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What lies for nuclear future in Taiwan?

With the second anniversary of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster approaching, a storm is brewing again over the fate of Taiwan’s controversial fourth nuclear power plant, according to media reports.

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has outlined a comprehensive plan for 2013, including a battle in the Legislature, to put an end to nuclear power generation in Taiwan, the reports said.

The ruling Kuomintang (KMT), on the other hand, is working on responses to the DPP strategy in collaboration with the Executive Yuan and the party’s legislative caucus to ensure smooth completion of the long-delayed nuclear power plant.

Some KMT lawmakers, however, are sceptical about whether the controversial plant should begin commercial operations this year as scheduled, prompting speculation of a potential rift over the issue within the ruling party’s ranks, according to the reports.

Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower), the state-run utility that operates the country’s nuclear power plants, said construction on the fourth nuclear power plant has proceeded smoothly.

But Taipower officials were cited as saying in the reports that the company is rescheduling the plant’s opening date because of strong opposition in some sectors.

The new schedule, including the fuel-rod loading date and commercial operation starting date, will be revealed only after being approved by the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), the officials said.

The following are excerpts from a special report in the Sunday edition of the United Evening News on the No. 4 nuclear power plant controversy:

Taipower will refer a new launch schedule for the country’s fourth nuclear power plant to the MOEA for approval soon, company officials familiar with the matter said.

They further said that fuel rods will not be loaded until safety at the plant is 100 percent guaranteed.

Although Taipower officials said they were confident that the nuclear power plant will become operational in one or two years, uncertainty continues to plague the project, especially after a DPP-initiated nuclear-free homeland bill was put on the agenda of the Legislature’s Education and Culture Committee on Jan. 3.

DPP Legislator Cheng Li-chun, who serves as a convener of the committee, said the DPP legislative caucus will work hard to get the committee to begin a review of the bill when the new legislative session opens in late February or early March.

After the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant suffered a meltdown in the wake of a deadly earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, major countries around the world have either decided to shut down their nuclear power plants or gradually reduce their dependence on nuclear power generation, Cheng said.

“Taiwan is the only exception as we continue to expand investment in nuclear power generation,” she said.

According to Cheng, Taipower will request NT$56.3 billion (US$1.94 billion) in additional funding for the plant this year.

“Altogether, we have so far pumped NT$283.9 billion into the project,” Cheng said.

In addition, Cheng said, Taipower is planning to invest NT$500 billion to expand nine non-nuclear power plants, which will generate an amount of electricity equal to an amount produced by three No. 4 nuclear power plants.

“Since non-nuclear power plants can turn out adequate electricity, the government should explain why it insists on completing the fourth nuclear power plant,” Cheng said.

She urged the government to not just use power shortage scenarios or questionable projections of electricity prices to justify the project and scare the public into supporting it.

Cheng said the DPP caucus will also push the KMT-controlled Legislature to lower Taipower’s reserve capacity ratio to help cut the utility’s losses.

“Taipower’s actual reserve capacity ratio stands at 20 to 28 percent, far higher than the legal requirement of 15 percent,” Cheng said, adding that a 1 percent cut would save each taxpayer an average of NT$14,000 per year.

Meanwhile, Lo Chih-cheng, the chairman of the DPP’s New Taipei Chapter, said Saturday that the chapter will file an application with the city’s Election Commission to hold a referendum on scrapping the nuclear power plant project.

“We have collected signatures needed to apply for such a referendum,” Lo said, adding that the DPP has worked out a response strategy whether the New Taipei government accepts or rejects the party’s application.

On March 8, the Fubon Cultural and Educational Foundation will hold a rally to mark the establishment of a nuclear power plant supervisory alliance to address the new plant’s safety concerns.

KMT sources said many ruling party lawmakers have decided to refrain from expressing their stance on the nuclear power project for the time being to avoid drumming up a backlash.

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