Council of Grand Justices ruling keeps talk of 4th nuclear power plant still at issue.
Speaking with the leaders of Taiwan's environmental protection movement on the night of January 15, several hours after the Council of Grand Justices ruled that the Executive Yuan could not, on its own, cancel the fourth nuclear power plant, the mood was one of solemn determination.
For 10 weeks after Premier Chang Chun-hsuing announced the cancellation of the plant, anti-nuclear groups were hoping the political tide had finally turned against the project. Not so.
"The Grand Justices' decision puts the whole issue back to the starting point," says Dr. Shih Shin-Min, professor of chemical engineering at National Taiwan University and chair of the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union (TEPU). But Shih and colleagues remain determined. "We have already struggled against the fourth nuclear power plant for 13 years," he says. "We believe eventually we will win."
The next step will likely see the premier deliver a report to the Legislative Yuan (LY) detailing his reasons for canceling the project. Legislators can then accept the decision or fight it either by issuing a vote of no confidence and removing the premier or passing a law on the issue. The LY may well try to revive the plant because the majority of lawmakers belong to the opposition Kuomintang or New Party, both of which support the new nuclear power plant.
Still, TEPU members point to several factors in their favor. First, construction on the plant stopped in October, and environmentalists believe re-starting work will be difficult if residents and anti-nuclear activists renew longstanding protests. Second, the DPP-led government is largely opposed to the plant. Third, even if the legislature tries to reinstate the plant, Shih is hopeful that the end-2001 legislative elections will bring more DPP lawmakers to the LY, shifting the balance against the project.
Other environmentalists stress that the advisory committee assessing the fourth nuclear power plant last spring and summer convinced the premier not only by emphasizing the environmental risks of the plant, but also by showing that the expected costs of completing and operating the plant were far higher than those released by Taipower. Linda Arrigo, international affairs officer for the Taiwan Green Party, says economics was one of the main reasons the premier made his decision. Environmentalists hope this reasoning will also convince lawmakers.
Members of the TEPU believe actual construction costs for the plant to be three times the figures used by Taipower, and that the cost of producing 1 kilowatt hour of electricity via nuclear power in Taiwan is actually NT$2.55, rather than Taipower's quoted cost of NT$0.85.
After the recent political intrigues, most Taiwan-based businesspeople are uncertain about the fate of Nuclear Power Plant 4. Several interviewed for this article gave the project a high chance of being revived, while Taipower representatives were confident that the plant would be reinstated.
Whatever the outcome, the dramatic turnabouts of the project have taught Taiwan's business community several lessons. First, the local environmental movement is now sophisticated and well connected politically. One U.S. businessman commented that, in the lead-up to the cancellation, the anti-nuclear movement in Taiwan was better organized and more effective than the pro-nuclear camp * a significant change considering that that the pro-nuclear movement is led by state-run monopoly Taipower, one of Taiwan's largest, most powerful, and wealthiest companies.
Second, the political storm triggered by the cancellation exposed the rough edges of Taiwan's current political scene. Says the American executive, "I personally think that the way the process has developed so far shows that the new administration is unskilled at smoothly solving political problems."
Lastly, the fate of the project has clearly chilled investor sentiment. "there's no doubt that foreign companies are more concerned now than they were before," says Jonathan Heimer, commercial officer for the American Institute in Taiwan. Meanwhile, since the cancellation of the nuclear power plant, one Taipei-based consultant now warns clients that there is "an additional risk" that the projects in which they are considering investing may be cancelled.