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Nuclear plant in question

POWER STRUGGLE A DPP legislator has demanded Taipower stop inflicting financial loss on taxpayers by accepting bids on the controversial project

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

DPP legislators yesterday called for a halt to bidding on construction of parts of Taiwan's fourth nuclear power plant (核四廠) in Kungliao (貢寮), Taipei County, arguing that a final decision would soon be made by the new government to cancel the project.

"Taipower (Taiwan Power Company, 台灣電力公司) should stop inviting bids, worth NT$6 billion," said DPP legislator Lai Chin-lin (賴勁麟), adding that contracting more firms will cause greater financial loss for repudiating contracts once the new administration brings an end to the project.

"The company has only completed 10 percent of construction on the project," Lai said. Taipower claims about 30 percent of the entire project has been completed, of which construction is only one part.

"The company should not have spread misinformation such as this to try to have the project continue," Lai said.

Lai yesterday presented a report to the Executive Yuan to highlight what he called, Taipower's misleading claim that it has completed 30 percent of the project, and called for a review of the island's energy policy.

Taipower's estimate of 30 percent completion of the project includes the various other aspects of the plant aside from construction, including bidding and planning. Actual construction was far from 30 percent complete, Lai said.

"The earlier Taipower gives up the project, the less financial loss to taxpayers," Lai said.

However, Taipower officials said that the company has invested NT$43.4 billion in the project and that to halt the project would be a major loss.

"When assessing the project, legislators should have not have separated the construction part from the bidding and planning parts of the project," Lin Chu-wan (林居萬), Taipower's site manager of the Lungmen construction office (龍門施工處) in Kungliao, told the Taipei Times yesterday.

Lin, who firmly believes the project will be seen through, said Taipower would continue bids worth a total of NT$6 billion on main parts of the construction and the establishment of cooling water channels.

"If we stop the bidding process, which is scheduled be completed in the next two months, the plant will not be finished by the scheduled deadline of July, 2005," Lin said, adding that the project was already 1.5 percent behind schedule due to disruption from strong opposition.

"Dealing with problems resultant from halting the project may be challenging," Lin said, noting that private investment accounts for almost half of the project's total financing.

"Financial loss is one thing, international relations is another," Lin said, adding that canceling the project could hurt Taiwan's image abroad.

The government reportedly chose to buy the nuclear power plant facilities from the US, instead of France or Japan out of consideration for military safety and diplomatic relations and offered above-market prices for facilities to ensure its approval in the Legislative Yuan and US government.

Since March 18, when the DPP's Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) won the presidency, critics have pointed out that the fourth nuclear power plant, a contentious domestic and international relations issue, would be a test of Chen's political agility.

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