A few days ago, New Taipei City (新北市) Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) and Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) made headlines by declaring one after another that the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant — the Longmen (龍門) Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮) — which is still being built, would not be allowed to go into operation if its safety can not be guaranteed.
No other country in the world would dare to build a nuclear power plant as close to its capital city as the Longmen plant is to Taipei, still less three nuclear power plants, as there will be if the Longmen plant goes into operation alongside the two existing plants on the north coast.
As the top leaders of greater Taipei’s twin municipalities, Chu and Hau are a bit late in making such a statement so long after the disastrous meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in March last year. However, until the Longmen plant goes into operation, there is still time to do something about it.
The safety of the Longmen plant has long been in doubt and a 5,000-character report about it, published by Fourth Nuclear Power Plant Safety Monitoring Committee member Lin Tsung-yao (林宗堯) in 2009, sparked widespread consternation in Taiwan as people realized just how fraught with problems the project really is.
There have been numerous hitches in the construction of the plant over the last few years. Following relentless coverage of the issue by media and environmental groups, the Control Yuan went so far as to propose corrective measures and initiate impeachment proceedings in relation to these accidents. However, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the state-run Taiwan Power Co (Taipower), have stubbornly refused to admit their mistakes. They know that doing so would inevitably put the whole Longmen plant construction project in doubt, and they fear that blame for the accidents would be assigned to the officials responsible, and that they might even face prosecution.
For this reason, up until now, none of the top leaders of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) have dared to criticize the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant project. It came as a surprise to many, therefore, that Chu and Hau, who are both KMT members, should make the statements they did. Probably a lot of people are puzzled as to why they did so, but anyone who has even a little knowledge of what has been going on behind the scenes knows how far things have gone wrong with the plant. It has become a financial drain and a big burden for the authorities, and government and opposition parties now all recognize that the plant will never be safe.
If nuclear disasters happen anywhere, then no matter how slight the chances of them happening may be, nuclear power cannot be called safe. However new and well built a nuclear power plant may be, therefore, thought should still be given to closing it down, and this is all the more true of a problem-plagued and dangerous construction project like the Longmen plant.
Considering how unsafe the plant is, how can government leaders find their way out of this mess? President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) assures the public that the plant will only be allowed to go into operation if it is safe, but does that really mean that it will not go into operation if it is not safe? Furthermore, who can guarantee that it is indeed safe? Could it be that our president knows that the Longmen plant has problems, yet does not appreciate the price that will have to be paid if it turns out not to be as safe as it is cracked up to be?