Anti-nuclear protest in Taiwan attracts nearly 13,000

TAIPEI, Taiwan - About 13,000 people staged a sit-down demonstration near the presidential palace demanding the government immediately terminate the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant project, yesterday.

Roads leading to the presidential office were barricaded, with police saying that 1,800 officers were deployed in the area to monitor the protest against the so-called Nuke 4 project.

Protesters started gathering for the rally on Ketegalan Boulevard at about 4 p.m. and a sudden downpour half an hour later did not deter them from staying on.

A protest leader, Tsay Ting-kuei - a professor from National Taiwan University - led about 150 demonstrators in a walk around the old city gate, "Ching Fu Men," standing in the middle of the road linking Ketegalan.

Anti-nuclear sentiments have been running high after opposition leader Lin Yi-hsiung started a hunger strike Tuesday demanding Nuke 4 be scrapped.

The sit-down protest took place as Lin Yi-hsiung continued fasting without the Ma administration making meaningful pledges in response.

Lin Fei-fan, a leader of the recently concluded Sunflower Movement, also showed up to lend support to the demonstrators.

An anti-nuclear road run had already been held in the area in the morning and another massive march down Taipei streets is scheduled for today.

Organizers said they are considering "occupying" a section of Zhongxiao West Road near the Executive Yuan in today's rally and to protest "indefinitely" until their demands are met.

The authorities have been on high alert monitoring demonstrations since the Sunflower Movement, which saw students occupy the Legislature for about three weeks and storm the government headquarters.

Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin urged the anti-nuclear protestors to stay calm, but stressed that he respected their rights to voice their opinions.

City police said that apart from the 1,800 officers already deployed in the area around the presidential palace, another 2,000 were standing by.

Meanwhile, the Economics Ministry stressed that it does not have a timetable for loading the fuel rods at Nuke 4.

The ministry said it expects Nuke 4 to complete on-site safety inspections by the end of June, but it will still have to submit related papers to the Atomic Energy Council (AEC) by the end of September.

The safety inspection will not be formally concluded until the AEC approves it, the ministry said. Only after the AEC certifies the safety of the plant can Taiwan Power Company (Taipower) apply for permission to load the fuel rods, the ministry added.

The ministry was dismissing reports that claimed it would have Taipower apply for permission to load fuel rods as soon as the on-site safety inspection was completed.

The ministry said that if Nuke 4 fails to begin commercial operations by the summer of 2016, Taiwan may face power shortages. However, because of safety concerns, it said, there is no timetable for loading the fuel rods.