On 27 October, Taiwan’s cabinet ordered a halt to the construction of the $5.3 billion Lungmen ABWR, which was to have been Taiwan’s fourth plant. This may bring to an end to the prospect of building any more nuclear plants in Taiwan for the forseeable future.

The decision was taken by the ruling Democratic People’s Party (DPP), and was opposed by the opposition Kuomintang (KMT). The KMT called for a united effort to save the plant, which it says is essential to meet rising energy demand in northern Taiwan. Opponents of Lungmen had said that this demand could be met with gas-fired plants.

Chang Chun-Hsiang, the premier, announced a halt to the 20-year project to build two 2700MW ABWR units. However, the KMT retains a legislative majority, and said that it was considering passing laws to rescue the plant – a move which would strain Taiwan’s much-amended constitution. However, the KMT did not feel confident that it could call a vote of no confidence, because that would have triggered an election, which it feared it would lose.

Just 24 hours before the announcement, the government said that the leaders of all three major parties would postpone any decision about the project for a month.

Reports suggest that Taiwan’s president Chen Shui-bian had instructed Chang to make an immediate decision on the fate of the project. It is thought that they feared that the KMT would pass a law mandating a referendum on the project, which it would probably win, as it holds a majority in the legislature. KMT claims that because the legislature has already allocated funds to the project, the executive could not end the project without the consent of the legislature. The DPP, however, claims that there are precedents for the executive not spending money that the legislature had approved. Claim and counter-claim continue.

In a press conference announcing the decision, Chang appeared on television alongside a photograph of a mother at the bedside of a Chernobyl radiation victim, and said that Taiwan has 12% surplus generating capacity, and that it would be another seven years before alternatives to Lungmen would be needed.

The scrapping of the Lungmen plant will blow a hole in Taiwan’s plans to cut CO2 emissions.

The cabinet promised that it would honour all plant contracts, which include a $1.8 billion deal with GE for the supply of the reactors, which it has subcontracted to Japanese manufacturers. However, sources say that this may not be the case. “If the government comes to the legislature and asks it to appropriate more funds to pay the penalties, they can forget it.” Chang called the halting of Lungmen “the first step in making Taiwan nuclear-free”.