Referendum on Nuclear Energy is Inevitable
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 25, 2013
Summary: The political turmoil brought about by the nuclear energy controversy is unavoidable. In order to minimize the impact and to find answers, a referendum is essential. The KMT and DPP should come up with a comprehensive long-term energy policy. They should hold a referendum. They should make the referendum an inside the system forum for public debate. Nuclear energy policy must be divorced from partisan political struggle. A public referendum is essential.
Full text below:
The nuclear energy controversy is increasingly urgent. Fuel rods are about to be loaded into the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant. The controversy is increasingly intense. The moment of decision is increasingly near.
To avoid divisiveness and chaos, the ruling and opposition parties should consider the possibility of a public referendum. They should establish a forum for debate. The people as a whole should cast their ballots and make their decision. They should ensure that the debate is conducted inside the institutional framework. They should ensure that any decision making takes place inside the institutional framework also. They must not allow the pros and cons to be argued and settled outside the system. Such outside the system decision-making will only tear the nation apart.
Consider both the "nuclear energy" and the "referendum" aspects of a "nuclear energy referendum." First consider the "referendum" aspect. Past experience tells us that the spirit and utility of the referendum process has been destroyed. Referenda are not used for policy making. They are used to mobilize political struggle. During the 2004 presidential election, the "missile purchase referendum" became a political football. During the 2008 presidential elections the "referendum on UN membership" served the same purpose. Referenda invariably become tools for ideological struggle, not means for decision making inside the institutional framework.
Suppose a referendum on nuclear energy is held? It would be the first time any public policy was ever determined by a referendum. As expected, DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang declared that the DPP would demand that an "anti-nuclear referendum" be incorporated into the 2014 "seven in one elections." Interestingly enough, party insiders soundly rejected his proposal. Some even accused him of being "out of his mind." Opponents utterly rejected his Machiavellian calculation. They thought the issue of nuclear energy and the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant must be fought and settled outside the institutional framework. They felt that greater political capital could be accumulated by working outside the system than within. Therefore they opposed any referendum.
The DPP once advocated a "Taiwan independence referendum." Yet the Chen Shui-bian regime amended the referendum law on its own initiative, ruling out any Taiwan independence referendum. They did this to make sure they could continue clamoring for Taiwan independence outside the system. They dared not demand a showdown within the system on Taiwan independence. The fact is the DPP has long demanded a referendum on the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant and on a non-nuclear homeland. Chen Shui-bian once tried to package deal a referendum on the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant with the presidential election. At the time this newspaper endorsed his proposal. Now that the moment of truth is near, however, most DPP insiders have suddenly gotten cold feet. They no longer demand a referendum. They are determined to block any referendum. Protests held outside the system, they have decided, are more advantageous. Such is their mentality. They are preoccupied with such trickery.
Now take the "nuclear energy" aspect. This has two levels. One. Does one want to oppose nuclear energy generation and eliminate nuclear energy generation? Two. Does one want to shut down the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant? This is a question of nuclear power plant safety. Is one's ultimate goal the elimination of nuclear energy altogether? If so, then that is more controversial than whether the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant should be used as a transitional measure or shut down altogether. Suppose one does not believe that Taiwan can afford to totally eliminate nuclear energy? Then the continuation or termination of the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant can be determined on the basis of objective and quantifiable nuclear safety standards. If a referendum is held, opposition to nuclear energy and whether to shut down the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant will be key issues.
Currently, global opposition to nuclear energy generation is on the rise. Germany and other countries are attempting to eliminate nuclear energy altogether. This is not in dispute. But over 100 nuclear reactors are currently in planning. Over 50 are under construction. France, South Korea, Russia, the United States, and the Chinese mainland are still increasing their use of nuclear energy. Japan was hit hard by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. But even Japan does not advocate the total elimination of nuclear energy. The whole world may demand nuclear safety. Some countries equate nuclear safety with the elimination of nuclear energy altogether. But other countries prefer safe nuclear energy.
We on Taiwan also face such a decision. The impact of opposition to nuclear energy is great. We all know this. Those who advocate the elimination of nuclear energy advocate an increase in the use of alternative energy, such as wind, solar, and biomass energy. But talk is cheap. Those who advocate scrapping nuclear energy also advocate industrial restructuring and the development of low-energy industries. Again, what is this, except more hot air? Are non-nuclear electricity prices something Taiwan's economy can withstand? That is in serious doubt.
Nuclear safety concerns cast a giant shadow in peoples' hearts. The Number Four Nuclear Power Plant's credibility has been the victim of political struggle. Its construction has been started and stopped repeatedly. Is it still safe? Taipower says that if the public has doubts, they can visit the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant and see for themselves. That is a joke. If laymen such as Kevin Tsai and Chen Ai Ling visit the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant site, what will they see? Unless Taipower is endorsed by internationally recognized professionals, it will not be able to gain the publc trust. If the operation of the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant once again falls victim to masses taking to the streets and surrounding the plant, the issue of nuclear energy will remain insoluble, and the nation will be torn asunder.
Concern for nuclear safety, and opposition to nuclear energy and the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant, are far reaching issues. Should the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant continue to operate or be shut down? This cannot be decided by skeptical laymen visiting the site. The ruling and opposition parties must realize that an ambiguous nuclear policy is the greatest threat to nuclear safety.
The political turmoil brought about by the nuclear energy controversy is unavoidable. In order to minimize the impact and to find answers, a referendum is essential. The KMT and DPP should come up with a comprehensive long-term energy policy. They should hold a referendum. They should make the referendum an inside the system forum for public debate. Nuclear energy policy must be divorced from partisan political struggle. A public referendum is essential.
2013.01.25 02:56 am