What you need to know
Flush from referendum success, a pro-nuclear group is suggesting a further plebiscite on restarting construction of the fourth nuclear power plant if the government doesn't adjust its energy policy of its own accord.
The government has downplayed the success of the referendum advocating for an end to its commitment to make Taiwan nuclear-free by 2025, but may face a further referendum on whether to restart work on the fourth nuclear power plant at Lungmen in New Taipei.
Referendum 16, which asked: “Do you agree to repeal Article 95 paragraph 1 of The Electricity Act: “The nuclear-energy-based power-generating facilities shall wholly stop running by 2025?” passed on Saturday with a participation rate of approximately 55 percent of 19.7 million eligible voters, according to Central Election Commission data.
Yet the response of the government suggests that despite the success of this referendum, energy policy will likely remain unchanged.
Spokesperson for the Executive Yuan Kolas Yotaka confirmed on Sunday that the paragraph of the Electricity Act committing to phasing out nuclear power will be removed within three days, as required under the referendum law, but that the government will persist with its goal of making Taiwan a nuclear-free homeland by 2025.
Moreover, it is not possible to postpone the phase-out of the No. 1, 2 and 3 nuclear plants for legal reasons, she said.
Speaking to China Times, Lee Chun-li (李君禮), Deputy Director General of the Bureau of Energy at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, said that energy policy would not need to change because the referendum question does not mandate a reintroduction of nuclear power. He said that the deadline for applications to postpone the decommissioning of the first and second nuclear plants had already passed, and while it was still possible to apply for an extension for the third nuclear power plant, the government's plan to generate 20 percent of power by renewables by 2025 should alleviate the need to do so.
Two other energy policy referendums, asking whether Taiwan should commit not to construct any new coal-fired power plants or generators or expand existing facilities, and lower electricity output of thermal coal plants by at least 1 percent per year on average, also passed on Saturday, but were moot in light of existing government policy.
Premier William Lai (賴清德) this morning suggested that the Legislative Yuan will debate the nuclear referendum result 30 days after announcing the abolition of the clause in the Electricity Act, but he would not be drawn on the exact nature of the discussions, or whether they would involve questions relating to the decommissioning of Taiwan’s existing nuclear facilities.
In the aftermath of the referendum victory, the proposer of the referendum question, Huang Shih-hsui (黃士修) of the group Nuclear MythBusters (核能流言終結者), which is aligned with the opposition Kuomintang, reacted with surprise to the Executive Yuan announcement.
“I can't understand why Ms. Yotaka is so irrational,” Huang told The News Lens. "As a spokesperson for the Executive Yuan, she is declaring war [on the] absolute majority. But today, Premier Lai said he respects the result of referendum, and will discuss [the matter] with the Legislative Yuan, so energy policy might be changed. Let's wait and see.”
Huang also opened the door to a further referendum on restarting construction of the unfinished fourth nuclear power plant in Lungmen should the government not comply with the spirit of the Nov. 24 referendum: “It’s still possible that we need to do a second, ‘Go Green with Nuclear’ referendum on restarting the Lungmen (龍門) nuclear power plant,” he said, adding that last Saturday’s referendum was “a milestone of democracy [and] the first time people have the power to abolish an evil law without the parties.”
The mothballed fourth nuclear plant has already cost more than US$10 billion, and the fuel rods intended for use in its reactors are being sent back to the supplier.
Meanwhile, anti-nuclear campaigners are reiterating arguments in support of the government’s existing energy policy.
Wu Cheng-cheng (吳澄澄), a researcher at Green Citizens' Action Alliance (綠色公民行動聯盟), told The News Lens: “Practically, it is very difficult to continue the use of nuclear power after 2025. The first and second nuclear power plant have already passed deadline for the extension of legal licenses. And the fourth nuclear power plant never passed the security examination.”
Wu also highlighted the government’s progress in introducing policies and opportunities favorable to renewable energy. “Nuclear energy will become less and less competitive under these trends – we see no reason to embrace nuclear again.”
Martin Su (蘇彣忠) Taiwan Coordinator for 350.org, an international NGO focused on dropping the level of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere from 400 ppm to 350 ppm, said, “Nuclear is not renewable. In fact, the continuation and development of nuclear power in Taiwan will hinder the development of renewables. What we would like to see from the government is a road map after 2025 toward a 100 percent renewable future."
The other two referendum questions fall under the category Important Policy and under the referendum law require a response from the relevant government agency. As such, Taipower spokesperson Hsu Tsao-hua (徐造華) stated that while the state power generator respects the results of the referendum, it will continue to follow government policy. He pointed out that since there are no plans for expansion or construction of coal-fired plants there is no need to adjust policy. Furthermore, the Executive Yuan had already announced prior to the referendum that expansion of the Shenao plant (which was specifically referenced in question eight) would be halted.
Similarly, Hsu signaled that no change was necessary to current policy to satisfy the demands of the question on the reduction of reliance on thermal power. The current government targets already cover the question. According to Wu Cheng-cheng, “The official goal of reducing coal fired power is already more radical than [that proposed in] question 7. The Shenao power plant was already cancelled last month. From the NGOs’ perspective, these two questions proposed by the KMT have no actual help to [our] current campaign.”
Lev Nachman, a PhD student in Political Science at the University of California, Irvine, who flew to Taiwan to observe the elections, commented: “Referendums are still a new phenomena in Taiwan. In 2017, the new referendum laws went into effect, making it easier to get referendums through to ballots. The double-edge sword of lower referendum [thresholds] allowed for so many referendums, in this case even competing questions advocating for the opposite outcome. I do not think this will be the last time we see so many referendums, after seeing how successful [they] can be (considering how many of them passed the 25 percent threshold of eligible voters taking part). I think referendums have the potential to become a central part of future elections.”
Editor: David Green (@DavidPeterGreen)
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