On Feb. 16, the Atomic Energy Council (AEC) announced that if the authorities choose to keep the more than 100,000 drums of nuclear waste stored on Orchid Island (Lanyu, 蘭嶼) in a single facility, a suitable alternative site should be chosen within three years.
The council said that if no suitable location is found, the waste should, within nine years, be be distributed between Taiwan’s three nuclear power plants and the Institute of Nuclear Energy Research (INER) facility in Taoyuan’s Longtan District (龍潭).
However, the announcement was made before the New Taipei City Government, whose Shihmen (石門) and Wanli (萬里) districts are home to the Jinshan and Guosheng nuclear power plants, announced that it could not possibly accept such an arrangement, while the Pingtung County Government, whose Hengchun Township (恆春) is the location of the Ma-anshan Nuclear Power Plant, said it was firmly opposed to the idea.
INER director-general Ma Yin-pang (馬殷邦) came up with the defense that storing nuclear waste at the institute would violate the Water Supply Act (自來水法).
It goes without saying that nuclear waste is a hot potato and nobody wants it in their backyard.
Why is everyone so scared and anxious, even turning white as a sheet at the very mention of nuclear waste?
Taiwan Power Co’s (Taipower) nuclear power experts and those who work at the AEC probably know more about nuclear energy than anybody else. Have they not always extolled nuclear power as the cheapest, cleanest and safest way to generate electricity? Did they not put their hands on their hearts and assure the public that nuclear waste is absolutely safe and there was nothing to worry about?
Now their lies have been exposed for all to see. They cannot even tell us where the nuclear waste will end up, or whether there is an absolutely safe, rather than just relatively safe, way to dispose of it. Who can say how much money it would cost to buy a guarantee of absolutely safe nuclear waste disposal?
Considering all the money that has been spent and has yet to be spent for this purpose, should it not be factored in to the cost of nuclear energy? As the costs involved are still an unknown quantity, there is no way to calculate the total cost of nuclear power, so how did these nuclear experts come to the conclusion that nuclear power is the cheapest form of energy? The obvious conclusion this that the nuclear power experts’ claim that nuclear is the cheapest form of energy is a big lie — big lie No. 1, in fact.
The second big lie is the experts’ claim that nuclear energy — including the matter of nuclear waste — is the safest way to generate electricity. Most people are obviously not familiar with the deep theoretical aspects of nuclear power, so of course they have no idea how nuclear waste should or can be disposed of. However, facts speak louder then words and reality can disprove theories. The disastrous consequences of the radiation spewing out of Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant have shown that if nothing goes wrong with a nuclear plant, then fine, but when something does go wrong it is a major calamity.
Maybe Taiwan’s nuclear power experts have such faith in the absolute safety of nuclear energy that they think people who draw parallels between the Fukushima nuclear disaster and Taiwan’s nuclear power plants merely fear the unknown.
However, the public might want to ask these experts why even the all-knowing INER is saying “no” to nuclear waste.
Is the institute’s refusal not a slap in the face for those who claim that nuclear waste is absolutely safe?
Nuclear waste is the unfortunate product of erroneous past policies and it is now the collective karma of everyone in Taiwan. If it was alright to store nuclear waste on the scenic island of Lanyu, there should be no good reason not to store it at nuclear power stations or the INER.
Unless, of course, it was just a matter of taking advantage of the island’s relatively powerless Aboriginal inhabitants, thinking that they could easily be tricked and pushed around.
Nuclear waste is unwelcome everywhere, so what to do with it is a thorny problem. If everyone approaches the issue sincerely and rationally, maybe something can be worked out to minimize the damage. On the other hand, if the authorities plan to go on fooling the public or putting people down with impressive-sounding theories, the problem will just drag on.
Chang Kuo-tsai is a retired associate professor of National Hsinchu University of Education and a former deputy secretary-general of the Taiwan Association of University Professors.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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