Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday apologized to residents of Orchid Island (蘭嶼) over the government’s “outrageous” decision in 1982 to store nuclear waste on the island, saying that she hoped the waste would eventually be transferred to an alternative site.
The DPP presidential candidate, who is on a two-day campaign trip to Hualien and Taitung, also reiterated her initiative to achieve a “nuclear-free homeland” by 2025.
In her speech, Tsai apologized three times for the decision to build a nuclear waste disposal facility on the 48km2 volcanic island off the southeastern coast without prior consultation and communication with its residents, who are mostly Tao Aborigines — one of the country’s 14 recognized Aboriginal tribes.
“I am very sorry that nuclear waste was shipped and stored here in 1982 without communicating with local residents or the implementation of a democratic mechanism,” she told a group of residents in a yard in front of the Ivalino Presbyterian Church after visiting the disposal facility.
After resistance from residents, shipments of low-level nuclear waste to the island were suspended in 1996.
Residents should be the ones to decide how the waste is dealt with by coming to a consensus, possibly through a referendum, she said, adding that the DPP, as a firm supporter of a nuclear-free nation, prefers the permanent removal of the waste to an alternative site to be determined in the future.
Tsai pledged to improve infrastructure on the island with projects such as an airstrip for larger planes and a harbor for sightseeing yachts, and to study the possibility of the residents taking operational control of compensation funds paid by Taiwan Power Co.
The DPP’s “2025 Nuclear-Free Homeland Initiative” aims to phase out nuclear power by 2025 by decommissioning the three nuclear power plants currently operational, preventing the commercial operation of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, which is under construction, improving power-generation efficiency and using alternative energy resources.
While some say nuclear power is cheaper, problems and controversies associated with storing nuclear waste have added to its social and economic cost and made it an undesirable form of power generation, Tsai said.
Later, speaking at Kalarulan, a Paiwan Aboriginal community in Taitung City, Tsai pledged to re-examine the government’s relationship with Aborigines if she was elected in January.
Her administration would establish a “new partnership” with Aborigines and do its best to implement substantial Aboriginal autonomy, which would assure Aborigines of management rights over their property and fiscal revenues, as well as rights to operate specific businesses, she said.
“Starting from 2012, there will be new partnership between Taiwanese and Aborigines ... Aborigines are one of the most important elements in Taiwan’s diverse culture,” Tsai told more than 100 Kalarulan residents.
Tsai also apologized to the Aborigines for mistreatment and discrimination by the government in the past when she visited Wushe (霧社) in central Taiwan in July.
She is scheduled to travel through Hualien County today and return to Taipei in the evening.