Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) repeated a warning on Friday that Taiwan may face electricity rationing and higher power rates if construction of the country’s controversial Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Gongliao District (貢寮) is terminated.
“It is irresponsible for some people to say that we should scrap the plant,” Jiang said in an interview on UDN TV.
The government’s policy remains to continue work on the project and launch commercial operations only when the plant’s safety can be assured, he said.
Reiterating the administration’s ongoing argument that failure to operate the plant will lead to higher electricity prices, Jiang said that closing the facility would result in a 14 percent increase in electricity rates by 2017.
Anti-nuclear activists have disputed the figures, arguing that the government has overestimated the growth in electricity demand in coming years.
Jiang was also asked about surveys showing that 60 percent to 70 percent of the public is opposed to the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, as well as opposition parties’ demand that the government halt the plant’s construction immediately.
Jiang said polls were important references, but added that any national policies should be decided via the regulatory process and that a referendum on the plant was a must.
The government has promoted the idea of holding a referendum on the fate of the plant to end public division over the use of nuclear power in Taiwan.
Yet critics see the initiative as a publicity stunt and argue that the way the poll would be framed, and Taiwan’s referendum law requiring 50 percent of the electorate to vote in a referendum for it to be valid, almost ensures an outcome supporting the government’s position.
However, Jiang said that the issue needed to be thoroughly discussed publicly and decided by the public.
Taiwan currently operates three nuclear power plants, two in New Taipei City and the other in Pingtung, that are about 30 years old. They provide about 20 percent of the country’s electricity at present, but are scheduled to be decommissioned, beginning in 2018.
The construction of the controversial fourth plant has stretched over 14 years and has so far cost taxpayers about NT$300 billion (US$10 billion). It is scheduled to be completed later this year.
More than 6.5 million people, or about a third of Taiwan’s population, live within 80km of the plant’s site.