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Taiwan puts new nuclear plant on backburner

Taiwan’s government says it will freeze the construction of a fourth nuclear power plant, until a national referendum is held.

Nuclear plant towers

In response to a mass protest, Taiwan will hold a referendum to decide if a fourth nuclear plant will be built. (Photo: Michael Dalder) (Credit: Reuters)
Audio: Taiwan puts new nuclear plant on backburner

A date has yet to be fixed on the referendum, to endorse the fourth plant.

The government of President Ma Ying-jeou announced the postponement, after a mass protest last Sunday.

Reporter: Kanaha Sabapathy

Speakers: Professor Jeffrey Bor Yunchang, Chinese Culture University; Liu Shih-chung director of international affairs, Democratic Progressive Party

SABAPATHY: Taiwan has three operating nuclear power plants,  but opposition to its fourth plant in the country’s north has been fierce.
The government had promised a referendum on its fate last November but that had been postponed and on Sunday tens of thousands of anti-nuclear demonstrators took to the streets forcing the government to succumb and put a freeze on it.
While the freeze is immediate, authorities will continue on site safety inspections of the near complete number one reactor, but will not activate it.
This is not acceptable to the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party. Liu Shih Chung is its director of international affairs.
LIU: In fact they will continue to spend money on the (indistinct) of the fourth nuclear power plant,  and then according to the government explanation, it does not mean the government will terminate the construction. So it leaves room for in the future that the government might restart the construction.
SABAPATHY: The government has promised a national referendum to seek public endorsement.  But it has yet to say when exactly this is going to happen.
Professor Jeffrey Bor Yunchang from the Chinese Culture University says the government will be guided by political factors as to when the referendum would be held.
YUNCHANG: Our best guess is together with the election at the end of this year, or go with the presidential election at the end of next year.
SABAPATHY: The government argues without a fourth nuclear power plant Taiwan could face power shortages in the future.  Bbut it’s not something that anti nuclear protestors are buying into.
They argue that not only is there a surplus of energy,  but that the fourth plant will only add a differential of six per cent to Taiwan’s total energy production.
Professor Jeffrey Bor says while there is a surplus now,  the future is not known.
YUNCHANG: At this moment we have extra, about 22 per cent reserve margin, because of the factories have moved out to China or Southeast Asia. So the decrease of electricity means because of the move of the factories, not because of energy conservation or other reasons. Eventually the old power plants will be retired one by one, and nuclear power plant four terminated at this moment, and then our reserve margin will reduce heavily.
SABAPATHY: Taiwan sits on a fault line and many Taiwanese fear what happened in Fukushima could be a reality for them too.
Liu Shih-chung says the government needs to stop taking the lead from the Taipower company which holds the monopoly on nuclear power and refrain from scaring the people about the power shortage.
LIU: If the government can invest more in other alternative energies like solar power, like wind power, like geo thermal, then we can have more alternative power to our energy supply.
SABAPATHY: Currently Taiwanese pay one of the lowest energy rates in the world.
Professor Jeffery Bor says they have two options if they choose not to have more nuclear power plants.
YUNCHANG: One is to promote energy conservation, the second is to promote the renewable energy. If we want to promote renewable energy then we need to set a new energy tax system to support renewable energy. For conservation although the government has set out the standard for all kinds of equipment to encourage people to save energy, but as you know is the result is not very positive, because when people become richer they also want to enjoy a better life, so they consume more electricity.

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