are supposed to be installed in its No1 reactor by the end of this year to pave the way for commercial operation in 2015.

If the project is scrapped, as well as the problem of finding a substitute power source, there is also the question of the huge losses suffered by the company, including the NT$330 billion (HK$86 billion) invested so far, and NT$10 billion in compensation that would have to be paid to foreign contractors.

Jiang, who took over from Sean Chen as the head of the island's cabinet on February 18, said he was willing to resign to take responsibility if the referendum led to the halting of the project and the bankruptcy of the company.

He said finishing the project had long been a government goal, and if the referendum backed scrapping it, resignation would be his only choice.

Jiang said the government would invite foreign experts to help supervise the plant's safety.