TAIPEI — Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Taiwan Sunday calling on the government to shut down the island's nuclear power plants, citing the painful lesson of Japan's 9.0-magnitude earthquake one year ago.

In the capital city of Taipei, the crowd observed a one-minute silence to pay tribute to the 19,000 people killed in the Japanese disaster, before marching through the downtown area.

"The tragedy that happened in Japan last year surely told us that nuclear power is likely to generate high risks that we cannot afford," Aiya Hsu, a spokeswoman for the organisers, told AFP.

"The government must have second thoughts about the ongoing nuclear power policy," she said on behalf of activists from around 100 civic groups and their sympathisers.

The demonstrators called on the government to shut down the three nuclear power plants "as soon as possible" and immediately halt the construction of a fourth one, which is not yet completed.

Police declined to estimate the size of the demonstration but organisers put the turnout at 5,000.

Hundreds of people also marched in the central city of Taichung.

Taiwan's government says that in light of the Japanese catastrophe -- in which a tsunami trigered a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant -- it has upgraded the earthquake-resistant designs of the three existing plants, which supply about 20 percent of the island's power.

Taiwan is regularly hit by earthquakes as the island lies near the junction of two tectonic plates.

In September 1999, a 7.6-magnitude quake killed around 2,400 people in what was the deadliest natural disaster in the island's recent history.