Nothing being done for Lanyu
Your editorial late last year (“Living in a nuclear wasteland,” Dec. 2, 2011, page 8) was an informative summary outlining the Tao Aborigines’ dilemma, praiseworthy in its attempt to put a spotlight on this issue in the run-up to January’s presidential election.
However, this is not just an election-year issue. The storage site of low-level radioactive waste used by government-owned Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) for decades is a public health issue that urgently needs to be addressed, both in the short and long term. With this letter, I want to raise additional points regarding this debate and suggest ways the scientific community could do more.
First, no scientific articles have been published on the issue of radioactive contamination of Lanyu (蘭嶼), also known as Orchid Island. A search on PubMed, the database of scientific journals, yields zero results for articles published on this issue. Why isn’t it monitored more closely by the scientific community?
It must be noted that Huh Chih-an’s (扈治安) study at Academia Sinica was funded by Taipower, thus making it difficult for him to report his findings to the public. He was, however, able to discuss his research at a joint symposium on International Collaborative Study among Taiwan, Lithuania and Latvia at National Ocean University in Keelung on Oct. 26 last year.
Fortunately, Peter Chang (張武修) of Taipei Medical University’s School of Public Health photographed slides from this presentation, so when Huh declined to comment on the breaking story of Lanyu’s increased cesium-137 levels, Chang was the only person who could intelligently interpret Huh’s results for the general public. If Chang had not attended Huh’s presentation, the story might never have emerged. However, as a scientist, isn’t Huh ultimately obliged to serve the public by making a full disclosure of his findings?
Further, the world-class brainpower at Academia Sinica need not be funded at all by outside interests to conduct whatever research they deem important. Shouldn’t Academia Sinica take the responsibility to continue this research themselves — independently — instead of acting passively and only responding to requests from those with potentially vested interests?
Taipower’s response to the public outcry has been to throw money at the problem in the hope that it goes away. This has come in the form of attempts to placate Lanyu’s Aboriginal community with free electricity and some monetary compensation.
However, the fact remains: The government’s electric company duped the entire island; gross fraudulence affecting the health and well-being of 4,000 residents with illicit storage of toxic waste — and this is material that nobody can say what its long-term effects and risks are. Not only did Taipower trick Lanyu residents for years by telling them the dumpsite was a fishing cannery, the fraud goes back even further: Deceiving the island’s (illiterate) representative into signing the initial contract in the first place.
There is a crisis in public confidence at play, which authorities have yet to address. How could anyone trust Taipower to act in service to the public now? When rusting barrels were repackaged recently, the process was kept secret.
All of Taipower’s actions should at the bare minimum be held to the strictest standards of transparency.