Hundreds of Tao Aborigines living on Lanyu (蘭嶼), also known as Orchid Island, yesterday held a protest outside the Lanyu nuclear waste storage facility, calling on Taiwan Power Co (Taipower, 台電) to remove nuclear waste from the island as soon as possible.
Clenching their fists as they stared straight ahead with angry faces and shouted in low-pitched voices, the Tao, in traditional dress, performed a ritual to drive away evil spirits near Longmen Harbor, the debarking point for nuclear waste from Taiwan proper and where yesterday’s march against the storage of nuclear waste on the island began.
Despite stormy weather, about 500 people from the island’s six villages marched along Lanyu’s west and east coasts, before the two groups joined together for a rally in front of the storage facility.
“We love Lanyu! Nuclear waste, out!” the marchers shouted.
“It’s been 30 years [since nuclear waste was first stored on Lanyu] and we’ve had enough,” Lanyu Township Councilor Sinan Kamatahen told the crowd.
“Because of the nuclear waste, the health of we Tao people has been deteriorating. We’re worried that, soon, the already disadvantaged Tao people are going to disappear from the face of the Earth,” she said.
“If President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) really cares about Aborigines, he should be more serious about listening to what we have to say, and so should Taipower,” she said. “It’s a matter of life and death for us.”
Since 1982, when the storage facility was completed, about 98,700 barrels of nuclear waste from the nation’s three operational nuclear power plants have been stored at the Lanyu complex.
While Lanyu residents have long protested against the facility, they have become more concerned following the crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant last year.
A report released in November last year that said a radioactive leak had been detected outside the facility also added to residents’ concerns.
“Taipower has always told us that it’s completely safe, but how do they explain the high cancer rate since the facility was built?” Sinan Kamatahen asked. “There’s been too much deception, we want the truth.”
Medical records show that in the three decades since the facility began operating, the number of cancer patients has been rising. However, there has been no official investigation into the impact of the facility on residents’ health.
Chang Hai-yu, a preacher at a local church, said it was a tragedy that Tao children are being born into a radiation-filled environment.
Lanyu Township Mayor Chiang To-li (江多利) urged Taipower to remove nuclear waste from the island as soon as possible.
“We protested here 10 years ago and we’re back again today because what Taipower promised us has not yet been fulfilled,” Chiang said. “We’re here again, pleading for the health and life of all Lanyu residents.”
Chiang was referring to a Taipower promise to remove all nuclear waste by 2016.
In response to the protest, Lee Ching-shan (李清山), director of Taipower’s nuclear back-end management department, said the company was sincere about its promise, but that it was a complicated process.
“Ten years ago, we promised to remove the nuclear waste and to check all the nuclear waste barrels,” Lee said. “We completed the barrel check in November and we’re actively searching for a new storage site.”
At the time of the pledge, Taipower said it would find a new site for a nuclear waste storage facility within five years after a set of regulations regarding site selection was adopted by the legislature. It also said it would finish building the facility within five years and the moving process within another four years.
“So far, we’ve had some candidate sites, but referendums by locals are yet to be held to make the final decision,” Lee said. “We’re working hard to fulfill our promise, but I have to say that, because of various delays, we may not be able to make it by 2016.”