President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is fond of saying that the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), would not continue unless the plant’s safety can be guaranteed. However, even international industrial nuclear power organizations like the World Nuclear Association (WNA) cannot guarantee nuclear safety, so how can Ma?
Given the public’s strong opposition to the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, there is no need to hold a referendum to decide if it should be finished. The right thing to do is to halt construction of the plant straightaway.
Just a few days ago, Ma and Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) said that “direct public opinion” — a referendum — should take precedence over “indirect public opinion” and that the government’s legislative and administrative bodies cannot make the decision to halt construction unilaterally, because this would be “unconstitutional.”
Legal academics from National Taiwan University condemned these remarks as absurd.
As long as the legislature respects public opinion and agrees to suspend the construction, the Cabinet can implement that decision.
Recently, the Atomic Energy Council invited experts from the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to Taiwan to inspect the nation’s power plants. According to information provided by Taiwan Power Co and the Atomic Energy Council, stress tests conducted on the nation’s three operational nuclear power plants did not follow the strict protocols that caused Germany to close down eight nuclear plants that had been operational for more than 30 years.
Taiwan’s geology shows that there are active faults 7km from the three operational nuclear power plants, and active volcanoes within 20km. There are more than 70 underwater volcanoes within an 80km radius of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, 11 of which are active. If these factors were combined with extreme weather, the consequences could be terrible.
The WNA has said that the US does not have a safe place to permanently store the more than 70,000 tonnes of nuclear waste that it has produced so far. More than three-quarters of the waste is kept in long-term storage in temporary spent fuel pools like those used at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. A problem with the cooling system would have terrible consequences.
Since Taiwan already has problems processing its nuclear waste at the three operational power plants and since the seismic coefficient at these plants fall between 0.3G and 0.4G, compared with the Fukushima plant’s 0.6G, how can the government consider continuing construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant?
Will it really be possible to evacuate the residents of New Taipei City, Keelung, Taipei and Taoyuan County, referred to collectively as the “Fourth Nuclear Power Plant evacuation zone,” in the event of a nuclear disaster?
There is no need for the Ma administration to use its propaganda machine to intimidate the public. Instead, it should immediately halt construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.
A referendum on the issue would not solve the problems that could be caused by natural disasters and human error. New energy sources need to be developed to replace nuclear power and gradual steps must be taken toward making the nation a nuclear-free country. This is the only way to guarantee public safety and quality of life.
Lu I-ming is a former publisher and president of the Taiwan Shin Sheng Daily News, and previously served as a member of a watchdog monitoring Taipower.
Translated by Drew Cameron