Tao Aborigines from Orchid Island (蘭嶼) yesterday protested on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei, saying radioactive material was leaking from a nuclear waste dump on the island. They demanded that the storage facility be removed.
“Survival is the only reason why we are here; we’re here for the survival of generations to come,” Tao Cultural Development Association chairman Syaman Raus told a crowd standing in the rain.
“A nuclear leak has occurred. The water, the soil, the animals and vegetation on the island have been contaminated. We live on a small island with very limited arable land and resources. How can we live?” he asked.
“Taiwan Power Co [Taipower] said there’s no problem. It’s all lies,” he said.
Although residents of Orchid Island — also known as Lanyu or Pongso no Tao, “Island of the People” in the Tao language — have long suspected that a radioactive leak has occurred, it was first officially confirmed when Academia Sinica research fellow Huh Chih-an (扈治安) detected radioactivity on the island after being commissioned by Taipower at the end of last month.
Taipower at the time argued that the amount of radioactive material detected was minimal and could not be considered a leak.
It said that only a few rust-eaten barrels storing nuclear waste had holes in them and that the company was checking the condition of all the barrels.
Orchid Island is home to the country’s only nuclear waste storage facility, which was completed in 1982 to serve the nuclear power plants on Taiwan proper.
Individual researchers detected unusual amounts of cesium-137 and cobalt-37 in soil from farmland on the island about a decade ago.
Both are elements found in nuclear waste.
Despite the rain, dozens of people from the island stood on the boulevard, wearing traditional outfits and holding banners calling for an end to nuclear waste storage on Lanyu.
“The Republic of China [ROC] government is a killer government,” said Syaman Ngarayu, a preacher at a local church.
“We Taos are such a small people and the ROC is contaminating our water and our soil, they’re killing us with nuclear waste,” he said.
Syaman Rapongan, a writer and native of Lanyu, read a protest poem that he wrote.
“Wild savages, here’s your breakfast,” he read. “Cobalt-60 is for the men, cesium-137 is for the women. As for the kids, extinction is your breakfast.”
After reading the poem, Syaman Rapongan accused the government of deceiving the Tao.
He said that since the ROC government took over Orchid Island the quality of life has been deteriorating.
“In 1980, you [the ROC government] said that you would build a manufacturing factory for canned fish for us. However, it turned out that this ‘factory’ is a nuclear storage facility,” Syaman Rapongan said.
“We’ve been searching for happiness, but since our encounter, the ROC government brings us only threats to our survival,” he said.