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Make, and live with, nuclear decision
Publication Date : 18-03-2013
Despite his avowed commitment to abide by the outcome of a referendum in deciding whether or not to scrap Taiwan's Fourth Nuclear Power Plant now being built in Gongliao, New Taipei City, Taiwanese Premier Jiang Yi-huah, caught between a rock and a hard place, may be trying to prejudice the outcome of the vote sponsored by the ruling Kuomintang.
Many people are sympathetic to Premier Jiang, or anyone who is in his shoes and the same predicament. Primarily, when he was given the job last month, he was supposed to turn around the tanking economy, not an impossible task, but one that cannot be easily achieved without the availability of cheap energy. And cheap energy cannot be easily available in resource-poor, developing Taiwan if it decides to wean itself from the use of nuclear energy. The large-scale use of other energy sources, such as coal and natural gas, however, could lead to pollution, higher electricity costs, and a further dependence on fossil or other fuel imports. The smog recently engulfing China's capital Beijing and its surrounding areas is a foretaste of what would likely happen in Taiwan if nuclear energy gets a thumbs-down in the referendum.
The arguments for the continued use of nuclear energy are familiar and, of course, sound, too. But it must be understood that the people's safety concerns are also real and equally understandable, especially in the aftermath of Fukushima. So one wonders why Jiang, instead of allowing the referendum to take its course, appears to be a little “desperate” when there is a possibility that the government might have to halt the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.
He said earlier this month that he will tender his resignation, in order to take political responsibility, if the nation votes to halt the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant's construction, before warning that the country's power supply monopoly Taipower may face bankruptcy if the project is scrapped. The consequences of Taipower going bankrupt, as a result of a construction halt, would likewise be levied on the people, he added.
And then, earlier this week the Cabinet-level Fair Trade Commission (FTC) slapped record fines totaling NT$6.32 billion on nine independent power producers (IPP), accusing them of having reaped illegal profits.
The regulator's ruling represents the highest fines to be levied since amendments completed last year that allowed it to exact fines as high as 10 per cent of an offender's annual revenue, instead of the previous maximum of NT$25 million (US$838,901). The strictest standards were enforced in the ruling, said the FTC.
One wonders whether the use of the strictest standards against the believably deserving offenders, not before the decision to hold the referendum but after it, is an attempt to force the hand of voters by threatening to burn bridges.
Taiwan is a democracy, albeit a budding one. So if the majority of voters vote in favour of scrapping the nuclear power plant and have to face dire consequences thereafter, so be it. Did they not once vote into office a corrupt president in the past? The use of veiled threats, or something that smacks of it, is not quite advisable, especially when there is no strong argument for Jiang's resignation even if the referendum outcome is not to his, or the government's, liking.
In remarks delivered last week, Jiang said his Cabinet had asked the Ministry of Economic Affairs to map out future plans for Taiwan's renewable energy and practical measures in reaching a non-nuclear homeland. This is more positive, and what he really should do even if the electorate votes down the nuclear power plant.