Recently, the media have been preoccupied with two issues. One is whether the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), should continue, and the other is whether the construction of the Wugu-Yangmei (Wuyang) Overpass should be completed as soon as possible. The former is a major issue that concerns the general public, and the latter involves traffic conditions in northern Taiwan. Both projects are related to the quality of the government’s decisionmaking, but if we think carefully, are they really the government’s own problems? Can the problems be resolved and the public be satisfied if we have a new government?
To be specific, the controversy over the two projects lies in construction safety. Whether to abolish nuclear power is a question facing developed countries across the world. Other countries worry about the threat nuclear power poses in the long run, so they take the abolition of nuclear power as a long-term goal. However, in Taiwan, people worry about whether the 2011 Japanese nuclear crisis could happen here. Naturally, this is hard to predict.
Which is more important, our long-term safety or short-term economic benefits? That is the question for each and every Taiwanese. However, if the construction itself is flawed, there is no need to argue anymore.
In the case of the Wuyang overpass, there was no real need to complete the construction in a hurry. However, to honor its pledges, the government demands that it be completed as scheduled for the sake of public convenience. The demand is not wrong, but why has the project experienced so many difficulties?
As for the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, for example, it was designed by the US’ General Electric Co (GE), so why have engineering flaws repeatedly occurred? Can Taiwan Power Co give us a good explanation? Are the flaws a result of poor management or construction methods? Cannot Taiwan’s team even finish the construction according to GE’s blueprint? How can we trust such incompetent technicians to lead Taiwan to compete with other countries?
The Wuyang overpass situation is also beyond comprehension. According to news reports, some steel bars in the concrete are exposed. How safe can the construction be? Rumor has it that a contractor said that he did not dare use the overpass. Perhaps the rumor is somewhat exaggerated. Still, building an overpass with reinforced concrete is a common project. As workers hastily try to meet the deadline, why are loopholes and even a risk of collapse appearing?
Taiwanese usually blame everything on the government, and this has become a national habit. Should we not also examine ourselves? Can the workers take the government’s deadline as an excuse for doing a lousy job and allow steel bars to be exposed like this?
What truly irritates us should not be the government’s decision to push the projects. Building the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant was once a policy of both the current and previous governments, because those in power are responsible for boosting the economy. What we should ask is this: After several decades of development, cannot the quality of our personnel guarantee the quality of our projects? The quality of construction projects is an index of the public’s character.
For the world’s advanced countries, the quality of their products is guaranteed. Germany is considered one of the world’s most advanced countries, and the quality of its products is praised by all. Japan was able to quickly learn from Western civilization in the 19th century and catch up with the Western powers thanks to the Japanese people’s national characteristics of seriousness and responsibility in terms of work.
Today, some underdeveloped countries are trying hard to catch up with the advanced countries because their people also have a strong will to better themselves, and this is reflected in their attitude toward industrial production.
After several decades of development, Taiwan is gradually transforming into a developed country. As “MIT” (“Made in Taiwan”) becomes a symbol for high-quality products, Taiwanese are proud of the achievement, but have we gotten rid of our careless and superficial work attitude? Can we complete our work seriously without strict supervision? I doubt it. Maybe this is why Taiwan has lagged behind South Korea among the four Asian Tigers over the past 10 years.
Since the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant is a project involving high technology, outsiders can only speculate about the quality of its operations. Nevertheless, we all witnessed the civil engineering flaws in the construction, so it is easy for us to make judgements.
China may surpass Taiwan soon if we cannot change our national characteristic of not paying sufficient attention to the quality of our work.
I bought some clothes made in China some years ago. Despite their glamorous appearance, many flaws soon appeared. However, in recent years, the quality of clothing made in China has clearly improved. The quality of industrial products is actually a cultural phenomenon that involves the public’s character.
Masking an inferior product with an attractive veneer is a kind of fraud. In Taiwan, strange objects have often been found in cracked concrete pillars after earthquakes, and this is why we have no confidence in the safety of the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.
Han Pao-teh is director of the Museum of World Religions.
Translated by Eddy Chang