|Police use water cannon to disperse demonstrators protesting the|
construction of a 4th nuclear plant, in front of the Taipei Railway
station in Taipei, 28 April 2014. (Reuters)
by Jenny W. Hsu, Wall Street Journal, 28 April 2014
Police in Taipei Used Water Cannons to Evict Thousands of Antinuclear Protesters
Police in Taipei used water cannons to evict thousands of protesters demonstrating against a new nuclear power plant on Monday morning, hours after the Taiwan government agreed to suspend construction of a new reactor.
The police action—which didn't result in any arrests—began shortly before 3 a.m. after police said the 3,000 protesters ignored several warnings to leave a main thoroughfare outside the Taipei Railway Station. Protesters remained seated or lying on the eight-lane street when police moved in.
Nuclear power has been a contentious issue in Taiwan for decades, with the island dependent on imports to meet most of its energy needs.
Concerns that the island's fourth nuclear power plant will soon go into operation touched off a new round of protests by the antinuclear movement. A respected 73-year-old dissident-turned-antinuclear activist began a hunger strike last week. This weekend, tens of thousands of people marched against the new plant before occupying the area outside the railway station.
On Sunday evening, the ruling Nationalist Party or Kuomintang announced the government agreed to halt construction at the fourth plant, which is located in northern Taipei, until an island-wide referendum is held on the issue. Under the government's concession, the first reactor at the Lungmen Power Plant will be sealed off and stay offline after it goes through the inspection process while all work on the second reactor will cease immediately.
Protesters, however, disagreed, demanding a complete end to the project and the use of nuclear power, criticizing the call for a referendum as a tactic that may play to the government's advantage.
Under the current law, more than half of the eligible voters must show up at polling booths in order for a referendum to be valid. Taiwan has held six nationwide referendums since 2004 but all failed to reach the necessary threshold. In a news conference Monday, Premier Jiang Yi-hua suggested the government is unwilling to budge on the threshold.
The government has said that with all three existing nuclear plants going offline in phases between 2018 and 2025, the fourth plant is necessary to meet demand and ensure the island's energy security.
"Taiwan is an island that imports 98% of its energy. Our power grid system doesn't allow us to buy power directly from other countries or regions. In case of a power shortage, we are on our own," said President Ma Ying-jeou on his Facebook page.
Protesters are concerned about environmental damage and safety, and protests intensified after Japan's March 2011 earthquake and tsunami wrecked a Japanese nuclear power plant. Like Japan, Taiwan straddles geologically unstable fault lines along the western rim of the Pacific.
The nuclear protests add to problems for President Ma, whose popularity ratings have sunk over Taiwan's slack economy and dissatisfaction over the closer relations his government has forged with China—Taiwan's antagonist from the Chinese civil war.
A protest movement against a services trade pact with China occupied Taiwan's legislative assembly hall in March. Police also forcibly removed protesters when they raided and tried to occupy the cabinet's building.
Write to Jenny W. Hsu at firstname.lastname@example.org