Taiwan DPP leader denies electoral motives in 2014 nuclear vote idea

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Democratic Progressive Party Chairman Su Tseng-chang on Tuesday denied electoral motives were behind his proposal to combine a referendum on nuclear energy with the 2014 local elections.
Anti-nuclear action groups said that instead of tying a vote to elections, the opposition should make sure no more budgets should be approved for the construction of the fourth nuclear plant in Gongliao, New Taipei City. The state-run Taiwan Power Corporation wants to apply for the loading of the fuel rods into its first of two reactors next year, while a referendum campaign says it has gathered more than 30,000 signatures to hold a vote on the issue in New Taipei City.
Su said Tuesday that his proposal was not the result of electoral considerations. A referendum is the most direct expression of public opinion, while opposition to nuclear energy is the mainstream opinion in Taiwan as well as a global trend, so the proposal was considering both the next generation and the environment, Su said.
The opposition leader said the DPP would discuss with anti-nuclear action groups what the most positive date for a nuclear referendum would be.
Taiwan is facing local and regional elections at the end of next year which are likely to be interpreted as a verdict on President Ma Ying-jeou and his policies.
The DPP has proposed making Taiwan nuclear-free by 2025, but the government and Taipower have said it would be impossible to produce enough alternative energy by then, leading to a rise in prices for electricity.
An action group founded in 1991 by former DPP Chairman Lin Yi-hsiung to push for a referendum on the fourth nuclear plant described Su’s proposal as a bad idea. Group director Yeh Poh-wen said the DPP and its legislators should do their utmost to prevent the government from listing new budgets for the plant and to demand that all budgets and information about the project should become public and transparent.
Since the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, opposition to nuclear energy has turned into a global consensus, Yeh said, so holding and winning a referendum would not be a problem. The opposition should make sure to boycott the flow of more public money toward the fourth nuclear plant instead of just think about elections, he added.
The ruling Kuomintang criticized Su for wanting to use the nuclear issue as an election topic. If nuclear energy was such an pressing issue, it should not have to wait until the end of 2014, the KMT said, while rejecting the use of a referendum to solve the problem.
Senior KMT lawmaker Wu Yu-sheng even suggested that the ruling party should push for a nuclear referendum later this year if the issue was so important. He also accused the DPP of wanting to profit politically by delaying a plebiscite until the end of next year.
Taipower said Monday it had established a special taskforce to increase communication with the outside world about nuclear energy. If members of the public still had questions, they would even be allowed to visit the fourth nuclear plant, the company said.
The taskforce said it had spent NT$10 billion (US$345 million) on extra safety measures in the wake of the Japanese disaster, including the building of a tsunami wall and emergency generators. The Gongliao plant originally already had five more safety levels than its counterpart in Fukushima, the company said.