a referendum on the taiwanese government's policy to phase out the use of nuclear energy by 2025 is to be held alongside local elections next month, taiwan's central election commission (cec) has announced after initially rejecting the proposal.
taiwan has four operable nuclear power reactors - two each at the kuosheng and maanshan plants - which account for around 15% of the island's electricity generation. construction of two units at lungmen began in 1999, but the project has been beset with political, legal and regulatory delays. the completed unit 1 was mothballed in july 2015, while construction of unit 2 was suspended in april 2014.
taiwan's democratic progressive party (dpp) was elected to government in january 2016 having a policy of creating a "nuclear-free homeland" by 2025. shortly after taking office, the dpp government passed an amendment to the electricity act, passing its phase-out policy into law.
the referendum proposal asks voters whether they agree with abolishing paragraph 1 of article 95 of the electricity act, which stipulates that "all nuclear energy-based power-generating facilities shall completely cease operations by 2025".
the call for a referendum on the government's phase-out policy was led by pro-nuclear and pro-democracy activist shih-hsiu huang, co-founder of nuclear myth-busters.
under taiwanese law, petitioners must deliver an initial 2000 signatures before gaining permission to spend six months gathering more signatures. the pro-nuclear activists reportedly submitted the initial signatures in march, but did not get permission until july to gather further signatures.
in august, former taiwanese president ma ying-jeou endorsed the referendum and joined pro-nuclear environmentalists in gathering signatures on the streets of taipei.
organisers said they delivered 315,000 signatures to the cec on 6 september - more than the required 282,000 for a referendum. an additional 24,000 signatures were delivered on 13 september, which the cec rejected after the deadline for submitting them was brought forward.
in protest to the cec's rejection of the signatures, huang began a hunger strike the same day. however, after 140 hours without food, he was rushed to hospital on 19 september with high blood pressure and a fast heartbeat. two fellow activists continued the hunger strike on huang's behalf.
ten renowned scientists, conservationists, energy experts and pro-democracy advocates wrote to president tsai ing-wen on 19 september to "express their concern" over the government-run cec's handling of the proposed referendum.
"we urge you and the cec to accept all signatures delivered before the official deadline of 14 september, and to treat the petitioners fairly," they said in a joint letter. "whether you support or oppose nuclear energy, it is vital that the people of taiwan be able to deliberate and decide on this matter themselves."
the cec said on 12 october that the petitioners had fallen short of the legal threshold to launch a referendum by 2326 signatures. however, on 17 october the taipei high administrative court ordered the commission to accept the additional signatures submitted on 13 september.
the cec announced yesterday that, taking these additional signatures into account, the petitioners had sufficient signatures to include the referendum in local elections on 24 november.
huang said if the proposed referendum is passed the clause in the electricity act will be removed three days after the commission announces the voting results, the taipei times reported. he also said another referendum proposal may also be submitted to resume work on two reactors at lungmen if the government refuses to change its nuclear power policy.