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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?
  • http://www.mirrorsignalmove.blogspot.com mike

    I can agree with you that the nuclear waste should never have been deposited on Lanyu on the basis of deception – that is outrageous.

    However, your report fails to mention two key points:

    (1) According to the AEC, the radioactive waste stored on Lanyu is low-level waste, i.e. waste comprised of radioisotopes that DO NOT have half-lives of “thousands of years” but more likely closer to five or ten years*. Assuming that is true, then it would follow that since deposits ceased in 1996, much, if not all of the waste deposited in Lanyu would now be only minimally radioactive and of little, if any, danger to the people and wider ecology of Lanyu.

    (2) The AEC recognized the problem of drum rust and decay your report refers to back in 2007 when it ordered Taipower to initiate a program of repackaging the waste into fresh drums – this program is due to be completed later this year.

    *I don’t however have access to any actual data other than through the AEC, but whilst I cannot verify the truth of this, I do think it is probably true given that the AEC has other forms of treatment and management for the more highly radioactive forms of waste.

    • A.T.

      http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2011/12/01/2003519661
      “Peter Chang (張武修), a professor at the School of Public Health in Taipei, said leakage may have been happening for many years. Chang said he had conducted tests in 1999 and 2000 on samples taken from along the shore and crop fields on Orchid Island and found cesium-137 in sweet potato fields and taro paddy fields.”

      ” “What have residents of Orchid Island done wrong to deserve the fate of having nuclear waste stored on the island and living in fear for the past 30 years?” she asked, adding that cancer was the No. 1 cause of death on the island. “

    • Chiachi Hwang

      Even though the wastes are not radioactive, they are still comprised of heavy metals and contaminants.

  • 一點想法

    日本福島核災證明了,核電廠設計並未能完全的防範未然,舊有的核廠規劃無法因應突如其來並且愈加猛烈的天災,造成難以補救的傷害。然而,如果沒有核電,人類可能必須依賴更多的石油或天然氣、煤炭、水力、風力,但這些能源至今都未能穩定滿足人類使用需求,一旦長期需求大於供給,勢必會牽動市場能源價格,甚至造成資源分配不均,階級與貧富差距擴大的問題。

    蘭嶼存放核廢料的爭議,在於一開始並未告知民眾這個決策可能帶來的影響,亦未尊重當地族群文化與自然環境,以致於事後再多說明與補助方案,都無法獲得當地居民的信任。

    此外,台灣在處理核電問題上,長久以來總是與參政人物糾纏一起,以致於核電問題大多在選舉期間被提出,但卻又往往攪進選舉的口水戰,讓民眾難以思考各種主張背後的利弊,甚至在選後不了了之。但是,能源問題並非一時,它攸關全民長久的利益,核電問題根本不能與競選支票混為一談,它需要被獨立討論,才不會陷入特定的政治立場,在喧囂紛擾中一再模糊焦點。政府應該積極與民眾溝通,揭露興建或不興建核電廠的利弊,以及各種能源選擇可能帶來後果,讓民眾瞭解這些選項的優缺點;因為世界上沒有絶對完美的方案,大多時候我們只能綜合比較,從中選擇,盡可能為全民帶來最大福祉。此外,媒體扮演著重要角色,媒體有責任將訊息傳達給民眾,提供足以信賴的資訊、數據、不同專家的評估,幫助民眾建立相關的基礎知識,以減少資訊不對稱,讓民眾在了解後果的前提下客觀審視各種方案的利益與代價,作出選擇。

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  • disqus_NLAE2t4eZh

    ching chong

  • disqus_NLAE2t4eZh

    WILLY IM MY BUM
    I BLOW U UP

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