Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou yesterday decided to halt construction of the island's fourth nuclear power plant in an attempt to head off yet another political crisis amid growing calls for the project to be scrapped.
The decision was made during a three-hour meeting with 15 ruling Kuomintang (KMT) mayors and magistrates to build consensus and find effective ways to address the issue.
At least three prominent KMT mayors - Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin, New Taipei Mayor Eric Chu Li-luan and Taichung Mayor Jason Hu Chi-chiang - have been sceptical about whether the project - 98 per cent completed - should continue. Chu has even called for a change to the rules governing referendums to improve the chances for a successful anti-nuclear result.
"Two resolutions were made during the meeting, including [a halt to] construction on the remaining part of the plant," KMT spokesman Fan Chiang Tai-chi said. He said authorities would first conduct safety inspections of the No 1 generator before sealing off the facility and halting construction of the No 2 generator.
"The second resolution is to hold a national conference on energy in order to ensure [the] normal supply of power" in Taiwan, Fan Chiang said. He said that only when the public called for the start-up of the plant in New Taipei City should a referendum be held.
On Friday, Ma had agreed to delay starting up the plant until a referendum was held, but gave no timetable for the vote.
Fan Chiang stopped short of saying whether a rule change for the referendum was discussed yesterday. Relaxing requirements is a major demand of anti-nuclear activists, who believe the rules concerning the number of eligible voters required to pass any measure are too strict.
Under current rules, half of all eligible voters - about nine million - must take part in the referendum and half of those who do must approve of the proposal for it to pass. Since 2004, national referendums have not attracted the requisite number of voters.
Su Tseng-chang, head of the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, has proposed that the threshold be lowered to 25 per cent of eligible voters, or about five million.
The meeting took place as thousands of anti-nuclear activists marched from Ma's office to Taipei Railway Station, where they occupied a four-lane avenue despite repeated police calls to disperse. Protesters shouted, "Scrap the fourth nuclear power plant" and "Revoke [the plant's] construction budget", as they rallied in a sit-in organisers vowed to continue until after Premier Jiang Yi-huah officially announced the KMT's resolutions. Other marchers demanded changes to rules on referendums.
But Mayor Hau warned against the illegal occupation, saying he would do all he could to "ensure that Taipei citizens regain their rights to use the road in the morning".