* Safety checks completed before holding referendum - President
* New plant scheduled to begin operation in 2016
* Stocks post worst percentage slide since Feb (Adds comments, details)
By Faith Hung
TAIPEI, April 25 (Reuters) - Taiwan’s government on Friday refused opposition demands for an immediate referendum on the future of the country’s contentious fourth nuclear plant, but reiterated it would hold a referendum before the plant starts operations.
In a rare meeting with the opposition leader, President Ma Ying-jeou insisted that an ongoing series of safety checks should be completed, but said he would not allow fuel rods to be installed or the plant to be activated before a referendum.
“Upon completion of the safety checks, we’ll hold a referendum to decide the future of the fourth nuclear power plant,” Ma said.
Taiwan’s share market fell 2 percent in the session on fears of higher electricity prices that could dent the economy, the worst one-day fall since early February.
Plans for the 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 such as Taiwan.
Taiwan’s premier earlier this week rejected opposition demands to halt construction of the plant, sparking threats of street protests from anti-nuclear campaigners.
Newspaper reports overnight said the government had agreed to put the planned 2016 commercial start-up of the plant on hold due to opposition and public pressure.
Ma noted that Taiwan stocks fell for three months 14 years ago from 6,400 points to about 4,000 points when the then-government, led by the DPP, announced a halt to the construction of the same plant located in northern New Taipei City.
“We don’t want to see the same mistakes happening again,” he said.
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. (Additional reporting by Lin Miao-jung; Editing by Richard Pullin)