Nuke vote may highlight reality

By Joe hung

Premier Jiang Yi-hua is reported to have suggested he would have the future of Taiwan’s fourth nuclear power plant fully and publicly discussed and then seek a referendum to decide whether it should start operation or shut down. Media reports quoted him as telling the Kuomintang legislative caucus last Thursday he would “go with public opinion in the end and it’ll be the political decision.”

Well, Su Tseng-chang, chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party, wants a referendum on the nuclear power plant still under construction at Gongliao in New Taipei City, popularly known as Nuke 4. The opposition party began collecting signatures last year for initiating the referendum to shut down the Longmen Nuclear Power Plant, the official name given to Nuke 4 by its operator Taiwan Power Company.

As a matter of fact, he is planning to hold it alongside the seven nationwide local elections in one scheduled for November or December next year. Eligible voters will go to the polls to elect their municipal governors and municipal councilors, city mayors and county magistrates as well councilors, town chiefs and council representatives, and village/borough chiefs.

On the other hand, President Ma Ying-jeou wants to have construction of Nuke 4 completed, its safety tested by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the World Association of Nuclear Operators, and, if the tests prove it is safe to operate, let it start commercial operation. Last Friday night, however, he echoed Premier Jiang’s approach by telling Kuomintang lawmakers at a Nuke 4 discussion meeting “let us all make the decision together and let us all share the responsibility,” when he was asked if a referendum is an option to solve the issue. Construction on Nuke 4 began in 1997. It was delayed by President Chen Shui-bian, who is now doing time for corruption and graft. Chen had the construction suspended in 2000 because he wanted to scrap Nuke 4, a pet project of the previous Kuomintang administration. Construction resumed eight months later, delaying the commercial operation originally set for 2007 by three years with a loss of NT$400 billion (US$12 billion) in penalties, cost overruns and extra outlays. Taipower then delayed the operation, asking for NT$40 billion (US$1.2 billion) more to get the first of its two generating units started. After Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, triggered by the magnitude-9 earthquake of 2011, the operation is being delayed again, although construction is about 95-percent complete.

Why not hold a referendum? Not just for the future of Nuke 4 but on banning nuclear power altogether by decommissioning all three existing nuclear power plants in Taiwan as well to satisfy anti-nuclear politicians and some 30,000 activists all set to take to the streets in Taipei, Taichung, Kaohsiung and Taitung on March 9? Those in Taipei are planning to besiege the Presidential Mansion and keep a vigil at the Presidential Plaza to accentuate their opposition to keeping Nuke 4. President Ma’s nuclear power policy aims at ultimately creating a zero nuclear Taiwan. It may be just like his party’s ultimate objective to eventually reunify with China, which, of course, won’t be achieved in any foreseeable future. Unless there should occur some miracle, such as Taiwan being able to harness the Kuroshio or the Japan Current to generate enough power to supply all needs, a zero nuclear possibility seems unlikely.