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Taiwan to put near-completed nuclear plant on hold

AFP-JIJI

Taiwan’s government said Thursday it would seal off a nuclear power plant under construction that has been criticized by the public as unsafe, pending a referendum on its future.

Deputy economic affairs minister Woody Duh said maintenance fees could reach 4 billion New Taiwan dollars ($133 million) to shutter the power station for three years — the estimated time required to organize and hold the referendum.

In April, the government said it would halt construction after an estimated 28,500 protesters blockaded a main street in Taipei demanding the plant, which was due to open next year, be scrapped. Police used water cannon to dislodge hundreds who refused to leave the scene, in clashes that left 40 people injured.

Intense political wrangling has repeatedly delayed the project, which began in 1999 and has already cost around NT$300 billion.

The fourth plant is almost complete and was originally due to come on line in 2015, according to its operator the state-owned Taiwan Power Company (Taipower).

Concerns about Taiwan’s nuclear power facilities have mounted in the wake of the 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.

The main opposition Democratic Progressive Party opposes the new facility on safety grounds, though the ruling Kuomintang party says the island will run short of power unless it goes ahead.

The three existing nuclear power plants supply about 20 percent of Taiwan’s electricity.