Sat, Jul 14, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Preparing for nuclear power risks

By Chang Tzu-yang 張子揚

I often share photographs of beautiful scenery from Taiwan to encourage people to visit. However, when people go on a trip they expect to return home safely and now that the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮) is preparing to install fuel rods and start test operations, it presents a clear and present danger to tourism on the northeast coast.

A well-known Taiwanese bicycle manufacturer used to run a bike rental shop in the coastal town of Fulong (福隆), but the shop closed down several years ago because high humidity and the sea wind made the bicycles’ metal parts vulnerable to rust. As the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant has been under construction on and off for 20 years, how can one be sure that its metal parts are not also rusty?

Once construction is completed, hopefully the power plant will operate without leaking radiation. However, what would happen if a fire were to break out and emit black smoke while the annual Ho-Hai-Yan Gongliao Rock Festival was being held on Fulong Beach? Probably most of the people at the festival would not know the difference between an ordinary fire alarm and one used for a nuclear accident. People could be trampled to death as panicking tourists rushed to leave.

What if a nuclear accident really happened at Fulong? Judging by what happened at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan and the scenes described in the book Voices from Chernobyl, the outcome could be ghastly.

If everyone within a 20km radius had to be evacuated, that would cover the whole of the northeast coast, including Rueifang (瑞芳), Pingsi (平溪), Shuangsi (雙溪) and Gongliao in New Taipei City and Toucheng (頭城) in Yilan County. It would involve moving tens of thousands of residents, plus large numbers of tourists.

Popular tourist spots in the area include Fulong beach, Shueinandong (水湳洞), Jinguashih (金瓜石), Jioufen (九份), Shenao (深澳) fishing port, the waterfall at Shihfen (十分), Bitoujiao (鼻頭角), Honeymoon Bay (蜜月灣), Dasi (大溪) and Waiao (外澳) beach. All these scenic spots would become forbidden zones.

A lot of military and engineering personnel would have to be brought in to remove radioactive dust from people’s bodies and clothing and clean up radioactive materials emitted by the power plant and the machinery and equipment used for the task could not be used again.

Over the years, people affected by radioactive pollution could give birth to deformed children or suffer from depression. The cost of dealing with these problems would be borne by the already financially stressed National Health Insurance program.

Although the Disaster Prevention and Protection Act (災害防救法) and the Public Assistance Act (社會救助法) do not refer specifically to nuclear accidents, their legislative intent would allow them to be interpreted as doing so. According to these laws, city and county social welfare departments would have to assign social workers to help evacuees settle in other areas and distribute relief supplies. The problem is that Taiwan is already short of social workers, and they are often overworked. It would be terrible if social workers were to die from exhaustion, as has happened before.

If evacuees cannot get used to their new lifestyles or accept that their hometowns have been ruined, it is likely that some of them would go back and secretly plant crops. If they sold the produce, it would spread radioactivity around and lead to a food safety crisis. Some evacuees might suffer from discrimination and even attempt suicide. Then firefighters, doctors, nurses, social workers and counselors would all get tied up dealing with the problem.

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