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Nuke 4 referendum & local elections

Su Tseng-chang, chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party, wants a referendum on Taiwan's Fourth Nuclear Power Plant at Gongliao in New Taipei City, popularly known as Nuke 4. The opposition party began collecting signatures last year for initiating the referendum to decide the future of the Longmen Nuclear Power Plant, the official name given to Nuke 4 by its operator, Taiwan Power Company.

He held a press conference at the New Taipei City Council last week to announce he is planning to call the referendum alongside what is known as the seven-in-one elections toward the end of next year. He came under fire from within his own party, the ruling Kuomintang, and anti-nuclear organizations.

All opponents panned Su for a political maneuver to win the nationwide seven local elections on one day. As the terms of all seven classes of local public office holders expire on Dec. 25 next year, the Central Election Commission has decided to hold elections of mayors and councilors of special municipalities, mayors and councilors of cities and counties, township and village chiefs and councilors, and ward chiefs all on one day in November or December 2014.

Su wishes to increase the turnout of supporters by inducing them to vote on the referendum, a tactic President Chen Shui-bian used to help win his 2004 re-election by calling two referendums on Election Day. Confronted with the opposition, Su is rethinking the timing of his plebiscite to determine the future of Nuke 4. Should he accept the demand of the Nuclear-free Homeland Alliance and other anti-nuclear organizations as well as his party heavyweights, he would have to initiate the referendum as soon as he could gather enough signatures for its endorsement.

It takes time to collect all the necessary signatures and get the initiative approved. Su has to race against the time, for Nuke 4 is now scheduled to make a test run at the end of this year, and if it passes the safety assessment of the World Association of Nuclear Power Operators and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, it will start commercial operation. It is all but certain that the referendum, if held at all, will be too late to decommission the commissioned Nuke 4.

Construction on Nuke 4 started at Gongliao in 1997. It was delayed by President Chen, who is now doing time for corruption and graft. Chen had the construction suspended in October 2000 because he wanted to scrap Nuke 4, a pet project of the previous Kuomintang administration. Construction resumed eight months later, delaying the commercial operation originally set for 2007 by three years with a loss of NT$400 billion (US$12 billion) in penalties, cost overruns and extra outlays.

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