Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Taiwan's Nuclear Fight Is All about Votes ; Talks Began, Then Ended, This Week on Resuming Construction of a Power Plant on Hold since October

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Taiwan's Nuclear Fight Is All about Votes ; Talks Began, Then Ended, This Week on Resuming Construction of a Power Plant on Hold since October

Article excerpt

When President Chen Shui-bian likened the movie "The Perfect Storm" to Taiwan's heated debate over the construction of a nuclear power plant, he wasn't showing off a knack for hyperbole.

For more than three months, the government has been entangled in a vicious battle that ostensibly centers on the construction of the island's fourth nuclear power plant - a US$5.5 billion, 2,700 megawatt plant that is one-third finished.

But as the political fight wages on, it has become apparent that it is really not about electrical, but electoral, needs.

Mr. Chen's government and the opposition-led legislature tried to enter negotiations last week, but by Tuesday they had broken down. An opposition alliance ordered the government again to first resume construction, saying that it would not negotiate until work resumed.

Political analysts say that the only sign of clear skies on the horizon are legislative elections at year's end, which could level the now uneven political playing field.

Calculations are based on hopes for gaining more seats, not resolving the crisis, says Hsu Szu-chien, a professor of comparative politics at National Chengchi University. "Each side is betting on that big game - this has more to do with politics than the issue itself."

The Kuomintang (KMT), which lost to Chen in last year's presidential elections, ending more than 50 years of one-party rule, has long argued that without the plant, Taiwan's economy will collapse. It recently added that without the plant, the semiconductor industry would see more blackouts than ever. Others claim that companies have reportedly begun moving operations to China because of the fight.

Chen's government sees things differently. It says that independent power producers will make up for at least 93 percent of the plant's output. It also argues that since Taiwan is already struggling to find a place to bury nuclear waste, a fourth plant is out of the question. The government has assured the public that for the next seven years, Taiwan will not lack any electrical power. While neighbors like Japan and China plan to continue building nuclear power plants, Taiwan has begun looking more earnestly into alternative energy. …

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