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Taiwan govt says to push on with planned nuclear plant

TAIPEI, April 22 (Reuters) - Taiwan's premier has rejected opposition demands to halt construction of a controversial atomic power plant, sparking threats of street protests from anti-nuclear campaigners.

Plans for the island's fourth nuclear power plant have come under the spotlight in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, with the public sceptical about the safety of such facilities in earthquake-prone regions.

Premier Jiang Yi-huah, effectively Taiwan's No.2 politician after President Ma Ying-jeou, said in a briefing late on Monday that the administration would not halt construction of the plant or change rules to make a referendum on the issue more likely.

An anti-nuclear group told reporters they would surround the Presidential Palace on Saturday if Ma does not abandon plans for the plant by Thursday, while former opposition leaders Lin Yi-xiong said he would go on hunger strike to protest against the facility.

Street protests are common in Taiwan, with over 100,000 people demonstrating in the capital in late March against a trade pact with China.

The government hopes to have the almost-complete nuclear plant, in northern New Taipei City, begin commercial operations by 2016.

Taiwan's three current nuclear power facilities would have to serve longer if the fourth one does not start operating as planned, the economics ministry has said.

Taiwan's first nuclear plant is set to be decommissioned between 2018-19, while the second is set to close between 2021-23.

Some 40 percent of the island's electricity is generated by burning coal, 30 percent using natural gas and 18.4 percent by nuclear power plants, according to the economics ministry.

Taiwan sits near the so-called ring of fire region of seismic activity around the Pacific Ocean.

(Reporting by Faith Hung; Editing by Joseph Radford)