Taiwan: Debate Rages Over Nuclear Power Plant

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Nando Times

Debate rages in Taiwan over nuclear power plant

By MARCOS CALO MEDINA, Associated Press

KUNGLIAO, Taiwan (September 26, 2000 11:28 a.m. EDT http://www.nandotimes.com) - Aoti Village is a warren of rundown buildings with a fine beach, quiet streets, fresh seafood, picturesque hills - and two massive concrete holes in the ground that most residents don't want.

It's the construction site of Taiwan's fourth nuclear plant, which has sparked intense debate as newly elected President Chen Shui-bian tries to decide whether he'll honor a campaign pledge and spike the project that's about one-third finished. A final decision is expected by the end of the month after a special economic committee announces its recommendation.

Proponents have long argued that the plant in northern Taiwan is urgently needed for national security and to help fuel continued economic growth. They also argue that ditching the project would be a tremendous waste of taxpayers' money.

But opponents argue that Taiwan is incapable of storing the waste, and the plant would threaten the environment, which has already been polluted by decades of policies that emphasized industrial growth over all else.

"We're all afraid the waste will contaminate our waters and threaten our livelihood," said Hong Huang-feng, a spokeswoman for the 6,000-strong Kungliao Fishermen's Association, which campaigns furiously against the plant.

The choice is difficult for Chen. His Democratic Progressive Party's platform calls for scrapping the plant. But he risks losing credibility among foreign investors if his 4-month-old government calls off the project. Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Boston-based Stone and Webster Engineering Corp. and General Electric Co. are supplying the two 1,350-megawatt boiling water reactors.

If Chen supports the project, he will appear to have given up his ideals in the face of political expediency, lawmaker Shen Fu-hsiung, a key policy-maker in Chen's party, said.

"If the government decides to build, Chen will be embarrassed. If not, the storm will focus in the legislature," Shen said.

To abandon the project, Chen will have to present his case to the legislature, where his party only holds one-third of the seats. Lawmakers with the Nationalist Party, which approved the plant in 1980 when it controlled the presidency, are likely to support the plant.

Taiwan Power Co. has already spent close to $1.6 billion, and will spend another $1.23 billion to finish the project, said Huang Huei-yu, a company spokeswoman.

The total cost of roughly $5.4 billion was approved by the Nationalists, which lost the presidency to Chen in March, and the first of two reactors would open in 2005. The second reactor would open the year after.

When the embattled plant reaches full output, it will add 2,700 megawatts to Taiwan's 23,763 megawatts of installed capacity, Huang said. An output of two megawatts is capable of lighting as many as 400 homes.

If scrapped, however, the state-owned Taiwan Power Co. will lose a whopping $2.6 billion in dismantling the site and terminating contracts with foreign companies.

Taiwan imports 97 percent of its total energy needs. If China ever made good on its threats and forced Taiwan to reunify after 51 years of estrangement, the most logical option would be to form a naval blockade and cut off Taiwan's oil supply, said Chung Chien, a nuclear physicist at the National Tsinghua University.

"It's a matter of national security. Not having the plant is like committing suicide and telling the enemy you're vulnerable," Chung said.

But residents of Aoti Village care little about the politics. For them, the most urgent issue is the danger of radioactive waste being stored in their own backyard.

Already, about 96,000 barrels of low-level radioactive and other industrial waste from Taiwan's power plants are being stored in the outlying Orchid Island, and residents there have complained that the waste containers are showing signs of corrosion.

Chung estimated that 20,000 more barrels of low-level radioactive waste would be produced from the fourth nuclear plant, and the company has identified another outlying island close to mainland China as a storage site.

-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), September 26, 2000

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