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Government to accept referendum on 4th nuclear plant (update)

2013/02/25 18:22:59

Taipei, Feb. 25 (CNA) The government is willing to accept a referendum on the controversial Fourth Nuclear Power Plant project, Premier Jiang Yi-huah said Monday, amid mounting calls by anti-nuclear activists for the near-completed project to be scrapped.

Jiang said after meeting with ruling Kuomintang legislators that a referendum initiative will be put forth by the lawmakers.

If the initiative is finally adopted, the referendum is likely to be held in July or August, he said.

"The government will wait for the outcome of the referendum to decide whether to install nuclear fuel rods at the No. 1 reactor at the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant and go ahead with its commercial operations," he said.

At the same time, the government will continue testing on the plant's two reactors to ensure they are safe, he said.

To build people's confidence in the project, experts with credibility will be invited to re-examine the power plant, the premier said.

The referendum issue was discussed at a high-level government meeting held late Sunday, which led to the consensus to hold a referendum to let people decide whether the project should be continued, an unnamed official said.

A favorable outcome from the referendum would provide greater legitimacy for the project, the official explained.

The premier said Monday that many Taiwanese grew more concerned about the safety of nuclear power following the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan in March 2011.

But others, Jiang said, feel that the government should stick to its position in backing the use of the energy source.

He said he hoped that the referendum would promote rational debate on the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant and lead to a resolution of the contentious issue.

Jiang's announcement came as legislators from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party were planning to promote a referendum against completing the plant after the Legislative Yuan reopens Feb. 26.

To mark the second anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, meanwhile, more than 10 anti-nuclear groups in Taiwan will hold simultaneous protests in northern, central, southern and eastern parts of the island on March 9 to voice their opposition against the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.

Prior to making the announcement, Jiang consulted President Ma Ying-jeou many times and obtained Ma's full support, according to Presidential Office spokeswoman Garfie Li.

Economics Minister Chang Chia-juch said Monday his ministry will identify all of the problems in the project over the next two to three weeks and have the state-run Taiwan Power Company (Taipower) check and clarify each one.

Also Monday, Taipower officials said the company will fully comply with the government's decision to promote the referendum and will provide related information to facilitate discussions at pre-referendum public hearings.

According to Tsai Fu-feng, the company's spokesman on nuclear issues, the No. 1 reactor at the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant is now 95 percent complete, with 74 percent of the work tested.

Unless the project is voted down in the referendum, nuclear fuel rods will be installed at the reactor at the end of this year to pave the way for its commercial operations, Tsai said.

Hwang Jung-chiou, chairman of the company, said that if the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant is ultimately scrapped, it will have an effect on the country energy policy.

Although natural gas and coal can be used as alternatives to nuclear fuel, electricity generated by natural gas is more expensive, and coal power generation will increase carbon emissions, he said.

According to Taipower, the termination of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant would lead to huge losses, including the NT$330 billion (US$11 billion) that has been invested in the project so far, and NT$10 billion in compensation that would have to be paid to foreign contractors.

That translates to NT$15,000 in compensation that would have to be paid by each of Taiwan's 23 million citizens, the company said.

(By Lee Shu-hua, Lin Meng-ju, Chen Wei-ting and Y.F. Low)
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