Ma calls for gradual nuclear reliance reduction

The China Post news staff

TAIPEI, Taiwan — President Ma Ying-jeou yesterday said Taiwan can gradually reduce its reliance on nuclear power, but it would be difficult to achieve this instantly. “The government will work hard to maintain nuclear safety, gradually reduce nuclear power, create a green-energy low-carbon-emission environment, and gradually head toward becoming a non-nuclear land,” Ma told a ruling Kuomintang (KMT) meeting in Keelung. “We can steadily reduce nuclear power, but it will be difficult to achieve that in one go,” Ma said, noting that currently Taiwan relies on imports for 90 percent of its energy use. He said the government will make sure the country’s Fourth Nuclear Power Plant is safe before allowing it to start operations. The fourth plant is being built in New Taipei City, but its ballooning budget and safety concerns have sent environmentalists and many in the general public calling for the government to abandon the project, as well as nuclear power completely. Ma’s latest talk partially echoed the stance of the environmentalists and the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), both of which have been calling for a non-nuclear island. The Ma administration has now decided to hold a referendum to decide the fate of Nuke 4, a facility which is meant to replace two retiring ones in New Taipei.

But, activists say, the president is clearly bent on continuing the new plant project, and has yet to put forth an alternative plan with which to achieve a gradual reduction in reliance on nuclear power.

Ma told the Keelung meeting in his capacity as KMT chairman that the Cabinet must fully tell the public about the pros and cons of the two choices to be decided by the referendum: continuing building the plant, or terminating the project. The government must tell the truth, he said. It must not lie to or intimidate the public, he added. He maintained that construction of the plant is almost complete, and tests are being run. Its safety will be determined by the Atomic Energy Council and foreign experts will also be employed to help with its pre-operation inspection, the president said. Meanwhile, former Premier Frank Hsieh of the DPP said his party must unite with other civilian groups to achieve the goal of freeing Taiwan of nuclear power.

It does not matter what policies the DPP will use to tackle the referendum, as long as an internal agreement is reached, he said.

The opposition party has been mulling whether it will propose another referendum to counter the Cabinet-proposed vote on Nuke 4. As it is very difficult to have a valid referendum because of its high turnout requirements, the Cabinet-proposed vote will ask the nation whether the plant project should be terminated. If the turnout fails to meet the requirement, it will mean that the nation wants the project to continue. Some have suggested that the DPP propose a vote asking whether the nuclear power plant project should continue. If it fails the turnout requirement, it will mean the nation does not want it to continue. But DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang has remarked that his party tends to not propose such a counter referendum. He said the main battleground will be in the Legislature, and the DPP will seek to lower the turnout requirements for referendums. The referendum law requires that for a vote to be valid, the turnout must be at least 50 percent.