A man in a 'No nuclear no fear' tshirt and with a bandana made from warning tape stands with his back to the camera.

Residents of Taiwan are set to vote on whether nuclear power should be phased out by 2025.Credit: Jose Lopes Amaral/NurPhoto via Getty

Hundreds of researchers in Taiwan have signed an open letter urging the public to vote to continue the phase out of nuclear power in an upcoming referendum.

Last year, Taiwanese legislators added a clause to the island’s electricity act to shut down all nuclear power plants by 2025.

But many people disagree with the plan. In October, proponents of nuclear power gathered enough signatures — more than 1.5% of the electorate in Taiwan — to force a referendum that will ask the public to agree to removing the phase-out clause from the act. They argue that nuclear power is an inexpensive, low-emission and stable technology for power generation with manageable waste. The vote will be held on 24 November, along with multiple other referendums and local elections.

Fifty academics, including environmental sociologist Chiu Hua-Mei at National Sun Yat-sen University in Kaohsiung, released the letter on 3 November, asking the public to vote to keep the clause. More than 400 others have now signed the letter.

Risky business

Chiu says that earthquakes and tsunamis, events that can damage nuclear power stations with devastating effects, are major threats to Taiwan, and there is no feasible long-term solution yet for dealing with the radioactive waste. It is currently stored at the power stations or on Orchid Island off the east coast. “It’s too risky for Taiwan to use nuclear power,” she says.

The academics who signed the letter felt compelled to advise the public about the risks of continuing to use nuclear power in Taiwan, Chiu says. “We think that scholars should say something for us, for Taiwan.”

Even if the phase-out clause ends up being removed from the act, it is not clear what president Tsai will do in response.

Public discussion about the future of nuclear-power use in Taiwan intensified after the major offshore earthquake and tsunami that led to a disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in Japan in 2011.

In 2014, Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou halted the construction of what was supposed to be the island’s forth nuclear power plant following delays, ballooning costs and mass protests.