The reason for the nuclear question

By Joe hung

Last Thursday, Kuomintang caucus whip Lai Shyh-bao unveiled the question the ruling party wants to ask in its proposed referendum on Taiwan’s Fourth Nuclear Power Plant at Gongliao, officially called Longmen Plant by its operator Taiwan Power Company, and known popularly as Nuke 4. The question is: “Do you agree to halt construction on the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant and to prevent it from becoming operational?” The Democratic Progressive Party is certainly opposed to such a question. Its chairman, Su Tseng-chang, declared that his party “cannot accept that kind of question,” condemning the Kuomintang for “taking a round-about way to get Nuke 4 to become operational.” Anti-nuclear activists took to the streets in Taipei and four other cities on Saturday to call for the scrapping of Nuke 4 and for Taiwan to be turned into a “Zero Nuclear Paradise.” However they may oppose, eligible voters will go to the polls this summer, probably before the end of August as the Central Election Commission has suggested, to answer “yes” or “no” to the question the Kuomintang wants to ask in the referendum. The opposition party has little chance of stopping the ramming through of the Kuomintang referendum proposal at the Legislative Yuan, even though its lawmakers would try to occupy the podium to abort a plenary session, just as they did to try to prevent the lifting of the ban on ractopamine-containing U.S. beef imports not too long ago.

K.C. Lee, executive secretary of the Citizen of the Earth Taiwan, said the reasons the Kuomintang presented to justify the referendum are “biased and dogmatic,” and that the referendum is “of no use,” vowing to hold more demonstrations and threatening to enforce weightier, unequivocal public opinion to “directly stop construction of Nuke 4.”

Well, Su and Lee are quite right in part of what they said. The Kuomintang wants to have Nuke 4 start operation by proposing a referendum that it is sure won’t pass. The Referendum Law stipulates that a referendum in which not more than 50 percent of the electorate does take part is null and void, and everybody knows there won’t be that much turnout come Referendum Day. That’s why the question asked is “agree to stop.” If invalid, the referendum permits Taipower to complete the construction of Nuke 4, which will then become operational. Lee is right because the referendum, even if passed, is “of no use.” Let me cite one example to prove Lee is right. Italy is the world’s third country to go nuclear-free. It held a referendum and began to phase out nuclear power in 1987, only a year after the world’s first nuclear disaster had occurred at Chernobyl. It closed down all of its four nuclear power plants, the last one in 1990. It had a moratorium on construction of nuclear power plants, which was originally effective from 1987 until 1998 but has been extended indefinitely. It needs electricity, of course.

So Italy imports it from its neighbor France, where nuclear-generated power is more than plentiful enough for export. In recent years, however, Italy’s largest electricity utility, Enel S.p.A, has been making investments in reactors in France and Slovakia to provide more imported electric power and in the development of the EPR (European Pressurized Reactor) technology.