Right to life of residents must be the top concern

By Huang Kun-huei 黃昆輝  / 

Thu, Mar 14, 2013 - Page 8

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) recently released the main text and statement of reasons for its proposed referendum on the continued construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), in an attempt to force the decision to hold a referendum through the legislature.

The problem is that the Referendum Act (公民投票法) stipulates that more than half of all eligible voters, 9.13 million people, must vote for a referendum to be valid. No referendum has been passed in Taiwan, and even the two referendums on the name Taiwan should use to seek UN membership, held conjointly with the 2008 presidential election, failed because less than half of all eligible voters voted.

For the same reason, a nuclear referendum held under the regulations of the Referendum Act will never pass, regardless of how the referendum question is phrased. Not only will this bring us back to square one, it will also provide a public opinion basis for the plant’s continued construction.

The KMT first argued that the nuclear power plant was safe, and after it failed to gain the public’s trust, it decided to manipulate public opinion through a referendum in an attempt to justify its plans for continued construction. Under the KMT’s manipulation, the issue of the plant has taken a backseat to political wrangling and people’s safety has been sacrificed. The Fourth Nuclear Power Plant is not a zero-sum game, nor is it about political plotting.

Last year, environmental protection groups initiated a draft amendment to the Nuclear Reactor Facilities Control Act (核子反應器設施管制法) in the legislature that would add an article, Article 6-1, to the act. According to the proposed amendment, a mandatory, local referendum bypassing the Referendum Act should be held in the areas within a 50km radius of the plant before a nuclear reactor is built, nuclear rods are installed or a plant becomes operational.

Such an “evacuation zone clause” would be the best way to get back to the most fundamental issues surrounding the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant. Given that the right to life supersedes economic rights and everything else, residents within a 50km radius of the nuclear power plant have the right to have a say on the issue.

Therefore, residents of Taipei, New Taipei City, Keelung and Yilan County — the four areas that would be directly affected if a nuclear disaster occurred — should be allowed to vote in a referendum that requires only a simple majority to pass. This draft has already been submitted to the legislature for review and was approved to go to a second reading. This would not only resolve the deadlock between the ruling and the opposition parties over the referendum issue, but would waste fewer social resources.

After all of the problems and dangers surrounding the planning and construction of the plant, Taiwanese are worried that the plant will bring terrible disaster if construction is not halted. Therefore, we cannot allow the unreasonable Referendum Act to take away the public’s right to choose when it comes to the plant and sacrifice the right to life of the residents of Taipei, New Taipei City, Keelung and Yilan County.

The “evacuation zone clause” will not only be capable of ending all the troubles caused by debate on the Referendum Act while refocusing society back on the crux of the problem — the construction of the plant — it can also test whether the KMT, Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) and lawmakers truly care about the issues surrounding the plant or whether they are just using them for political purposes.

Huang Kun-huei is the chairman of the Taiwan Solidarity Union.

Translated by Drew Cameron