Nuke stalled: No fuel rods to be installed before referendum in Taiwan

No fuel rods will be installed before the fate of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant is decided by national referendum, reiterated Taiwanese Premier Jiang Yi-huah.

Taiwan Power Co. (Taipower) will not request permission to install fuel rods at the plant in New Taipei City until all safety inspections are finished and the results have been approved by the Atomic Energy Council (AEC), indicated the premier. Moreover, the government will not approve Taipower’s request before the referendum is held. “This principle was established by the Executive Yuan last year and remains unchanged.”

To resolve the longstanding dispute over construction of the plant, last year the Executive Yuan announced its willingness to put the plant’s future to a public vote. The ruling party also submitted a referendum proposal via Legislator Lee Ching-hua, but the proposal has yet to be passed by the Legislative Yuan.

“After consulting with the ruling party and wider society, we have reached the consensus that a referendum should not be held until the plant’s safety checks are completed,” Jiang said.

Taipower is currently conducting hundreds of safety tests on the power station, the premier continued. The test reports are expected to be completed in the second half of the year and will be sent to the AEC. Based on the regulatory process, the AEC will conduct a final safety review of the plant and invite experts from the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission to join the final review activities by providing observations and comments. Only when the AEC verifies that the plant has passed safety requirements will there be discussion of whether Taipower can request permission to install the fuel rods.

The premier also denied rumors by anti-nuclear groups that the Executive Yuan will start a test-run of the plant or install fuel rods as soon as inspections are completed in June. Jiang said this misinformation is being used to provoke people and directed the Ministry of Economic Affairs to dispel these rumors.

The nuclear power controversy has also led to a debate on the threshold required for a referendum to be valid. Last week, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) proposed a special statute for a referendum on the nuclear plant, requiring only a simple majority vote for the plebiscite to pass. This lowers the threshold prescribed by the Referendum Act, which mandates 50 percent of eligible voters to cast ballots, and consent from more than half of these voters.

The Executive Yuan does not support the DPP’s proposition, Jiang reiterated, because it would allow the referendum to pass regardless of how many people participate in the vote, as long as more than half of the vote is affirmative.

Thresholds must be established for issues as critical as the nuclear power plant, Jiang said. The Referendum Act’s requirement of consent by more than one-fourth of the nation’s eligible voters is not very high. If this threshold is eliminated, it could set a precedent for other divisive votes such the construction of casinos, the Cross-strait Agreement on Trade in Services, and abolition of the death penalty, he explained.

The Executive Yuan hopes that the Referendum Act would be applied universally without having a special statute enacted for each separate issue, otherwise there would be no need for the act. Thus far, the ruling party caucus and the administration have been in agreement on the original threshold and do not wish to see the rules of the game changed by a single issue.

As for former DPP Chairman Lin Yi-xiong’s hunger strike to demand an immediate halt to the plant’s construction, Premier Jiang stated that Lin is a highly respected political figure who has contributed much to Taiwan’s democratization, and appealed to Lin not to make his demands in this manner as it would harm his health.

In a mature democracy, people have different views on every issue, the premier pointed out. A democratic system is valuable because it is designed to resolve disputes, causing the minority to yield to the majority and the majority to respect the minority.

In discussions across different sectors of society, the largest consensus achieved so far is that a referendum must be called to determine if the plant should become operational. This matter can no longer be decided by the Executive Yuan either unilaterally or with approval from the Legislative Yuan, Jiang said. The general public must be given the opportunity to express their views on whether to cease this project on which nearly NT$300 billion (US$9.9 billion) has already been spent.

“If a public referendum, the democratic mechanism that can best express the will of the people, has already been adopted to resolve a matter, then no person or organization should demand that the decision-making method he, she or it deems necessary be used instead.

“We are very concerned for Mr. Lin’s health during his hunger strike. Even so, we sincerely call on every sector of society to treasure the hard-won rules of the nation’s democracy and return to democratic procedures and systems. Regardless of one’s views on the referendum system or whether one wishes to amend it, such matters should be decided according to the democratic rule of law.”

The premier concluded his remarks by noting that anti-nuclear groups have scheduled and obtained permits for a road race and related gatherings and demonstrations to be held this weekend. He expressed hope that the Ministry of the Interior and other competent authorities, including local governments, maintain public safety and ensure that all activities can come to peaceful conclusions.



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