(October 6, 2000) On 3 October 2000, Tang Fei resigned as premier of Taiwan, after some four months in office. His resignation was followed by the resignation of the cabinet the next day in order to allow a cabinet re-shuffle. Tang said that he resigned for health reasons. However his resignation comes after a string of controversies in Taiwanese politics, of which the latest concerned the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant project (Lungmen).
(535.5204) WISE Amsterdam - Tang had previously said on 18 September that he would consider resigning if construction of the plant is stopped. His reaction was prompted by the vote of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant Re-evaluation Committee, which was nine to six in favor of stopping construction of the Lungmen plant, with the country's seventh and eight reactor.
The plant's construction has long been controversial. The nationalist KuoMinTang (KMT) party, which had been in power for 50 years until the elections last March, has consistently supported the project, which was originally proposed in 1978 by the state-owned power company, Taipower. However environmental groups have long campaigned against the project. There have been many anti-nuclear demonstrations in Taiwan, of which the largest, on 29 May 1994 and 3 September 1995, were attended by about 30,000 people. Parliamentary opposition, particularly from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), caused delays in approving the project's incorporation in the national budget. Construction work finally began in October 1997.
In 1999, a fact-finding inspection of the construction site in Kung Liao valley in Taipei County was carried out by lawmakers of the DPP, which at that time was the opposition party in Taiwan. The lawmakers said they found that 20% of the construction project had already been carried out, including the laying of foundations 20 stories deep to accommodate the reactor despite the fact that the Taipei County government had not yet issued a permit for its construction (see WISE News Communique 508). Despite the findings of this inspection, construction continued, and the project is currently about one-third completed.
After this year's presidential elections in March, the DPP for the first time became part of the government. However, although the President, Chen Shui-bian, is from the DPP, the KMT still has a majority in the elected Legislature. Lungmen became an object of controversy, since one of the DPP's election pledges was to stop construction of the nuclear power plant, while the KMT continue to insist that it must be completed. The new government ordered Taipower to put off soliciting bids for further construction work and set up the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant Re-evaluation Committee to re-consider the project.
Local people have also vehemently opposed the project. In 1994, for example, Kung Liao Valley residents voted 96% against the project in a referendum. This and other referendums (see WISE News Communique 531.5183) were ignored by the KMT party.
On 15 September, the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant Re-evaluation Committee, voted nine to six in favor of stopping construction of the new plant. After this result became public, local people set off firecrackers in celebration.
On 30 September, a press release from the Ministry of Economics also recommended cancellation of the project. In response to Taipower's earlier claims that northern Taiwan will face a 15% shortfall in electricity requirements by 2007 if the plant does not go ahead, the Ministry of Economics has proposed three alternatives to prevent power shortages in northern Taiwan: building privately operated electricity generating plants, speeding up completion of a power transmission line to the region and achieving the benefits of "private capital and ingenuity" by privatising the electricity generation industry.
The ministry estimates that the financial loss if construction is halted will be between NT$75.1-90.3 billion (US$2.27-2.72 billion), though if the reactors and the turbines can be re-sold then this figure would be reduced to about NT$47.6 billion (about US$1.44 billion). These figures are understood to include compensation to be paid to the constructors, including General Electric and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Completion of the plant, on the other hand, would cost over NT$120 billion (US$3.62 billion). If privately operated power plants were built instead, however, the estimated cost is NT$75 billion (US$2.26 billion).
Another plan was proposed by the DPP. By canceling plans for two additional naphtha cracker plants, which the DPP claims are unnecessary because of Taiwan's overproduction of ethylene, energy needs would decrease, avoiding a power shortfall.
The final decision on whether or not to cancel the project will be taken by the Executive Yuan. A legal controversy has arisen over this. Lin Chuan, an official of the Executive Yuan, has claimed that the government may have trouble finding a legal basis to stop the project, since the Budget Law states that the government can only stop using a budget in the case of a national emergency. However DPP legislator Lai Chin-lin has argued that no law would be violated, since scrapping the project "only involves a change of policy and failure to execute the budget". However the KMT's majority in the Legislature could still cause problems with discontinuing the budget.
- The Taipei Times Online, 16, 19, 22 and 26 September and 4 October 2000
- Nucleonics Week, 21 September 2000
- CNN.com, 4 October 2000
- UI News Briefing 00.39, 20-26 September
- Taiwan Ministry of Economics press release, 30 September 2000
- Email from Vice-President of Taiwan Environmental Protection Union, 20 June 2000
Contact: Taiwan Environmental Protection Union, #29, Lane 128, Section 3, Roosevelt Rd., Taipei, Taiwan, tel +886 2 363 6419, Fax +886 2 362 3458
Web site www.taiwanese.com/tepu