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Taiwanese nuclear politics heats up

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green - Nuclear Monitor editor

A parliamentary vote on whether to hold a referendum on the completion of the Lungmen nuclear power plant descended into a brawl between opposing parties on August 2. [1] The vote, proposed by the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang − KMT), had been scheduled to decide whether construction of Taiwan's fourth nuclear power plant, which is nearing completion, should continue. Fourty politicians from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) barricaded themselves inside the legislative chamber on August 1, remaining there overnight in an attempt to stop the August 2 vote taking place.

The brawl broke out as KMT politicians tried to take possession of the podium to allow the vote to proceed. Television footage showed politicians pushing and shoving, two male politicians wrestling on the floor, and bottles and cups of water being thrown at each other. The scuffle led to the session being suspended, without a vote on the referendum taking place.

The DPP is calling for the Lungmen plant to be scrapped without holding a referendum. At least 50% of eligible voters would have to participate in a referendum for it to be binding. Taiwan has never passed a referendum. The 50% participation threshold has not been reached in any of the six referenda held since the Referendum Act came into effect in January 2004, despite those referenda being held in conjunction with national elections in 2004 and 2008. The Taiwan Anti-Nuclear Action League is calling for the Referendum Act to be made less restrictive.

The KMT said it would arrange six shifts, each comprising 15-20 people, to break through the DPP's grip on the podium, but the ruling party later said it would put on hold a motion to allow for a referendum on the nuclear plant. "We will not rule out the possibility of holding another, or third, extraordinary session of the Legislature to deal with the issue," said Lin Hung-chih, KMT Legislator and head of the party's Central Policy Committee.[2]

Around 100 citizens protested against the Lungmen plant inside and outside the parliament on August 2 as the political parties wrestled for control of the podium.[3] Many are associated with the Taiwan Anti-Nuclear Action League, which comprises most of the anti-nuclear civic organizations in the country including the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union, the Humanistic Education Foundation and the Green Citizens' Action Alliance. Other protesters unfurled anti-nuclear banners at 12 major intersections in Taipei.

On the same day, Greenpeace Taiwan warned that in the event of a nuclear accident, none of the subcontractors working on the Lungmen power plant would shoulder any responsibility. At a press conference co-hosted by the Green Citizen's Action Alliance, Greenpeace said that General Electrics and Mitsubishi are indemnified against all responsibility. Senior Greenpeace member Ku Wei-mu said the contractors had no right to ask Taiwanese to trust the safety of nuclear reactors if they themselves were not prepared to accept liability. A Greenpeace report states that in the event of a nuclear accident at the Lungmen plant, the potential economic losses could exceed US$1.1 trillion per annum.[4]

On July 31, Lin Tsung-yao, a consultant on the Lungmen plant's safety monitoring committee, posted a report detailing a number of construction problems on the project. Lin questioned the quality of GE's structural designs, and said that the project is hampered by the dearth of professionals at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Atomic Energy Council who understand the issues and can adequately oversee the project. [5,6,7,8]

Construction began on the two 1350 MW Lungmen reactors in 1999, with the first originally scheduled to enter commercial operation in 2006 and the second in 2007. However, the project has been beset with political, legal and regulatory delays. The DPP halted construction of the plant when it came to power in 2000.

The DPP is calling for a phase-out of nuclear power, and even the KMT has pledged to make Taiwan nuclear-free by the middle of this century.[9] Six reactors at three plants currently provide about 18% of the country's electricity.

On March 9, anti-nuclear rallies swept across Taiwan ahead of the second anniversary of the Fukushima disaster. According to rally organisers around 200,000 people attended protests nationwide, with 120,000 taking to the streets in Taipei.[10] An opinion poll conducted by the Taipei City Government in March showed that 66% of residents in the capital wanted the Lungmen plant to be scrapped, with just 18% supporting its continuation.[11]

The Fukushima disaster resonated strongly owing to similarities and links between the two countries. Taiwan and Japan both suffer from seismic activity (a 1999 earthquake in Taiwan killed around 2,400 people). Both countries are hit by typhoons − in mid July, a typhoon left Taipower's Chinshan 2 reactor offline and in need of repair.[12]

Taiwan's Shihmen nuclear power plant may have been leaking small amounts of radioactive water for more than three years according to a report published in August by the Control Yuan, a government regulator.[13,14] A Taipower official said the water did not come from the storage pools, but may have come from condensation or water used for cleaning up the floor. The Control Yuan did not accept the explanation and asked Taipower to look into other possible sources of the leak such as spent fuel storage pools. The contaminated water has been collected in a reservoir next to the storage pools.

The Control Yuan said there had been a catalogue of errors, including a lack of a proper plan for how to handle spent nuclear materials and inadequate supervision by the Ministry of Economic Affairs. "The company has yet to clearly establish the reason for the water leak," it said.


Greenpeace East Asia - Taipei