Pro-nuke, anti-Fukushima food referendums both win in Taiwan

Taiwanese vote to keep nuclear plants running, while also blocking food imports from Japan's nuclear disaster

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Damaged No. 3 reactor building at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Damaged No. 3 reactor building at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- In seemingly contradictory decisions, Taiwanese during Saturday's "nine-in-one" elections" have voted in favor of the continued operation of nuclear reactors in the highly earthquake-prone country, while banning food from Fukushima Prefecture, the scene of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011.

While much more attention has been paid to the fate of the referendums concerning pro-/anti-marriage equality and Olympic team name change, the initiative to delay the phasing out of nuclear power plants in Taiwan that was the only one that was legally binding. Calling for a repeal of Article 95-1 of the Electricity Act, National Referendum Proposition 16, which mandated the decommissioning of all nuclear power plants by 2025, read as follows:

"Do you agree with abolishing the first paragraph of Article 95 of the Electricity Act, which means abolishing the provision that 'all nuclear-energy-based power-generating facilities shall cease to operate by 2025'?"

According to the Central Election Commission, a total of 5,895,560 votes were cast in favor of repealing the slated 2025 elimination of nuclear power, with 4,014,215 having voted against the referendum. Under the new rules for referendums, which went into effect last year, if the initiative calls for the repealing of an existing law, then it is legally binding.

If a referendum calls for a new law, the government must submit a proposal within three months after the vote, and the Legislature must complete a review before its next summer or winter break. If the referendum calls for a change of policy, the president or relevant authority must take steps to put the result into practice.

As the other nine referendums fell into the category of a new law or change in policy, they did not have the immediate legal effect that Proposition 16 had.

Ironically, despite pushing for continued use of nuclear power on the earthquake-prone island, another referendum that was voted in called for the prohibition of agricultural and food imports from areas affected by the Fukushim Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011. The referendum, also known as National Referendum Proposition 9 read as follows:

"Do you agree that the government should maintain the prohibition of agricultural imports and food from areas affected by the Fukushima March 11th Disaster? Specifically, those from Fukushima proper and the 4 surrounding districts and cities of Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, and Chiba?"

As a result, 77 percent of voters chose to continue to ban food imports from areas affected by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, with the final tally being 7,791,856 for the ban and 2,231,425 against.

In response, the Executive Yuan spokeswoman, Kolas Yotaka, said on Sunday that the policy to phase out all nuclear power plants in Taiwan by 2025 was still in effect. She said that despite the removal of Article 95, it is likely impossible to halt the phasing out of the No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 reactors at this stage.

This is because applications for postponement must be submitted 5-10 years before the slated retirement days of nuclear power plants and there is not enough time to complete these given the 2025 termination date, said Kolas. She added that, if the mothballed No. 4 nuclear power plant was restarted, then it would not be fully operational until 2025, the year when the government's nuclear-free goal will have been reached, and thus would not be needed.

In a statement released on Sunday, Anti-nuclear activists said that that the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors are already being decommissioned and this process cannot be legally reversed. They said that the referendum could affect the No. 3 reactor, but emphasized that it is near the Hengchun fault line and is therefore not in a safe location for continued operation nor the addition of new units.