Taiwan anti-nuclear groups pick May 19 for protest

Protest to coincide with eve presidential anniversary

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Anti-nuclear groups said Friday they would mark the eve of President Ma Ying-jeou’s fifth anniversary in office with a massive protest against nuclear energy and against the government’s plans for a referendum about the fourth nuclear plant.
The May 19 event will see protesters march from Taipei’s eastern areas to Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office Building, activists said. Ma first took office as president on May 20, 2008 and was sworn in for a second term on May 20, 2012.
Organizers said they did not oppose the concept of referendums as such, but reproached the government for wasting public money and effort in organizing a national vote which should not take place because most polls showed majorities of up to more than 70 percent against the nuclear plant now nearing completion in Gongliao, New Taipei City.
Ma and the Cabinet headed by Premier Jiang Yi-huah want to hold a nationwide plebiscite on the project before the end of the year. On April 26, the Legislative Yuan approved a first reading of a proposal from ruling Kuomintang lawmaker Lee Ching-hua to put the question ‘do you agree that the construction of the fourth nuclear plant should be halted and that it not be allowed to operate?’ on the ballot. The issue has now entered a one-month negotiation phase before it is expected to come up again by the end of May.
The opposition said the phrasing was a trick because if fewer than 50 percent of eligible voters participate in the vote, the result would not be valid, meaning construction could just continue and the fuel rods could be installed next year according to the plans of state-run Taiwan Power Corporation.
The aims of the May 19 protest were the cancellation of the government’s referendum plans and Taiwan’s move toward a nuclear-free future, organizers said. The main opposition Democratic Progressive Party has proposed a nuclear phase-out by 2025, but the government claims there are insufficient alternative energy sources to supply enough power if the Gongliao project is not completed.
Taiwan’s previous mass anti-nuclear protest, on March 9 shortly before the second anniversary of Japan’s Fukushima disaster, rallied an estimated more than 200,000 participants across the country.
Critics of the fourth plant say the project, which has dragged on for decades, is one of the most expensive and most dangerous nuclear power plants in the world because of its proximity to earthquake fault lines and to the densely populated Taipei area.
Supporters counter that economic growth will be hampered by power shortages beginning within a few years. The government says that only if the plant is certified as safe will it be allowed to commence operations. An international team of experts is scheduled to begin conducting safety tests this month which could last until the end of the year, just before the national referendum is expected to take place.
In the meantime, activists including former Vice President Annette Lu have also been pushing for a local referendum about the issue in New Taipei City.