Motions passed to cease nuclear plant construction

‘AMBUSH’::KMT lawmakers called the vote an ‘ambush,’ saying that the resolutions were passed before they had a copy of the proposals and vowing to counteract them

By Helen Ku, Shih Hsiu-chuan and Chris Wang  /  Staff reporters

Fri, Mar 22, 2013 - Page 1

Motions demanding that state-owned Taiwan Power Co (Taipower, 台灣電力公司) suspend construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Gongliao District (貢寮) and rejecting the company’s budget proposal for the year were passed yesterday by the legislature’s Economics Committee.

The motions, initiated by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers, shot down Taipower’s plan to spend NT$11.7 billion (US$392.99 million) on the plant this year, including NT$10.7 billion of construction work that has already been outsourced.

The committee, chaired by DPP Legislator Huang Wei-cher (黃偉哲), passed the motions a few minutes after the meeting started, catching Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators off-guard.

Describing the process as an “ambush,” KMT caucus whips told a press conference after the meeting that the KMT did not recognize the validity of the DPP’s resolutions and would file a reconsideration motion when the committee reconvenes on Monday.

“It’s regrettable that the DPP’s resolutions cleared the Economics Committee. We do not accept their validity,” KMT Policy Committee chief Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池) said.

KMT Legislator Liao Kuo-tung (廖國棟), who co-chairs the legislative committee, said the resolutions were passed without due process.

“The meeting was in a bit of chaos when the DPP made the proposals. The rotating chairperson [Huang] announced the passage of the resolutions before all the members had a copy of the proposals,” Liao said.

Lin said the committee has no right to “send back” Taipower’s budget request for the year because it was part of a joint budget request made by all state-owned enterprises that the Executive Yuan had sent to the legislature for review.

“The budget bill was referred by the legislature’s plenary session to the [Economics] Committee for preliminary review. The committee can hold off a review, slash the budget, or freeze it, but it has no right to reject it,” Lin said.

According to Constitutional Interpretation No. 520, if the power plant’s construction is stopped — which constitutes a major policy change — “the right to launch the initiative rests with the Executive Yuan, rather than the legislature,” Lin said.

As required by Article 3 of the Additional Articles of the Constitution and Article 17 of the Law Governing the Legislative Yuan’s Power (立法院職權行使法), the premier and Cabinet officials have to present a report on the policy change to the legislature, take questions from lawmakers in a plenary session and win legislative support before an order to halt the plant’s construction can be issued, Lin added.

After the committee meeting, the DPP caucus called a press conference, in which DPP caucus whip Pan Men-an (潘孟安) said the passage of the motions was “the first step” toward permanently suspending construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.

Pan said his caucus had been surprised that KMT lawmakers had not opposed the motions during the meeting.

Pan added that a previous resolution passed by the plenary session stated that, except for safety work and projects that have already been contracted, all construction at the power plant should be suspended until a national referendum is held.

Huang said the motions passed by the committee were in line with the plenary resolution and that the procedures in yesterday’s meeting were entirely legal.

“It would constitute a violation of the plenary resolution if an additional budget is passed,” he said.

DPP Legislator Chen Ming-wen (陳明文) said Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) had pledged to abide by legislative resolutions, including those demanding the suspension of construction, and the rejection of Taipower’s budget was “only trying to reiterate that no additional budget allocation will be approved before a national referendum on the nuclear power plant is held.”

If the result of the referendum shows that a majority favors completing and operating the plant, “we will respect the public’s decision,” Chen said.

Taipower spokesman Roger Lee (李鴻洲) yesterday said the company would continue making the utmost effort to ensure the safety of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, while Minister of Economic Affairs Chang Chia-juch (張家祝) said he was “very sorry” about the committee’s decision, adding that the ministry would be seeking a solution through legal means.

Meanwhile, Executive Yuan spokesperson Cheng Li-wun (鄭麗文) reserved judgement because it is not yet clear whether the legislature has the authority to demand that the Executive Yuan suspend the project.

The Executive Yuan hopes that any decision made on the power plant’s future does not violate the Constitution as the previous DPP administration had done in 2000 when then-premier Chang Chun-hsiung (張俊雄) halted the construction illegally, she said.

In related developments, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) yesterday said that he would vote “yes” in a referendum asking voters if the construction and operation of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant should be suspended.

“Taipower’s handling of follow-up planning and management at the power plant has been problematic and the issue of storing nuclear waste remains unresolved. I am concerned about the situation and would not support the continued construction of the plant under these circumstances,” Hau said.

Amid growing opposition to the plant’s completion, Hau said the government should consider whether a referendum is necessary if a majority wants the project suspended. The mayor suggested the government should allow the legislature to reach a consensus.

Additional reporting by Mo Yan-chih