Fukushima disaster could not happen in Taiwan: Officials

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan authorities attempted on Tuesday to ease fears of a Japanese-style crisis at the island's nearly completed newest nuclear power plant, ahead of a mass protest this weekend.

The state Taiwan Power Company (Taipower) faces an uphill battle to persuade the public its nuclear facilities are safe after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami struck Japan in 2011, crippling a nuclear power plant at Fukushima.

Taiwan lies near the junction of two tectonic plates and is regularly hit by earthquakes. A 6.0 magnitude tremor jolted the island in March, killing one person and injuring 86.

Two opinion polls in March showed a majority of Taiwanese oppose the new plant. Demonstrators plan a rally Sunday calling for the government to abandon the project.

The main opposition party has threatened to push for a referendum on terminating construction of the fourth nuclear plant, which Taipower said cost more than Tw$280 billion (S$11.62 billion) and is more than 90 per cent completed.

"We have learnt many lessons from the Fukushima incident. We have improved on the safety measures to ensure that a similar incident will not happen in Taiwan," said Taipower vice president Chen Pu-tsan.

Taipower has spent Tw$10.2 billion on additional safety measures at the plant, in the coastal Kungliao district near Taipei, including plans to build a 14.5 metre anti-tsunami dyke and install additional generators.

This month a team of 45 Taiwanese and 12 international experts began a six-month inspection of the plant to test its systems and review safety.

"Even if an earthquake and tsunami of the same magnitude that struck Fukushima were to hit Taiwan, it would not have affected the fourth nuclear plant," Chen said.

The three existing nuclear plants supply about 20 percent of Taiwan's electricity. Construction of the fourth started in 1999 but has been repeatedly delayed by political wrangling.

Taipower says the island will face power shortages without a new nuclear plant. The first and second nuclear plants and several other power stations are due to be retired in the near future.

In March tens of thousands rallied across Taiwan to urge the government to scrap the new plant and move towards a complete halt to nuclear energy.

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