Sun, Sep 10, 2000 - Page 17 News List

Power play

As the public awaits the results of the government's re-evaluation of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant construction project, activists see the plant as a festering sore created by decades of authoritarian rule and a tangle of international interests

By Jonathan Lassen  /  SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR

A painting from an anti-nuclear poster highlighting fears over the effects of the storage of nuclear waste on Orchard Island.

PHOTO COURTESY OF TEPU

Sweat drips down our faces as we gingerly make our way over the boulders towards the end of the newly constructed dock. The harsh wind off the Pacific cools us a little. We catch a whiff of the smoke from the small-scale incinerator nearby, but that is another story. On this occasion, the group of officials, activists and media are here to inspect a new dock.

"What's this?" An activist barks at Taipower officials as he picks up a red brick from beneath a boulder.

"Is this a rock?" he asks as he holds the brick in our face.

The huddle of reporters, activists, officials and security personnel shift their attention in his direction.

He stands triumphant. On this dock, that Taipower had claimed would be built of washed rocks especially imported from Ilan County, there is clearly much other material. The officials exchange glances.

"This is enough evidence that subcontractors have been violating the stipulations of the environmental impact assessment. Taipower should halt construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant until it can be resolved," the activist says.

The officials agreed to look into the matter, but later said there was no evidence to warrant stopping construction.

The activists are members of the Kung-liao Anti-nuclear Self-help Association (貢寮反核自救會), a group dedicated to halting construction of the NT$5.3 billion Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in picturesque Kungliao, a small fishing community on Taiwan's northeast coast. They claim that dirt and sediment from the construction of the plant has already driven away fish in the waters near Kungliao and is damaging the coral growth in the bay.

The association hopes to first halt construction on this nuclear plant and terminate the use of nuclear power in Taiwan and set up a marine-based tourist industry.

Background

The Fourth Nuclear Power Plant was first proposed in 1978 and has been a hotly contested issue since. Despite fierce opposition from a broad network of activists throughout Taiwan and from DPP legislators, construction on the plant began in 1999.

Many thought Chen Shui-bian's election in March had sealed the fate of the plant. Chen and the DPP had long been involved in anti-nuclear struggles in Taiwan. If elected, Chen and the DPP pledged they would cancel the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, phase out Taiwan's nuclear power program within 10 years and scuttle plans in the making at Taipower to order two more nuclear reactors sometime before 2010.

But the battle still rages.

The government did not halt construction on the plant. According to Taipower, the NT$170 billion project is already 31 percent completed, and losses from shelving the project at this point would be around NT$67 billion to NT$89 billion.

For the past three months, the battle over the plant has been waged in a meeting room in the Ministry of Economic Affairs in Taipei, where scholars, officials and politicians belonging to a new committee formed to re-evaluate the project (核四再評估委員會) have been fighting over the decision whether to go ahead with construction of the plant. The committee has been charged to weigh the pros and cons of the plant, but has no decision-making powers. The final decision rests with the Executive Yuan.

Alternative energy

Debate within the committee has been sharp. With less than 4 percent of energy in Taiwan from local sources, pro-nuclear government agencies place a great deal of stress on energy diversity. Though still overwhelmingly dependent on foreign energy, Taiwan's reliance on oil has fallen 25 percent since 1978. The gap has been made up by a combination of coal, natural gas and nuclear energy.

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