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U.S. to stay neutral in Taiwan nuclear plant

TAIPEI, Taiwan, Oct. 9, 2000 (UPI) à‚– U.S. government officials say Monday that despite a financial stake, the United States will remain neutral in deciding whether Taiwan should finish building a fourth nuclear-power plant.

The statement comes after two leading Taiwanese newspapers reported that Washington was about to lobby Taipei to stick to the completion of the $5.6 billion project. The American Institute in Taiwan, which is authorized by Washington to handle civil contacts with Taipei, would soon present a report to President Chen Shui-bian, according to the China Times and the United Daily, citing Taiwan’s Atomic Energy Council.

“Whether or not to continue construction of the nuclear power plant is a decision for the Taiwan authorities to make,” said an AIT statement.

Still, observers said the United States is likely to be involved in the nuclear project, for which General Electric has signed a $1.8 billion contract with the state-run Taiwan Power Co. to provide a core reactor and other equipment.

Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker Hsu Tien-tsai told reporters that even though the United States had expressed concerns, the impact of Taiwan reversing its plans to scrap the project would be limited.

Last month, the Ministry of Economic Affairs suggested the power-plant project be called off, citing environmental concerns. However, analysts said the ministry’s move reflects that calling off the plant is one of DPP’s key planks and part of President Chen’s election promises.

The project has become a tough issue on the island. Taiwan’s prime minister Tang Fei resigned last week, in part because he favored the plant, in opposition to Chen. Tang warned energy shortage and rising unemployment if the projects weren’t completed.

Observers say, Chang Chun-hsiung, the new premier and a senior DPP member, has not commented on the fate of the project.

The nuclear plant, already one-third completed, is designed to have a total capacity of 2,700 megawatts. Scrapping it would cost Taiwan Power $2.9 billion, in addition to the $1.5 billion Taipower has spent on the initial stages of the project’s construction in the northern coastal township of Kungliao since March 1999.

Taiwan Power currently operates three nuclear power plants, which together contribute 18 percent of its total capacity of 28,927 MW. Thermal power accounts for 72 percent and hydroelectric power 10 percent.

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