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Taiwan to hold referendum to decide fate of nuclear plant

Taiwan has suspended the construction of its fourth nuclear power plant, after thousands took to the streets in protest against the controversial project. A referendum is expected to be held to decide the fate of the plant, called Nuke 4.

TAIPEI: Taiwan has suspended the construction of its fourth nuclear power plant, after thousands took to the streets in protest against the controversial project.

The move is a concession to protesters, but is a far cry from giving in to their demands of abolishing it altogether.

A referendum is expected to be held to decide the fate of the plant, called Nuke 4.

Water cannon did not appear to put out the fury of the anti-nuclear protesters, and hundreds still refused to leave until plans for Taiwan's fourth nuclear power plant are scrapped.

The sit-in was initiated by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), but surveys showed the sentiment is shared by as many as 70 per cent of Taiwanese.

They do not think nuclear power is safe, especially after the disaster that struck Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in 2011.

Under growing pressure, the government agreed to temporarily suspend the construction of Nuke 4 but has refused to abolish the project altogether, instead preferring to put the issue to a vote later this year.

Jiang Yi-huah, Taiwan's administrative head, said: "The administrative authority, no matter represented by which department, will clearly elaborate our opinion on the amendment on the referendum if there is one."

If the nuclear power plant is eventually scrapped, Taiwan may face a possible power shortage. Nuclear power currently accounts for nearly 20 per cent of the island's total power supply.

The Economics Ministry has warned that electricity costs could rise by 10 per cent if the US$10-billion facility remains inactive.

And if Taiwan is to do away with nuclear power completely, energy officials said the price of electricity could increase by as much as 40 per cent.

It is a price the Taiwanese would have to bear if the majority votes against nuclear power in the referendum, and analysts warned that this could have a devastating impact on the island's economy.

The issue has clearly become a political battle in which the DPP is likely to emerge as the winner, given the strong public sentiment against nuclear power.

The focus now is on when the referendum will be held, as the outcome will have a profound impact on the future of the island.

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