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Economic Daily News: Prevent nuclear referendum becoming nuclear storm

2013/02/27 21:07:08

A referendum will be held this summer to decide the fate of the controversial Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.

The decision to hold the referendum came amid growing domestic opposition to continued construction of the plant.

We applaud the government's courage in taking on the challenge in a positive manner and allowing all of our eligible voters to determine whether to continue or halt the project through a referendum.

Given the complexity of the issues involved in the project, we nevertheless feel compelled to remind President Ma Ying-jeou's administration that it needs to exercise prudence and wisdom in pre-referendum operations.

Otherwise, the referendum could spark a nuclear storm of immense magnitude rather than achieve the Ma administration's goal of quelling the squabbling.

Several reasons are behind the increasing intensity of the domestic anti-nuclear movement.

First and foremost, the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan has prompted more local people to question whether similarly earthquake-prone Taiwan should be host to yet another nuclear power plant.

Second, the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant has not been built in a turnkey style but has been constructed by many contractors, with state-run Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower) responsible for their integration.

Taipower is not known to have much experience with such operations and a number of construction flaws and deficiencies have been reported, all of which have eroded local people's confidence in the plant's safety prospects.

Third, the public is not confident in a government guarantee of the plant's safety because the Atomic Energy Council's credibility in overseeing nuclear power plants has been called into question and the Ma administration has come out obviously in favor of Taipower in previous debates on the issue.

Fourth, Taipower and the Economic Ministry's perceived attempts to intimidate local consumers by repeatedly claiming that electricity prices will skyrocket if the new nuclear plant project is scrapped has created further dissatisfaction.

Against this backdrop, the government should understand that referendum is by no means a panacea for the nuclear plant controversy.

Over the past few years, the government has not paid proper attention to the opposition to nuclear power generation and has only focused on warning people of possible electricity rate hikes if the new plant project is mothballed.

Therefore, the government should not overlook the importance of providing full exposure of data to back Taipower's claim of the safety of the plant in the run-up to the referendum.

While the opposition Democratic Progressive Party and anti-nuclear activists' aim of blocking the project through referendum might not succeed due to the prohibitively high threshold for referendums to become valid, the government should not take comfort in such a scenario.

Doubts about the plant's safety could get louder -- even if the referendum gives the government more legitimacy to complete the project -- if it fails to properly communicate with opposition parties and activists.

Moreover, the government should come up with convincing arguments to address Taipei and New Taipei residents' apprehensions about the safety of the plant which is located in their vicinity. (Editorial abstract -- Feb. 27, 2013)

(By Sofia Wu)