TAIPEI, Taiwan, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- The fate of Taiwan's controversial $9.3 billion nuclear power plant will be a key issue in the country's upcoming presidential elections.
Taiwan's three existing nuclear power plants -- Chinshan, Kuosheng and Maanshan -- provide 17 percent of the country's overall energy needs. Built in the 1970s, the facilities are operated by the Taiwan Power Co. utility, known as Taipower, under the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
But after Japan's magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 led to a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, concerns regarding the safety of nuclear power became a major campaign issue for Taiwan's presidential elections, set for Jan. 14.
Taipower's No. 4 Longmen, Taiwan's fourth nuclear plant still under construction in New Taipei City, has been bitterly opposed by local residents, environmentalists and the Democratic Progressive Party even before the Fukushima disaster. It had been scheduled to come online by December 2011.
Taiwan Today reports that in pre-operation tests over the past year, Longmen, which will feature two 1,350-megawatt advanced boiling water reactor units, has experienced fires, blackouts and other irregularities.
Not long after the Fukushima disaster, Democratic Progressive Party Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen sai, a candidate for president, had proposed a "2025 Nuclear-Free Home Plan," whereby the three existing plants would be retired on the current schedule, by 2025, and Longmen would not be allowed to load fuel or begin commercial operation.
In November, Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said if re-elected to a second four-year term he would allow Longmen to start commercial operation before 2016 "on the basis of assured safety" and thus would not extend the 40-year service life of the Chinshan, Kuosheng and Maanshan nuclear plants.
But following a Taipower presentation on measures it was taking to deal with Longmen's structural problems raised by critics, Atomic Energy Council Deputy Minister Huang Ching-tung announced last month the nuclear power plant would continue under "intensified monitoring."
"We will uphold the principles of safety first with quality as our top priority," Huang said.
The third presidential candidate, James Soong of the People First Party, favors not extending the service life of the three existing nuclear power plants but wants to take a "wait and see" approach regarding the new plant.
One option, National Taiwan University Professor of Economics Lin Shang-kai told Inter Press News Agency, would be to allow Longmen's completion but not allow it to load fuel or operate, thus avoiding legislative approval for its cancellation.