Lanyu has never used a drop of nuclear power, yet it has to take on more than 100,000 drums of low-level radioactive waste. From the standpoint of environmental ethics, this is unacceptable, but that does not mean that the waste should be shipped overseas. Also, given that Taiwan is situated between the Philippine Sea Plate and the Eurasian Plate, where tectonic pressure continues to increase, safe nuclear waste storage in Taiwan is impossible.
When dealing with highly radioactive spent fuel rods, Japan either sends them to France for processing or uses their fast-breeder reactors to process them, which creates more problems with waste. With international sentiment heading toward non-nuclear proliferation, and given that nuclear waste can be used to produce nuclear weapons, processing nuclear waste outside would also be unfeasible.
Nuclear power waste takes tens of thousands of years to decay to a harmless level. When compared with the lifespan of a person, this waste will always be around.
There is no real final disposal of radioactive waste; it is always temporary. Every few years, examinations and repackaging are carried out on Lanyu’s waste drums, placing laborers working with their bare hands in contact with severly corroded drums and broken pieces of cement while the sea breeze blows radioactive contaminants all over the place.
However, at the low-level radioactive waste dump at the Guosheng Nuclear Power Plant in Wanli District (萬里), New Taipei City, very near the capital, machines are used to lift nuclear waste drums and air-conditioning is used in an environment of negative pressure to maintain a constant level of temperature and humidity.
Everyone in the nation should feel ashamed and angry that the inhabitants on the outlying islands are treated in such a discriminatory way.
Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) has apologized to Lanyu, but it is hypocritical of the government to continue hurting the island’s residents behind their backs. The committee set up for plant relocation, which has been inactive for years, should start working again and nuclear waste should be moved out of Lanyu.
This needs to be handled separately from choosing a place to build permanent nuclear waste repositories and has nothing to do with opposing or supporting nuclear power.
Rather, it is about ending the violent, colonial attitudes of those dumping nuclear waste and is also an important step toward putting the two UN international human rights covenants into practice.
Pan Han-shen is a member of the Taiwan Green Party.
Translated by Drew Cameron