Taipei, April 25 (CNA) President Ma Ying-jeou and the leader of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) engaged in a heated discussion Friday over the fate of the nearly complete fourth nuclear power plant, but they failed to come out of the 85-minute talk with any sort of consensus.
The televised talk with DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang was Ma's first formal meeting with an opposition leader since he became president in May 2008.
The two exchanged barbs and the occasional pointed comment during their discussion, which focused mostly on the DPP's wishes of scrapping the power plant and lowering the threshold for a national referendum over it, both of which are opposed by Ma's Kuomintang (KMT).
Ma flatly dismissed the idea of the government stepping in to cease construction on the plant, which began back in 1999 but has encountered numerous setbacks, many political in nature.
He also expressed his opposition to lowering a threshold for the public vote, but said the DPP's proposal could be discussed in the Legislature.
Su, in turn, responded: "If you feel a simple majority (referendum) is unacceptable, then let's set a threshold," appealing to a spirit of cooperation.
At another point, Ma reminded Su that as then-premier, Su supported construction of the plant and budgeted some NT$40 billion (US$1.32 billion) for the project, asking: "Have you forgotten?"
"I haven't forgotten," Su responded, prompting Ma to shoot back with: "Yes, you have."
"Mr. President, I didn't come here today to argue with you," Su said. Ma responded that he was "not arguing with you, either" before the two steered the conversation back to the nuclear power issue.
Ma pointed out that following an Oct. 27, 2000 announcement by then Premier Chang Chun-hsiung, part of a DPP administration, Taiwan's stock index plummeted 1,800 points in three months.
"Chairman Su, do you want the stock market to slump like that again?" Ma quipped.
Su later asked Ma point blank: "So you insist on continuing [work on] the fourth nuclear plant?"
If the NT$300 billion project were allowed to be scrapped before completion, it would be a huge waste of public funds, Ma replied.
He said a referendum will only be necessary once the power plant is "ready for operation," but repeatedly stressed that no fuel rods will be installed before a public vote.
He said that even Japan has moved toward restarting dozens of nuclear reactors now that concerns following the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima plant have subsided.
"No nuclear safety, no fourth plant. No nuclear safety, no referendum," Ma pledged in one of his characteristically catchy slogans made up of 16 Chinese characters.
"Quit it with the 16-character mantras already," Su responded.
In the end, the two came away from what media hailed as the historic meeting with their stances little changed.
Taiwan currently has three active nuclear power plants that generate about 20 percent of Taiwan's electricity. The fourth nuclear power plant, which has been under construction since 1999, was expected to help fill the power gap as those plants are set to gradually be decommissioned between 2018 and 2025.
The DPP last week unveiled a plan to promote a special statute that would allow a referendum on the power plant to pass with a simple majority vote irrespective of voter turnout.
This would be aimed at sidestepping the Referendum Act, which requires participation from more than half of all the nation's eligible voters for a plebiscite to be valid, then the support of at least half of those participants for a referendum question to pass.
(By Lee Shu-hua, Justin Su, Y.F. Low, and Wesley Holzer)ENDITEM/WH
Related stories:●April 25: President, DPP head agree on referendum, but not on timing or threshold●April 24: Premier reiterates opposition to 'special' nuclear plant referendum●April 21: Premier, DPP head fail to reach consensus over nuclear plant
(Click here for stories before the debate on nuclear power was recently rekindled.)