TAIPEI (CNA) — Former New Taipei Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫), was criticized by leading figures in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on Feb. 26 after saying if elected as Taiwan’s president, he would be willing to re-start the fourth nuclear power plant project in the event of an energy shortage.

Chu has announced his intention to seek the Kuomintang (KMT) nomination for the presidency in 2020, after running in 2016 when he lost to the DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文).

Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) slammed Chu on Tuesday for changing his mind on the nuclear power plant issue, unlike the DPP, which Su said has always opposed the use of nuclear power.

Meanwhile, DPP spokeswoman Lee Yen-jong (李晏榕), criticized Chu for his flip-flopping on nuclear power.

As New Taipei mayor, Chu advocated “No Nuclear Safety, No Nuclear Power” and now in a bid to become a presidential candidate, he suddenly supports restarting the fourth nuclear power plant project regardless of sustainability, Lee said in a statement released Tuesday.

“Which is the real Eric Chu?,” Lee asked, accusing Chu of being dishonest.

In a newspaper interview on Monday, Chu, who was New Taipei mayor from 2010-2018 and served as KMT chairman from 2015-2016, said if elected president: “I would be willing to restart the fourth nuclear power plant” if a shortfall in energy supply raised national security concerns.

Chu also said he is confident the problem of nuclear waste disposal can be resolved while underlining that the fourth nuclear power plant project would only be restarted with the imposition of the strictest possible nuclear safety standards.

The presidential aspirant said nuclear power includes “three different layers of safety,” including the safety of the nation, public health and the safety of nuclear power, though he failed to address the thorny problem of nuclear waste disposal.

As mayor of New Taipei, home to three of the nation’s four nuclear power plants, Chu once asked: “How can nuclear power be used when one is unable to handle nuclear waste?”

There were many news reports that Chu opposed allowing commercial operations at the fourth nuclear power plant and favored mothballing the facility. He has also previously been reported as demanding aging nuclear power plants be decommissioned on schedule.

Chu’s apparent U-turn also drew criticism from the Presidential Office on Tuesday, which said it was surprised by his changing position.

Presidential Office spokesman Xavier Chang (張惇涵) said Chu was strongly opposed to the fourth nuclear power plant project as New Taipei mayor and advocated for a “nuclear-free home” when he ran for the presidency in 2016.

Chu’s willingness to restart the project, which was close to completion before being mothballed in 2015, so soon after stepping down as head of New Taipei was criticized by Chang.

“We are surprised and believe (with this policy change) it will be difficult (for Chu) to face the citizens of New Taipei,” he added.

In response to DPP criticism, KMT spokesman Ou-Yang Long (歐陽龍) said the party stands behind the will of the people, and the people voted for nuclear power in a referendum last year.

Restarting the fourth nuclear power plant project “would be a quick and efficient way to achieve the goal of a stable power supply,” Ou-Yang said.

By Sophia Yeh, Wang Yang-yu, Yu Hsiang and Elizabeth Hsu