Demonstrators say ‘no’ to nuclear

By Loa Iok-sin  /  Staff Reporter

Mon, Mar 21, 2011 - Page 1

Thousands of people mobilized by several civic groups took to the streets in Taipei yesterday to demonstrate against nuclear energy and demand an immediate halt to construction at the nation’s Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.

To shouts of: “I love Taiwan, I don’t want nuclear disaster,” and “I want my children, I don’t want nuclear energy,” the protesters were giving voice to a rising number of people who are uncertain about the safety of nuclear energy amid a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan, which encountered a series of radiation leaks following a powerful earthquake and tsunami on March 11.

“The government has always told us that nuclear energy is safe, but what’s happening at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, proves otherwise,” said Shih Shin-min (施信民), a professor of chemical engineering at National Taiwan University and the founding chairman of Taiwan Environmental Protection Union (TEPU).

A nuclear disaster would be relatively easier to contain in Japan than in Taiwan, because Japan is about 10 times the size of Taiwan, he said.

“I cannot imagine what would happen to Taiwan if a similar scenario occurred here,” he said. “Taiwan could not handle just one nuclear disaster.”

Former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), who also took part in the protest, cast doubt over the safety of nuclear power plants.

“Nuclear disasters have occurred in three of the countries with the most advanced nuclear technology in the world — the US, the former Soviet Union and Japan,” Hsieh said. “I don’t think we’re more advanced than those countries in nuclear technology and therefore what happened to them could happen to us too.”

In addition to Hsieh, several other Democratic Progressive Party politicians, including former premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), as well as several lawmakers and city councilors participated in the march.

“In the face of Japan’s nuclear crisis ... Taiwan should stick to the goal of building itself a non-nuclear homeland, so that our offspring will be free from any fears of nuclear disasters,” TEPU secretary-general Lee Cho-han (李卓翰) said.

The flag-waving and chanting protesters demanded that work on the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), which is almost complete, be halted immediately.

The protesters were also opposed to plans by the state-run Taiwan Power Co (Taipower, 台電) to extend the lifespan of its three existing nuclear plants after their licenses expire.

The government is reviewing a Taipower application to extend the operating license of the Jinshan Nuclear Power Plant — its first — which is due to expire in 2017, almost four decades after it opened.

However, the presence of politicians upset some of the younger generation of environmentalists.

“Of course we’re happy to see that politicians are paying attention to the issue, however, it’s not uncommon for many politicians to just stop paying attention once they get elected,” said Wang Hao-chung (王顥中), a member of the No Nuke Action Alliance.

While shouting anti-nuclear slogans, other younger demonstrators also held self-made signs urging politicians not to use the nuclear issue just for political gain.

Among the demonstrators were many parents who brought their children with them, including a man surnamed Lee (李) and his wife, surnamed Hung (洪).

Hung told the Taipei Times she had never been to any demonstrations, but decided to come out this time because she was scared by what has happened in Japan.

“I want to show my concerns over safety of nuclear energy, nuclear power plants are too dangerous,” she said.

Lee said they brought their children with them “because this issue also concerns their future.”

The march departed from Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall at about 2:30pm and ended with a rally outside the Legislative Yuan in the evening.

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who has said he wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2025 and then halve that figure by 2050, said last week that the nation’s nuclear power policy would proceed unabated though he ordered a safety review for the plants.

Electricity generated by the three operational nuclear power plants accounts for 20 percent of the nation’s power supply.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP