Majority in Taiwan against new atomic plant: Polls

TAIPEI (AFP) - More than half of Taiwan's public want construction of a long-delayed nuclear plant to be halted due to safety concerns, according to two surveys released on Thursday ahead of a mass protest.

Fifty-four per cent of the 1,071 people interviewed in a survey commissioned by weekly magazine Business Today were in favour of scrapping the atomic power plant - which would be Taiwan's fourth - while 23 per cent opposed it.

A total of 63.5 per cent believed that nuclear power plants are unsafe against 2.5 per cent who considered them safe, while only 11 percent said they have faith in the government's abilities to manage the plants, the poll said.

Another survey conducted by the Taipei-based China Times newspaper showed similar results, with 62.4 per cent of 761 people interviewed in favour of stopping construction of the plant against 21.2 who want the work to continue.

Debate over the island's latest nuclear power facility - under construction since 1999 and still not completed - is heating up as parliament prepares to review an additional budget of about NT$40 billion (S$1.7 billion).

Organisers expect about 50,000 people to take to the streets across Taiwan on Saturday to urge the government to heed lessons from the Japanese atomic crisis at Fukushima, triggered by a powerful earthquake two years ago.

Taiwan, to the south of Japan, lies near the junction of two tectonic plates and is regularly hit by earthquakes. One tremor of 5.6 magnitude shook buildings in Taipei on Thursday.

Last month, Premier Jiang Yi-hua said for the first time that the government may support holding a referendum about the fourth atomic plant amid the mounting public concern.

Then on Monday, officials said that international experts would run safety checks on the existing trio of nuclear plants, as part of efforts to reassure the Taiwanese public following the Fukushima disaster.

The three plants supply about 20 per cent of Taiwan's electricity, and have a good safety record. Construction of the fourth was originally due to be finished by 2004, but political wrangling over the project has caused delay after delay.