Fri, Mar 20, 2009 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Making sure about nuclear waste

The contrast in the reactions of members of the two communities named by Taipower on Tuesday as potential sites for a new radioactive waste storage facility was striking, to say the least.

While residents of Penghu’s Wang-an Township (望安) were united and vehement in their opposition to the planned dump, the reaction of the people of Taitung County’s Daren Township (達仁) could only be described as bizarre.

News that nearly 100,000 barrels of low-level radioactive waste could be deposited in one’s community would, in any other part of the world, be greeted with condemnation and protests. But if Wednesday’s reaction was anything to go by, then apart from a few local councilors and Aboriginal activists, the people of Daren don’t seem too bothered.

Maybe it has something to do with, as environmental activists suggested, the fact that locals remain grossly uninformed or even misinformed about the consequences of locating such a facility in their community. Are the Aborigines of Daren aware, for instance, of the history of this waste? And that it is being relocated as a result of a three-decade long fight by the Tao Aborigines of Orchid Island to have it removed?

Or maybe their indifference is connected to the NT$5 billion (US$147.8 million) “friendly neighbor” payment that Taipower plans to give the local authority of the location eventually selected as the site for the dump. Indeed, Nantian Village (南田) head Chang Chih-hsin (張志信) said that more than 60 percent of the villagers backed the plan because of the money and job opportunities promised by Taipower.

Although low-level radioactive waste of the kind in question is generally not seen as hazardous, the US’ Nuclear Regulatory Commission says that even the least dangerous kinds of waste pose a slight threat to human health.

Wherever the facility will be located, Taipower must be able to guarantee that, despite regular typhoons, earthquakes, landslides and various other natural phenomena, the integrity of the site and residents’ health will not be compromised.

It is highly unlikely that anyone from Taipower has discussed this with the villagers.

Unfortunately, this is just another example of politicians attempting to exploit the disadvantaged. But even more worrying in this case is that people seem comfortable with the fact.

While Nantian residents may have one eye on the employment opportunities and money, they should also think back and consider why, after decades of aid and government promises, Taiwan’s Aborigines remain among the poorest and most marginalized people in Taiwan.

If Taipower eventually does choose Daren as the final location, and that seems all the more likely considering the reaction of the two sites following Tuesday’s announcement, then all efforts must be made to ensure that the required referendum is carried out in a transparent fashion after all the pros and cons of this issue have been explained in full to the residents.

Legislation should also be passed to ensure that the money benefits the people of Daren instead of being siphoned off by corrupt local officials, as has happened so often in Taiwan in the past.

If the people of Daren are still willing to accept the risks, then at least they should be rewarded for it.

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