Tue, Mar 29, 2011 - Page 1 News List

DPP urges nuclear power poll

NUCLEAR FREE:A DPP legislator said the party is not calling for a freeze in the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, but that people deserved a say

By Vincent Y. Chao  /  Staff Reporter

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers yesterday called on the legislature to approve a referendum on nuclear power, the latest in an effort to scrap the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City (新北市).

Construction of the NT$273.5 billion (US$9.3 billion) facility is scheduled for completion sometime before 2013, but its location close to active fault lines and underwater volcanoes has prompted lawmakers to demand a rethink on whether it should become operational.

Debate was reopened by DPP presidential hopeful Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Thursday after she told reporters in a briefing she would seek to halt construction of the plant and phase out the three older plants if elected next year.

The comment was immediately dismissed as an election ploy by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which maintains an overwhelming majority in the legislature and the procedural committee, making passage of a referendum bill unlikely.

“It’s no laughing matter,” KMT Legislator Hsieh Kuo-liang (謝國樑) said. “If construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant is stopped or phased out, the losses will be in [the billions of dollars]. The KMT cannot accept a resolution that would cost the public so much money.”

The Fourth Nuclear Power Plant has already been beset by delays and cost overruns, some arising from the one-year moratorium on construction imposed by former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in 2000.

Citing nuclear safety concerns after the radiation leaks in Japan, the DPP said it aimed to wind down the nuclear industry, albeit -pending the introduction of alternative sources such as renewable energy.

DPP Legislator Gao Jyh-peng (高志鵬), the main backer of the nuclear referendum, said the issue of a “nuclear-free homeland” was an important question in which the public deserved to have a say.

“What we aren’t calling for is an immediate freeze in construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant. What we want is to turn this issue over to a nationwide referendum,” Gao said.

The DPP caucus said it had acquired the necessary 10 co-signers for a referendum bill. However, it would have to go through a procedural committee decision before it could be submitted to a full reading by the legislature.

KMT lawmakers, who control 14 of the 19 seats on the committee, have already said they would not allow the proposal to pass.

“Nuclear safety is important, but discussion about the industry can also be held through policy debate,” KMT Policy Committee director Lin Yi-shih (林益世) said.

The proposal by the DPP is believed to be the first-ever referendum bid about the nuclear industry launched in the legislature.

By starting it in the legislature, it can bypass strict regulations on public-initiated proposals that require 86,600 petitions in the first stage and 866,000, or 5 percent of voters, in the second.

Taking on the nuclear industry is a risky move for the DPP. An election promise by Chen to scrap the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant backfired when later polls showed a majority opposed his plan. Chen was forced to restart construction in 2001 after public pressure.

Tsai has defended her plan to create a “nuclear-free homeland” by 2025 against critics such as former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), who on Sunday said alternative energy sources would have to be found before the proposal could become viable.

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