The Tao Aborigines of Lanyu (蘭嶼) — also known as Orchid Island — are once again taking to the streets to voice their opposition to a nuclear storage facility on their island, calling for its immediate removal. While it may appear that the removal of nuclear waste is the only thing the Taos want, the real situation is much more complicated, as Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) is exerting considerable effort on the resource-scarce island to minimize opposition.
“We love Lanyu. We don’t want nuclear waste,” hundreds of Taos and their supporters shouted out loud as they marched on the streets of Taipei on March 11 — the first anniversary of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, which led to the crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant — during a demonstration against nuclear power.
Before the March 11 demonstrations, hundreds of Taos also organized their own demonstration in front of the nuclear waste storage facility on the island on Feb. 20.
“The first shipment of nuclear waste came to the island in 1982, the year I was born,” Si Ara’n said. “I grew up watching adults on the island fighting against nuclear waste. When I was little, I didn’t know what they were doing, but now I understand why the elders fought against it.”
“I’m 30, the elders who campaigned against nuclear waste have grown old, so it’s time for Taos my age to continue the struggle, because I want my children and grandchildren to grow up in a safe and clean place like all Taos have done for the past 800 or so years,” he said.
Lanyu was given its name by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government after World War II, as officials at the time found orchids blossoming everywhere on the island. The Taos call the island Ponso no Tao, which means Island of the People.
Archeological findings show the Taos have inhabited the island for more than eight centuries and that throughout most of their history, the Taos were self-sufficient, relying on taro and sweet potato grown on the island, fish, as well as trade with what is now the Philippines’ Batan Islands.
In the late 1970s, the Taos on Lanyu were informed that the government would build a canned fish product factory on the island to provide jobs, only to find out that the factory was a nuclear waste storage facility, which left behind feelings of deception among most residents there.
Although sentiment against nuclear waste on the island remains strong, the passion among many has gradually faded away over the past three decades, as they begin to accept the existence of nuclear waste on the island and eye the “benefits” that it brings.
“Of course no one likes having nuclear waste on the island, especially when the facility was built through deception,” said Sinan Sharang, a clerk working at the local public health center. “But what can you do about it after it’s been there for 30 years? They [the protesters] want it removed immediately, but if the nuclear waste storage is gone, the compensation from Taipower would also disappear. How could we live without the money?”
Sinan Sharang said that to compensate the residents for having to live with the nuclear waste dump, Taipower provides welfare benefits for them, such as free electricity and financial assistance to cover transportation costs for patients who need to be transferred to Taiwan proper for treatment of serious medical conditions.