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Is Tsai rethinking nuclear power or not? What you need to know about the controversy

TAIPEI, Taiwan — To the uninitiated, the debate over whether the president said nuclear power is an option for Taiwan could be confusing.

Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce (工商協進會) Chairman Lin Por-fong (林伯豐) said Friday that President Tsai Ing-wen told him at a meeting with CNAIC representatives earlier in the day that the government would consider using nuclear power if Taiwan faced a serious power shortage.

The Presidential Office later said that was not true, stressing that more than just a power shortage would be needed for it to consider restarting suspended nuclear plants.

Still, the administration was essentially admitting that nuclear power could be an option, albeit under very unlikely circumstances.

So why did it feel the need to refute Lin?

Because the "nuclear power option" probably means different things to the government and Lin.

Nuclear power is already more than "an option" in Taiwan. Three nuclear generators are currently operating, contributing around 7 to 8 percent of total power production.

But neither Tsai nor Lin were talking about this literal interpretation of the nuclear power option.

The "option" both sides were alluring to was an all-encompassing interpretation that includes restarting the suspended generators, delaying the phase-out of nuclear power currently slated for 2025 and the resumption of construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.

The government would only consider restarting the three nuclear generators, which are currently offline for annual maintenance. The Tsai administration, which advocates the phasing out of nuclear power, has to allow consideration because it does not have legal grounds to shut these generators now. But it is not giving this option much consideration — the administration said it would restart them only if there were no other choice, if it were demonstrated to be safe and if there were a "social consensus," which could mean a referendum.

It would also not consider delaying the decommissioning or resumption of Nuke 4.

That's why when Lin — who represents the business community, which has generally supported nuclear power — apparently rephrased the government's much narrower scope of consideration with the broad "nuclear power is an option," the government reacted so strongly.

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