With the help of pictures from her childhood, of her children, the landscape on Orchid Island (蘭嶼) and demonstrations against nuclear waste stored there, Sinan Mavivo, a native of the Tao Aboriginal tribe and a legislator-at-large candidate for the Green Party Taiwan, recounts the saga of the island’s 30-year battle against nuclear waste.
“These are some of the first-generation protesters against the nuclear waste site, some of these people have already passed away,” Sinan Mavivo said, pointing at a picture shown on a screen during her presentation at a coffee shop in Taipei. “In the next picture, the man standing in the middle is my father, he used to be very active, but he’s in his 80s now and has difficulty getting around, though he still hopes that one day nuclear waste will be removed from the island once and for all.”
Showing a picture of a group of Tao children playing at a traditional festival, Sinan Mavivo said she hopes that all Tao children — including her own — will always be able to live like this.
“I often hold my son’s hand when I take him to take part in protests against the nuclear waste dump site on the island. I hope that, when he grows up, he will not have to take his children — my grandchildren — to street protests against such injustices,” she said.
When construction of the nuclear waste storage site started in 1978, many locals were told that the government was building a factory for canned food that would provide locals with many new employment opportunities.
However, it turned out to be a nuclear waste storage site on completion in 1982, Sinan Mavivo said.
Although a lot of young Taos working or attending school on Taiwan proper — including herself — have learned about the danger of nuclear waste and tried to launch a campaign against the site back home, they have encountered stiff opposition from elders on the island who know very little about nuclear waste.
“At first, they didn’t know how dangerous nuclear waste could be, and when we tried to mobilize protests against it, they didn’t want to take part,” Sinan Mavivo said. “They even accused us of wanting to stir things up on the island and complained that we were bringing back some ‘strange’ ideas from Taiwan proper.”
With such opposition in mind, the young activists collected evidence about the risks of nuclear power, such as pictures from the exploded nuclear reactor in Chernobyl and organized small discussion sessions and study groups that went from village to village.
They finally succeeded in organizing the first anti-nuclear demonstration on Orchid Island in 1987, Sinan Mavivo said.
“Gradually, the younger generation — native Tao and non-Tao alike — and the elders began to work together in the struggle against the nuclear waste dump,” Sinan Mavivo said. “In 1996, when Taiwan Power Co [Taipower] planned to expand the nuclear waste storage facility, the Tao blocked a boat carrying a shipment of nuclear waste from entering the harbor, and since then, no new barrels of nuclear waste have been transported to the island.”
In 1996, upon hearing news that a new shipment of nuclear waste might be shipped to Orchid Island, locals organized volunteer coastal patrols to keep a look out for possible Taipower boats approaching the island, she said.
Upon sighting a boat, locals brought rocks and threw them into the harbor, a gesture that they would rather block the harbor than allow nuclear waste onto the island.