The government will never halt the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) said yesterday, adding that the Cabinet’s decision to effectively delay the plant’s completion by stopping construction on two of its reactors was “the best compromise” the government could make.
Jiang also reiterated the government’s support for upholding the thresholds in the Referendum Act (公民投票法), saying that a plebiscite to decide the plant’s fate should not circumvent the law.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets over the weekend to support the demands made by former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Lin I-hsiung (林義雄), the DPP and civic groups that the construction of the plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮) be halted immediately and that the referendum thresholds be lowered to ensure a fair vote on the issue.
Jiang called a press conference yesterday morning to give the government’s formal response to those demands, which was based on the conclusions reached at two meetings involving President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), government officials, and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers, city mayors and county commissioners.
Although the government did not meet the demands and its response is in line with the resolution adopted by the legislature in February last year, Jiang said the Ma administration “has extended an olive branch” to nuclear critics by offering “the best compromise we can.”
The resolution said that before a referendum is held, the government should not place fuel rods in the No. 1 reactor and refrain from seeking extra funding for the nearly completed No. 2 reactor, while suspending all other construction at the plant except for contracted and safety-related projects.
Asked to elaborate on the olive branch, Jiang said the government has held intensive talks on the issue in the days since Lin began a hunger strike on April 22 to demand that the plant be scrapped and that it has also addressed concerns that fuel rods would be inserted into the No. 1 reactor after safety checks are carried out later this year.
The premier said that the No. 1 reactor will be sealed after ongoing safety checks are finished and that the construction of the No. 2 reactor completely suspended.
This marks the first time the government has said that the No. 1 reactor will be “sealed up” after safety checks and that the plant will not start operating until a referendum is held to decide the issue, Jiang said.
However, the premier added that “we are even less sure now of when a vote can be held than we were last year,” saying that the timetable for a referendum “will likely be pushed back further.”
“Our response does not mean that we will terminate the construction of or abort the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant. Before a public consensus on the issue is reached and a referendum held, what we should do now is to put the issue on hold to leave the next generation the option of finishing the plant,” Jiang said. “Our policy on the Fourth Nuclear Power plant remains unchanged.”
He said the government could not agree to scrapping the Gongliao plant because of the huge repercussions this would have, as seen in 2000 when the then-DPP administration ordered a halt to the plant’s construction and the TAIEX fell 3,000 points in three months.
Addressing the request to lower the threshold for national referendums that critics say requires an unreasonably high turnout of at least 50 percent of eligible voters for the vote to be valid, Jiang reiterated his opposition to changing the regulations before holding a plebiscite on the plant, saying: “I don’t think they are strict thresholds.”
The premier said he believed that voter turnout in a referendum on the plant’s fate would exceed 50 percent because, unlike in the previous six national referendums — which all failed to meet the bar — the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant would galvanize people to vote.
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