The Taiwanese government is being accused of violating election law after rejecting more than 24,000 signatures gathered by the former president and environmentalists seeking a popular vote on nuclear energy this November.
“I am not asking people to support nuclear power,” said Shih-Hsiu Huang, 31, the co-founder of Nuclear Myth-Busters, who began a hunger strike in front of the government Central Election Commission (CEC) last Thursday after it rejected the signatures. “I am asking the Taiwanese government to let the people choose.”
In August, Taiwan’s former president, Ma Ying-jeou, endorsed the referendum and joined pro-nuclear environmentalists in the streets of Taipei to gather signatures, drawing new support for the initiative and triggering widespread media coverage.
"Opposing nuclear energy is now an outdated trend," Ma said. "What has become a trend is how to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide to tackle global warming."
The referendum on nuclear power could still qualify for the ballot. Organizers say they had delivered 315,000 signatures on September 6 — more than the 282,000 that the law required.
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But the activists say that their odds declined when the government rejected an additional 24,000 signatures that they attempted to deliver on September 13.
“This is malfeasance,” said Tsung-Kuang Yeh, a professor of nuclear engineering at National Tsing Hua University. “First, they kept moving up the deadline — from September 14 to September 10 and then to September 6. Then, they rejected our signatures on September 13.”
Organizers say they delivered additional signatures to increase their chance of qualifying and were rejected on a technicality.
In a statement, the government commission said, “There is very little flexibility in each stage. To follow this stage-by-stage procedure, it is therefore not possible for the CEC to accept a second submittal.”
But Huang says a representative of the government told him by phone, which he video-recorded, on September 12, that she would accept the group’s additional signatures, and even told him which door in the building to enter in order to meet her.
“Twenty-four hours later the CEC changed its mind and slammed the door on us,” said Professor Yeh.
Huang said their signature-gathering benefited from widespread opposition to the current anti-nuclear government. With an approval rating of just 33%, President Tsai Ing-wen saw her popularity decline when half of all households suffered electricity outages last summer due, in part, to the nuclear phase-out.
The rejection of signatures wasn’t the first time Taiwan’s government took actions which pro-nuclear activists say were designed to thwart their efforts.
Taiwanese law requires that petitioners have at least six months to gather signatures after delivering an initial 2,000 signatures in order to gain permission for the larger signature-gathering effort. Though they delivered the initial signatures in March, the government only allowed signature-gathering to begin in July.
Solar & wind provide less than 5% of Taiwan’s electricity despite years of large government subsidies.EP
Nuclear power in Taiwan derives its support from environmentalists concerned about land use and climate change and from those concerned about the island-nation’s heavy dependence on energy imports. Taiwan imports 97% of its energy from abroad.
Solar and wind combined provide less than five percent of Taiwan’s electricity last year despite years of heavy government subsidies, while nuclear energy provided 13 percent — and would have provided 23% had Taiwan been operating all of its reactors.
Earlier this year the Tsai government approved a new coal plant, despite recent reports documenting 1,000 premature deaths annually from air pollution from Taiwanese coal plants.
Last October, the climate scientist James Hansen and dozens of other leading environmental scientists and scholars urged President Tsai(致蔡英文總統公開信中文翻譯) to return to nuclear. “Taiwan would need to build 617 solar farms the size of its largest proposed solar farm at a cost of $71 billion just to replace its nuclear reactors.”
Tuesday marks the 125th hour mark of the fast, and Yeh said Huang is becoming fatigued from lack of food. Another pro-nuclear leader, Yen Peng-Liao, said he would continue the fast if Huang is hospitalized.
“This hunger strike is not for myself and not for the public referendum,” said Huang, “it is for the democracy and the order of law in Taiwan.”
I am a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment,” Green Book Award Winner, and President of Environmental Progress, a research and policy organization. My writings have appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, Nature Energy,...
Michael Shellenberger, President, Environmental Progress. Time Magazine "Hero of the Environment."