The nation’s first and second nuclear power plants were built in volcanic areas before Taiwanese understood much about the dangers of nuclear power, while the third was built atop shale on a fault line.
The government built storage facilities for low-level nuclear waste on scenic Orchid Island (Lanyu, 蘭嶼), a location chosen by Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) officials — self-proclaimed “nuclear power experts” — and supported by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government being somewhat economical with the truth.
As the saying goes: “Man proposes, but God disposes.”
A partial core meltdown caused a serious accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in the US on March 28, 1979, followed by a reactor explosion at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union on April 25 and 26, 1986. With the radiation leak at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in March 2011, the death knell of any pretense of safe nuclear power was sounded.
Then there is the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮), finally mothballed in late 2014 due to public concerns, albeit not until the government had already spent NT$284 billion (US$9.66 billion at the current exchange rate) on its construction.
That is not to say that the issue of nuclear power plants in Taiwan has been resolved, as the first three must still be decommissioned and a solution must be found to safely store nearly 20,000 clusters of used nuclear rods.
Taipower is set to decide the final disposal site for high-level nuclear waste by 2028, initiate construction of the facilities in 2045 and begin their operation in 2055.
The Matsu Islands are a proposed location for the facility, which would be administered by Lienchiang County. They top the list, despite KMT Legislator Chen Hsueh-sheng’s (陳雪生) warnings that such a move is sure to be opposed by local residents, as well as the Lienchiang and Penghu county governments.
Some in Kinmen County also question the fairness of building storage facilities there, since the outlying county does not benefit from the electricity produced by nuclear power plants.
It is funny how the KMT’s die-hard supporters in the strongly pro-blue Kinmen and Lienchiang counties continue to support the party, even though it has consistently championed nuclear power. Now these same people are opposing the construction of nuclear waste storage facilities in their backyard.
Self-proclaimed nuclear power experts will have their work cut out for them in the coming years, trying to convince people of the safety of high-level nuclear power waste storage after saying how safe nuclear power is in the first place.
They will do their utmost to sell the idea before Taipower makes its decision on the location of the facilities. They can be expected to call on local residents to put their faith in the experts and not to succumb to groundless fears.
The actions of these dubious “experts” will decide the fate of the entire public. Corruption is indeed terrible, but constructing nuclear power plants is so much worse.
Chang Kuo-tsai is a former deputy secretary-general of the Taiwan Association of University Professors.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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