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July 21, 2017

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Should 4th nuke plant stay or go?

Before discussing Taiwan's surging anti-nuclear power movement — a political tsunami that threatens to sink President Ma Ying-jeou's limping boat of a second term — perhaps some background is needed.

Last month, Britain gave the green light to the Hinkley Point nuclear power plant in southern England, a US$21 billion project. Japan, the victim of one of the worst nuclear power plant disasters in history two years ago, has not ruled out nuclear power as a source of energy, especially after the pro-nuclear power Liberal Democratic Party won the general election last December. Russia, the country that bears the stigma of the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in 1986, has three reactors under construction. The United States, whose Three Mile Island nuclear plant incident in 1979 resulted in a 30-year freeze on new nuclear plant licenses, has started building new reactors in Georgia and Texas. Neighboring South Korea has seven reactors totaling 10 gigawatts (GW) being built. China has 28 reactors, most of which are among the world's most advanced, under construction. The list goes on and on.

One cannot help wondering: Are they crazy? Haven't they ever heard the shibboleth "nuclear-free country" (非核家園)? Do they have any concern about nuclear safety? Why don't people in those countries throw up their arms to protest?

Well, they did, only sporadically and on a smaller scale, which paled in comparison to our massive anti-nuke demonstration that drew 200,000 protesters on March 9, arguably the largest of its kind in history. The Hinkley Point project, for example, was delayed and blocked by protesters from environmental groups like Greenpeace as well as by local residents. They just wanted their complaints heard and answered. In the end, they allowed nuclear energy regulators and the government to make the final decision. In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said this week he favors restarting the suspended reactors if they meet new safety requirements. It would be unthinkable if such a view was voiced in Taiwan by President Ma Ying-jeou.

Taiwan is always unique. Although this island has not seen the likes of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl or Fukushima, Taiwan's nuclear power issue has been treated by anti-nuke groups as a matter of life or death. In particular, it's kind of a holy war waged by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has enshrined their anti-nuclear cause in their bible. They fight for the cause with religious fervor under the banner "nuclear safety." (Who can say no to nuclear safety?)

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