TAIPEI: Taiwan police on Monday used water cannon to dislodge hundreds of demonstrators blocking a main road in the capital to demand the scrapping of a controversial nuclear power plant.
An estimated 28,500 anti-nuclear demonstrators had blockaded one of Taipei’s busiest streets on Sunday, forcing the ruling Kuomintang party to yield and halt construction work at the nearly completed plant.
The concession prompted many demonstrators to leave but hundreds remained, causing police to use water cannon to disperse them on Monday morning.
Claiming they were attacked, club-waving riot police chased some protesters. Police also carried away some sit-in demonstrators lying on the ground.
More than 40 people were slightly injured in the clashes, the government said.
Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin had hinted at tough measures during a press conference on Sunday night when he denounced the sit-in for disrupting the lives of ordinary people.
“The demonstrators should protest against the government rather than Taipei citizens. I may take any measures needed to ensure traffic can return to normal on Monday,” Hau said.
The new power station 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Taipei would be the island’s fourth nuclear plant. Opponents said it would be unsafe in an earthquake-prone island.
The plant has two reactors, one of which is 98-percent completed.
A Kuomintang spokesman announced on Sunday there would be no further work on this reactor. After safety checks, it would be sealed.
“Construction of reactor two will be terminated,” the spokesman said.
“In the future, any such commercial operation will be decided by a referendum,” the spokesman added.
The government has already offered to hold a referendum on the future of the power plant, but opponents say the vote’s proposed terms would be too restrictive.
Protest organizers said they would keep watching to see if the government fulfils its promises.
Premier Jiang Yi-hua defended the government decision to stop work but not to scrap the plant.
“In this way, we would leave an option open to our next generation when choosing energy [sources],” Jiang told a press conference on Monday.
He said Taiwan could not afford another shock similar to 2000 when the then-government of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) announced it was scrapping the plant.
The power station, whose two reactors would have a combined capacity of 2,700 megawatts, has been for decades been one of Taiwan’s most contentious projects.
Construction began in 1999 but intense political wrangling has repeatedly delayed work. It has already cost around Tw$300 billion ($10 billion).