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Taiwan: Nuclear Waste on Orchid Island

Nuclear waste is the material that nuclear fuel becomes after it is used in a reactor. It is dangerously radioactive and remains so for thousands of years.

Four years after the first Taiwanese nuclear power plant was built in 1970, the Taiwan Atomic Energy Council decided to dump its nuclear waste at Orchid Island (Lanyu), where the indigenous Tao people (Yami) have lived for generations. More than twenty years have passed, the radioactive waste barrels have eroded with rust and it seems that no one is ready to take care of the problem.

Birds eye view of Orchid Island, Taiwan. Photo taken by Flickr user bambicrow (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Birds eye view of Orchid Island, Taiwan. Photo taken by Flickr user bambicrow (CC BY-NC 2.0)

There are two nuclear waste storage sites [zh] on Orchid Island. Every week, boats from Taiwan bring the radioactive waste to Orchid Island dumping 45,000 barrels of waste on the beautiful island annually.

These nuclear waste storage sites have changed the fate of Tao people forever. In a campaign page [zh] on the public television website, Tao people demanded that the government return a peaceful childhood to their children:

民國六十九年核廢料從台灣漂洋過海到蘭嶼,從此以後,伴隨著蘭嶼小朋友長大的,除了飛魚、迷你豬,還有核廢料桶。

Since nuclear waste was sent to Orchid Island from Taiwan by boat in 1980, the children of Orchid Island have grown up with flying fish, mini pigs – and barrels of nuclear waste.

According to an in-depth report [zh] Tao people were ignorant of the construction of nuclear waste site:

當年貯存場地施工的時候,鄉民根本不知道是在建核廢料貯存場。當時的鄉長江瓦斯甚至不懂中文!少數鄉民聽施工的人說是正在蓋「罐頭工廠」,今天運送廢料的專用碼頭被說成某種軍事用途的港口……。

While it was under construction [in 1979], none of us knew it is for nuclear waste storage. At that time our village chief could not even understand Chinese. Construction workers told some of the villagers that they were building a “Can Food Factory” while the pier for landing nuclear waste was said to be a military harbor…

When the Tao people finally learned the danger of nuclear waste in 1987, they began to protest against the nuclear waste and the battle has been going for more than 20 years. In 1995, they announced the “Declaration of expelling the nuclear waste demons” [zh]:

雅美族,全球只有三千人,一個吟詩的民族,一個和平的民族,我們不願意再以我們族人的血肉之軀去作為台電核能人體實驗的對象。

Tao people are an ethnic group with only 3000 population in the whole world. We are poets. We believe in peace. We can no longer accept the Taiwan Power Company treating our bodies like guinea pigs.

Below is an excerpt of a documentary ‘The borderland‘ [zh]. It shows the life and culture of Tao people on Orchid Island and this video clip from 1:20 to 2:58 shows some precious historical photos about Tao people's protest against the nuclear waste storage sites in 1987:

On December 31 2002, Tao people managed to terminate the contract with the Taiwan Power Company. However, the Taiwanese government has no plan to remove the nuclear waste from the Island. The next round of battle for Tao people since then has been to press the government to solve the waste problem.

Below is special coverage of the nuclear waste problem in Orchid Island. The reporter interviewed the environmentalists, government and protesters, but not a single party could provide a viable solution to the problem:

In 2008, 26 years after the first barrel of nuclear waste was stored on Orchid Island, the government finally took action to conduct a thorough security inspection of these nuclear waste barrels. According to a local news report reposted in the Orchid Island e-news website [zh], the result was worrisome. The inspectors assigned by the Taiwan Atomic Energy Council found out that:

首座開蓋檢整的壕溝貯放的四千多桶核廢料全部鏽蝕,部分廢料桶甚至已開膛剖肚。

All 4000+ barrels in the first inspection were eroded by rust. Some of the barrels have been eroded to the extent that there are big cracks cutting across the iron shells.

核廢料桶禁不起蘭嶼高溫潮濕和高鹽分的惡劣環境,八十一年起陸續出現鏽蝕。

Since 1992, these nuclear waste barrels have been eroded by the high temperature, high humidity, and high salinity environment of Orchid Island.

Who should take care of the nuclear waste? Who should be responsible for the nuclear waste? Where should the nuclear waste go? Blogger Annpo pointed out [zh] that the problem of nuclear waste cannot be neglected in the review of energy policy in Taiwan, in addition to the safety of nuclear power plants [zh]:

當年,國家發展重工業,需要大量電力,今日國家依然要大力發展,生產更多需要被消化被解決的問題,發展之後留下的都是「債」。債,誰要還?誰來還?要不,根據用電統計,用電量最多的地區,作為核廢料掩埋場,好不?支持興建核電的,一人抱一桶回家,好不?

In the past, our country had high-energy demand for the development of heavy industry. Today our country still wants to continue this developmental path which will generate more problems that need to be solved some day in the future. There is always ‘debt’ left behind after development. Who will pay for the debt? Should we decide according to the energy consumption rate and ask that the area where people consume most electricity become the new nuclear waste storage site? And ask that those who support the nuclear power plants take home one barrel with them?

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