Responsiblity for nuclear waste

By Pan Han-shen 潘翰聲  / 

Mon, Apr 01, 2013 - Page 8

Environmental protection groups released a flag bearing the slogan: “No Nukes No More Fukushima” on top of a map of Taiwan to express the risk that a nuclear disaster poses to the nation and the destruction it could cause within seconds.

Aborigines on Lanyu (蘭嶼) have used the map of Lanyu to make a poster with the slogan: “Do not let a repeat of Lanyu happen” printed on top of it to urge that the damage done to their lives and their island by nuclear waste not be repeated.

At a press conference commemorating the second anniversary of the nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, the Asia Pacific Greens Network chanted these two slogans in the hope that the government and large corporations will stop exposing future generations to nuclear risk.

Nuclear power opponents often try to use the nuclear waste issue to get nuclear power plants closed. They oppose the idea of permanent nuclear waste repositories and sometimes resort to arguing that “if nuclear waste is so safe, store it at the Presidential Office,” or broach the idea that cities and counties take on nuclear waste storage in proportion to their support for nuclear power, which might seem to be in line with environmental justice.

Others have suddenly jumped on the bandwagon by saying they oppose building the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), but not necessarily nuclear power in general. These people have no idea how dangerous it is to store spent fuel rods inside nuclear power plants.

Then there are the people who say it is impossible to handle nuclear waste safely. This discourse allows politicians to say the same thing without being questioned. While all these points of view are not necessarily wrong, none of them honestly deal with the ethical issues of nuclear waste.

The government’s and Taiwan Power Co’s handling of nuclear waste storage has tied the issue of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant to the delaying of the decommissioning of the three operational nuclear power plants. It has also tied Lanyu to the issue of permanent waste repositories for low-level nuclear waste.

The people of Lanyu have already been harmed by the waste, but do not wish to pass the problem on to anyone else, nor are they willing to let their environment continue to be damaged, and this is why they have started an anti-nuclear movement.

The nuclear interest groups causing these problems should be held responsible, but electricity generated by nuclear power is sent into every home in the nation, making everyone accomplices against their will.

During a talk in Barcelona titled “As an Unrealistic Dreamer,” Japanese author Haruki Murakami reflected on these problems and how they are caused by the modern emphasis on convenience and efficiency.

If the government cannot grant the public’s wish to abolish nuclear power, it should adopt the same method Germany did: Give consumers the right to choose their sources of electricity and local governments the right to choose the source of public electricity. In this way, users willing to pay a reasonable price will be given renewable energy. Electricity could be labeled: “nuclear-free” and homes could become nuclear-free zones.

Regardless of when the nation starts abolishing nuclear power, it must deal with the nuclear waste caused by the existing nuclear power plants and their decommissioning.

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