Taiwan Environmental Protection Union founding chairperson Shih Hsin-min (施信民) said that in his almost three decades of anti-nuclear activism, the only thing he lamented was that the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) support for nuclear power has never wavered.
Now 66 years old, Shih said that the nation’s first anti-nuclear power activists were academics, adding that his first protest was in front of the Taipower Building with renowned academics Chai Song-lin (柴松林), Huang Ti-yuan (黃提源) and former union head Chang Kuo-long (張國龍).
“I have been subjected to wire-taps from the government and I have been threatened by criminal groups, but nothing will stop me from fulfilling my duty to society as one of its intellectuals,” Shih said in a recent interview, adding that it was this conviction that has fueled his activism over the past 27 years.
Taiwan’s society has changed since he first protested against the government’s nuclear power policy, Shih said, adding that so too had the focus of Taiwanese.
“Anti-nuclear sentiment is now on the rise in public and anti-nuclear power gatherings and marches — previously seen as political statements — are now occurring throughout the nation, facilitated by the Internet or other events held by environmental protection groups,” Shih said, referring to the period prior to 1986 when the KMT was the sole political party in Taiwan and all dissidents were known as dangwai (黨外) or “outside the [KMT] party.”
“People now are starting to understand what the anti-nuclear program is all about, even if they don’t use the Internet,” he added.
Shih said that statements from Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) are changing as well.
“Back in the day, Taipower always said that Chernobyl happened because it was built by the Soviet Union and because it did not have a containment building; they said that nuclear power plants built by the US could not suffer such catastrophic outcomes, and at most would be a repeat of the Three Mile Island incident,” Shih said.
Chernobyl is considered to be one of the worst nuclear disasters in history, and was the first to have been rated level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.
During the Three Mile Island incident on March 28, 1979 — named after the island with the same name in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania — the nuclear power plant suffered a partial meltdown in one of its reactors.
The incident is considered to be the worst commercial nuclear power accident in US history.
However, Shih said that the more recent nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in March 2011 showed that even if a nuclear core is stored within a containment building, hydrogen explosions can still occur.
The Fukushima nuclear disaster was partially caused by a tsunami that was generated by a magnitude 9 earthquake.
The flooding of the emergency generators at the plant caused the pumps circulating coolant water to the reactors to stop working and the reactors to melt down due to the heat from radioactive particle decay.
Shih said that despite Taipower’s claims that Taiwanese nuclear power plants have more countermeasures than the Fukushima plant, many of the systems would not have enough time to be used in an emergency situation.
Shih said he sought to influence the government’s thoughts on the issue through protests, recommendations and various anti-nuclear power events.