TAIPEI, Taiwan, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- The government of Taiwan said the fate of its fourth nuclear power plant in Taipei, under construction since 1992, will be decided in a public referendum.
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 state-run Taiwan Power Co., known as Taipower, under the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
Even before Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, the No. 4 facility had been bitterly opposed by residents, environmentalists and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party.
"The ultimate decision on this issue of major concern to people's lives and security, and to the nation's economic development in the future, shall be decided through a referendum," said Taiwanese Premier Jiang Yi-huah in announcing the referendum on whether to scrap the nuclear plant. The vote will likely be in July or August.
A poll by Taiwan Indicatory Survey Research released Tuesday indicated that 59.6 of respondents oppose the continued construction of the nuclear power plant. A further breakdown reveals that 67 percent of respondents in New Taipei City opposed the plant and 59.8 percent in Taipei.
Meantime, Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs said Tuesday it is evaluating the effect that a possible halt in construction would have on the country's electricity rates and the overall economy, with coal and natural gas being considered as likely alternatives.
In a January report, Taipower said if the No. 4 plant doesn't become operational and other nuclear power plants are shut down, the power reserve capacity would be less than 7.4 percent starting in 2015, below the legal requirement of 15 percent.
Taipower had previously estimated that electricity rates would increase 12 cents per kilowatt hour if natural gas-fueled plants are used instead of the No. 4 plant.
But DPP legislator Cheng Li-chiun argues that Taipower is misleading the public into believing the No. 4 nuclear plant is necessary by intentionally underestimating its ability to supply power while overestimating the demand for power usage, the China Post reports.
Meanwhile, the No. 1 reactor at the No. 4 plant is 95 percent complete, with 74 percent of the work tested said Tsai Fu-feng, a Taipower spokesman. Unless the project is voted down in the referendum, nuclear fuel rods will be installed at the reactor at the end of this year in preparation for its commercial operations, Tsai said.
Taipower said Monday that the total budget for No. 4 had reached $9.57 billion but that it was requesting an additional $1.56 billion from the government, for a final total of more than $11 billion.