TAIPEI – Taiwanese Premier Jiang Yi-huah announced Monday the suspension of construction of the island’s controversial fourth nuclear power station, pending a public referendum on whether to resume work.
An estimated 28,500 anti-nuclear demonstrators blockaded one of Taipei’s busiest streets Sunday, forcing the ruling Kuomintang party to yield and halt construction work at the nearly completed plant.
Jiang defended the government’s decision to stop work but not to scrap the 283.8 billion New Taiwan dollar ($9.4 billion) project.
“By suspending the construction, we hope the public will have time to think and discuss the issue before they determine at the ballot box,” Jiang told a news conference.
“In this way, we would leave an option open to our next generation when choosing energy (sources),” he said.
Jiang said Taiwan cannot afford another shock similar to 2000 when the then-government of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) announced it was scrapping the plant.
That announcement plunged politics and the stock market into chaos for months. The Supreme Court later ruled against the government decision.
Sunday’s concession prompted many demonstrators to leave but hundreds remained, causing police to use water cannon to disperse them Monday morning.
Claiming they were attacked, club-waving riot police chased some protesters. Police also carried away some sit-in demonstrators lying on the ground.
More than 40 people were slightly injured in the clashes, the government said.
If completed, the new power station 40 km (25 miles) from Taipei will be the island’s fourth nuclear plant. Opponents say it would be unsafe in an earthquake-prone island.
The plant has two reactors, one of which is 98 percent complete.
Protest organizers said they will keep watching to see if the government fulfills its promises.
Concerns about the safety of nuclear power flared up again in the wake of the March 11, 2011, Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Like Japan, Taiwan is regularly hit by earthquakes.
In September 1999 a 7.6-magnitude quake killed around 2,400 people in the island’s deadliest natural disaster in recent history.
Taiwan’s three existing nuclear power plants supply about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity.