REFERENDUMS 2021/4th Nuclear Power Plant referendum defeated

12/18/2021 11:44 PM
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Nuclear advocate Huang Shih-hsiu, who initiated the referendum proposal, responds to the defeat in Saturday
Nuclear advocate Huang Shih-hsiu, who initiated the referendum proposal, responds to the defeat in Saturday's poll. CNA photo Dec. 18, 2021

Taipei, Dec. 18 (CNA) A referendum seeking to unseal and restart work on Taiwan's Fourth Nuclear Power Plant failed to pass Saturday, the first time people have been allowed to directly vote on the facility that has been debated and under construction for more than two decades.

A total of 4,262,451 people (52.3 percent) voted "no" in the referendum that asked if they agreed that the power plant should be unsealed and operated commercially to generate electricity, while 3,804,755 people (46.7 percent) voted "yes."

But even if the totals had been reversed, the referendum still would not have passed because it did not meet the turnout threshold.

Under Taiwan's Referendum Act, the referendum question would have needed at least 4,956,367 "yes" votes to pass, or at least one-quarter of all eligible voters, and the "yes" votes to exceed the "no" votes.

Among the four referendum questions, which also covered trade, algae reef conservation and future referendums, that were rejected in Saturday's vote, the 5.7 percent margin by which "no" votes outnumbered "yes" votes (52.84-47.16 percent) was the highest.

The government has argued that unsealing the power plant would be unfeasible due to cost and safety issues and require years before it could actually generate power.

Pro-nuclear activists argued that the country's energy shortage and the need to keep greenhouse gas emissions in check made reopening the plant a necessity.

Rejection of the referendum, initiated by nuclear advocate Huang Shih-hsiu (黃士修), means that the same referendum question cannot be proposed again for another two years.

Huang said in a statement after the vote that he regretted the results, and accused the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of taking advantage of its administrative resources to manipulate the vote.

"This was the deepest blow to democracy," he said.

The DPP must still face the fact that by rejecting the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, thermal power plants in central and southern Taiwan will have to burn another 7.3 million tons of coal each year to take the place of the energy the plant could have provided, Huang argued.

Taiwan's reliance on fossil fuels to generate electricity has increased from 80.64 percent in 2015, the year before Tsai took office, to 82.19 percent in 2020, according to Bureau of Energy data.

Coal-fired plants accounted for 44.95 percent of Taiwan's electricity mix, down slightly from 45.39 percent in 2015. Renewables have risen to 5.47 percent of the total, from 4.06 percent in 2015.

The Fourth Nuclear Power Plant has been highly contentious over the past two decades since construction on the currently mothballed plant in New Taipei City's Gongliao District began in 1999.

In 2014 and with construction nearing completion, then-President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Kuomintang suspended work on the plant due to massive DPP protests over its opening, particularly after a hunger strike by former DPP Chairman Lin Yi-hsiung (林義雄).

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of the DPP took office in 2016, after campaigning on a promise to phase out nuclear power in the country by 2025.

In 2018, however, a referendum initiated by Huang to keep nuclear power in the country's energy mix was passed by about a 60-40 percent margin, though the Tsai government did not change its policy on the issue.

On Saturday, 3,139 Gongliao residents, or 74.6 percent of valid votes cast, voted against the question, against 1,007 "yes" votes, according to the Central Election Commission.

Chao Jui-chang (趙瑞昌), a borough chief in the district, told CNA he hoped that "this issue ends here," as sufficient time has been given to related debate, and that the majority should rule.

Wu Wen-tung (吳文通), a local anti-nuclear advocate, said he regretted that Taiwan had wasted decades in pursuing what he said were inappropriate policies, adding that the government must consult local people in the future to deal with follow-up issues related to the plant.

(By Wang Hung-kuo, Chang Hsiung-feng and Lee Hsin-Yin)

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