Fri, Apr 01, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Officials under fire over radiation

By Shelley Huang and Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  Staff Reporters

Atomic Energy Council Deputy Minister Huang Tsing-tung (黃慶東) and other officials yesterday attracted heavy criticism over concerns about Taiwan’s ability to accurately detect radiation levels and deal with a potential nuclear disaster.

The council told a press conference yesterday afternoon that it had detected minute levels of radioactive iodine in dust particles. In previous days, it said it had not detected any radiation in or around Taiwan, even though a number of countries much farther from Japan had said that they had detected minor levels of radioactive particles.

As of noon yesterday, the council insisted that radioactive dust from Japan had not drifted to Taiwan, prompting widespread distrust of detectors set up by the council at several radiation fallout checkpoints in northern Taiwan.

Representatives from the council, the Department of Health, the Environmental Protection Administration, the Council of Agriculture and several other government agencies and national water reservoirs were questioned at the legislature’s Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene committee meeting.

Aside from lawmakers and government officials, academics with expertise in the fields of chemistry, public health, risk management and atomic energy were present to discuss the impact of nuclear crises on the environment and public health.

Several lawmakers said they feared Taiwan would not be able to handle a disaster such as the one that struck Japan following the earthquake and tsunami on March 11 that sparked a series of problems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

Angered by Huang’s comment that the council was “thinking about increasing [the number of checkpoints],” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chen Chieh-ju (陳節如) said it should immediately increase the number of radiation detection check points.

DPP Legislator Huang Sue-ying (黃淑英) grilled council officials on the ability of detectors to measure radioactivity in the air and to explain how radioactive dust had drifted across the world and skipped Taiwan, as council data seemed to indicate.

Huang Tsing-tung said the council’s instruments were “extremely sensitive” and that the agency would “take this opportunity to fine-tune the instruments’ sensitivity.”

In other news, Minister of Foreign Affairs Timothy Yang (楊進添) told Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator John Chiang (蔣孝嚴) that the ministry would prioritize Taiwan’s participation in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Aside from the declared bids to have meaningful participation in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), “we should make a strong case for participation in the IAEA,” Chiang said.

Taiwan lost its IAEA membership in 1971 when the UN transferred the China seat from the Republic of China (ROC) to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which joined the IAEA in 1984.

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