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The Radioactive Ghost of Chiang Kai-shek

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  • Romi Elnagar
    Will Taiwan be the Next Country to Say No to Nuclear or be the Site of the Next Big Disaster? The Radioactive Ghost of Chiang Kai-shek by ADAM CHIMIENTI On
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 27 11:27 PM
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      Will Taiwan be the Next Country to Say No to Nuclear or be the Site of the Next Big Disaster?
      The Radioactive Ghost of Chiang Kai-shek
      On March 9th, 2013, over 200,000 anti nuclear activists took to the streets around Taiwan as the debate over nuclear power is
      once again heating up. A proposed referendum in July or August is now
      touted as the ultimate arbiter of the fate of nuclear plant Number 4 at
      Longmen. These particular reactors have been contentious since their
      inception, officially in production for over two decades, with plans
      dating back even further to the pre-democracy days. Most recently
      though, Fukushima has been causing increasing concern among many
      Taiwanese citizens and the recent second anniversary has further
      galvanized activists and average citizens alike. The Republic of China
      (ROC), as it is officially known, already has three active plants with
      six reactors in operation. The move by the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) to
      put Number 4 to a vote has not impressed the opposition, with one
      calling it “a joke referendum”. Before we review the case of nuclear
      plant Number 4 and its soon-to-be-revealed destiny, a brief history of
      atomic power in the island once widely known as Ihla Formosa (Portuguese for beautiful island) is essential for local and foreign observers.
      Nuclear Disaster Waiting to Happen
      Following the March 2011 genpatsu shinsai, a term newly
      created in Japanese to indicate the triple disaster of an earthquake,
      tsunami, and nuclear meltdown, the nuclear establishment around the
      world went into damage control. In Taiwan, this included absurd
      statements by the leadership that demonstrated a desire to deceive
      people into believing that it couldn’t happen there. Yet, what was
      revealed in the weeks and months following was enough to make any sane
      leadership rethink their position. Unfortunately, much of the debate was scarcely publicized and public attention failed to reach any critical
      mass. The Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) Administration would remain focused on the
      goal of finishing the country’s fourth nuclear power plant. The logic is to leave future leaders with the task of possibly decommissioning it,
      ostensibly due to the enormous costs that a breach of contract would
      result in.[i] This logic is contradicted by the ever-escalating costs involved with
      finishing the reactor (not to mention what a nuclear emergency could
      mean for the island and its inhabitants). Taiwan Power Company, or
      Taipower, is the utility company running the project despite its widely
      noted lack of experience in building something of this size and scope. 
      In 2000, it estimated costs of roughly $2.6 billion USD, but now
      forecast at least four times that amount at over $10billion USD.[ii]
      Among the most frightening revelations in the aftermath of the 311
      disaster at Fukushima were reports by tsunami experts and seismologists
      warning of enormous pressure accumulating in the Manila Trench. These
      experts pointed to the fact that it had been hundreds of years since a
      major earthquake occurred in the South China Sea. The overarching
      message was that the next triple disaster  would most likely occur in
      southern East Asia with tens of millions living in a danger zone. The
      Associated Press reported that no less than five plants were
      particularly vulnerable to what could potentially be one of the most
      costly earthquakes and tsunamis ever. These five plants include four on
      the southern coast of China and one on the southeastern coast of Taiwan.[iii]
      Professor David Yuen from the University of Minnesota, in what could
      someday be one of history’s most prescient warnings gone ignored, said
      that we must assume all five reactors would be struck by massive waves
      sometime this century if such an event occurs. It is hard to imagine
      what Fukushima times five would look like but the governments of these
      densely populated regions need to do just that according to the experts. This analysis and preparation has not seriously been undertaken as far
      as most activists are concerned. It is also unlikely in the future
      because of the strength of a nuclear establishment that carelessly and
      recklessly dismisses legitimate concerns. One can say a lot about global nuclear advocates but defeatism has never been an identifiable trait.
      Certainly, undertaking the thorough tests and using the best technology
      would be a challenge that would at least slow down, if not altogether
      halt, the progress of the licensing, construction and future operation
      of reactors. Yet, fast-tracking such projects is the norm in the many
      countries that are advocating a nuclear renaissance.
      The utility companies in charge of providing people around the world
      with electricity have often been found guilty of conspiring, not only
      when it comes to price-gouging, but also reckless endangerment. Consider the past history of the operator of Fukushima’s six reactors, TEPCO,
      and its counterparts throughout Japan who surely knew well in advance
      that many reactors were not prepared to deal with major earthquakes,
      according to Wikileaks documents. Yet, this awareness just led to
      collusion with METI [the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry] in an effort to downplay or ignore legitimate concerns. The pro-nuclear
      forces in the country did everything they could to dismiss the urging of experts and the power of a court order of at least one Japanese judge.[iv] The fact that Japan is one of the most seismically active countries in
      the world and once operated 54 reactors within proximity to the coast
      indicates this recklessness. Yet, the fact that Japan has consistently
      led the world in studying the potential impacts of tsunamis and
      earthquakes on its reactors is remarkable. China and Taiwan, as well as
      the US and India and other states that continue to support nuclear power post-Fukushima, are not as prepared as Japan was. This is a cause for
      concern, if not alarm.
      The case of Taiwan is especially problematic considering that it is
      one of the most densely populated places in the world. Because Taiwan is an island, the people (over 23 million) and animals living there are
      incredibly vulnerable to widespread disaster and the ensuing panic that
      would follow. So what are the leaders of Taiwan doing? For the most
      part, few are calling for the outright decommissioning of the six
      reactors currently operating on the island. The opposition Democratic
      Progressive Party (DPP) talks of a gradual phase out and additional
      safety tests, meanwhile most leading members of the KMT promote
      extensions for the existing reactors and plans to build more. To be
      fair, there are politicians from both parties who are now publicly
      advancing the issue and stress that time is of the essence.
      The nuclear establishment consistently tells us there is no need to
      worry because they know what they are doing. Just ask some of the
      Japanese citizens who live daily with the fear of radiation and the
      inevitable increased incidences of cancer. The former Taiwanese Premier
      Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), in an embarrassing attempt to deflect citizens’ fears
      in Taipei went out on a limb and declared that Taiwan’s reactors were
      more advanced than those in Japan. He boldly declared that they were in
      fact fourth-generation, but then was forced to backtrack because
      fourth-generation reactors have not yet been built anywhere in the
      This was certainly not the model available in the late 1970s and
      first half of the 1980s when Taiwan was building their plants. The
      reactors they built were four boiling water reactors (BWR) designed by
      GE and two pressurized water reactors (PWR) by Westinghouse. These
      reactors have been cited as vulnerable to a variety of challenges and
      the high-level waste is typically stored outside the reactor vessel as
      in the case of Fukushima, a result of incapacity to deal with it in a
      more responsible manner. Mostly, the low-level waste has been sent to
      Lanyu, an island off the southeastern coast populated with locals who
      have a proud tradition of managing their environment, yet are now forced to deal with a storage site that has been leaking amidst (not
      surprisingly) a cover up by Taipower.[vi]
      Like elsewhere in the world, as soon as you bring up the issue, most
      people will say there is no other choice because energy security is
      paramount. Like most other places on the planet where they have moved
      beyond the Industrial Age and now consume significantly more than they
      produce, there is abundant and unnecessary waste in Taiwan. The
      Taiwanese are surely not as bad as their counterparts in the United
      States or other parts of the developed world, but you don’t have to see
      much in the country to notice that there is significant room for
      improvement when it comes to energy conservation.
      Qui bono? Qui lustret? (Who benefits? Who sacrifices?)
      Revisiting Japan again, we find that they successfully endured a
      couple of months of 2012 without any nuclear power whatsoever. Moreover, many citizens throughout the country were arguing that they would cut
      back in order to keep the reactors offline, as they had in the past when dealing with the ecological disasters that accompanied their ‘economic
      miracle’. There were massive protests when the government announced
      plans to restart the reactors at Oi last summer.[vii]
      These were unprecedented as protests in Japan usually tend to be
      low-key and not particularly antagonistic toward the ruling class. Yet,
      the energy conservation efforts were reminiscent of the strides that
      made Japan among the most energy efficient nations on the planet. There
      were and are valuable lessons to be learned here. It has been
      sufficiently argued that energy conservation is in fact enough to offset the losses in nuclear output that would come with plants closing down.[viii]
      Taipei has been considerably influenced by Japan since it has
      undergone a similar model of growth and production and has been
      distinguished by economists and politicians as one of the Asian Tigers.
      One can imagine then, that Taiwanese people were paying close attention
      to what was happening in Japan at that time. While many were eager to
      highlight the material and financial assistance Taiwan offered, there
      were also fears throughout the island about products from Fukushima. One anxious farmer recently expressed his fears to a local reporter that
      the same thing would happen to produce from the northeastern portion of
      Taiwan, where the fourth nuclear plant is slated to begin importing
      nuclear fuel rods by the end of the year barring a vote down in the
      proposed referendum.    
      Many Taiwanese activists are quick to point out that the plant has
      been ranked number 14 by the World Nuclear Association on a list of the
      most dangerous plants in the world. To understand how this project could still be underway, we must briefly delve into Taiwan’s past to
      comprehend the main problems with its nuclear industry today.
      Scientists who say no to nuclear and the leaders who ignore them
      In the late 1970s, Dr. Chang Kuo-lung(張國龍), a
      Yale-trained professor of Physics from National Taiwan University and
      future director of the Taiwanese Environmental Protection Agency
      (2005-2007), took note of the project that was to be nuclear plant
      Number 4 in the northeastern portion of the island. In a conversation
      with me last December, he recalled finding out about the plant after
      visiting his brother who was living in the countryside to escape the
      damaging effects of air pollution in the big cities of Taiwan. This was a very different time in Taiwan. Political dissent was dangerous but the
      brilliant young professor, freshly returned from studying in the US, was undeterred. He began speaking about the issue of nuclear power to
      colleagues and the fate of Number 4 (which incidentally is unlucky in
      Chinese culture because the character reads like the character for
      death) to anyone who would listen.
      At that time, few were aware of the real dangers but things would
      soon change after the first major nuclear power disaster at Three Mile
      Island in 1979. The problem was how to get people to understand what was at stake. The government of Chiang Kai-shek was  brutal  and it wasn’t
      uncommon for troublemakers to suffer at its hands. Under the leadership
      of his son Chiang Ching-kuo however, political liberalization gradually
      ensued. The debate over nuclear power had begun on the island but was
      too technical for most people to comprehend. Soon enough however, change was on its way.
      By 1987, martial law was lifted on the island after roughly four
      decades and the newly emergent Democratic Progressive Party or DPP had
      taken up the fight as part of their platform. The young rising political stars also took on an array of other progressive issues under one
      umbrella that sought to delegitimize the ruling KMT. It would take some
      time for them to achieve electoral success and much of the wind would
      apparently be taken out of their sails. By the time of the former
      president (and current inmate[ix]) Chen Shui-bian’s assumption of the presidential office in 2000, the
      party more or less owned the issue of the environment and nuclear power. This was not necessarily a good thing as they were outnumbered by the
      opposition and perhaps too inept or timorous to move toward ending, once and for all, the saga of the fourth nuclear power plant. The plant
      became big news itself in the mid-1980s because of environmental
      concerns that accompanied the country’s remarkable economic growth, as
      well as an excessively bloated budget for the third plant at Heng Chun
      (the one identified above as being in the potential path of a major
      tsunami ).[x]
      For the courageous physicist Dr. Chang, as he explained to me, it was a matter of conscience. How could the leaders of his country build this fourth plant after a series of minor disasters at the previous plants
      due to poor management by the state-owned Taipower, and especially after the major disasters he watched from afar in Chernobyl and Pennsylvania? People were being lied to. The real and potential costs far outweighed
      any benefits to the public.
      Though it wasn’t the public that was necessarily meant to benefit.
      Like any major endeavor, the funds and extensive construction associated with such a grand project meant a lack of accountability that
      complemented an authoritarian government well. Chiang Kai-shek’s
      reprehensible lust for power and riches is well-documented. His dark
      legacy of repression in Taiwan began even before he fled China and
      crossed the Strait. I was, however, dismayed when I heard from some of
      the country’s most respected environmentalists that the Chiang family is still relatively powerful in the country and that some of Chiang’s
      descendants are behind the push for the fourth nuclear reactor. Today,
      the DPP remains weak despite an incredibly low approval rating of
      second-term President Ma Ying-Jeou. The fate of the anti nuclear
      movement, tragically, remains trapped in this democratically ineffective party structure.
      According to a recent article in the Taipei Times, the same
      DPP members that pushed for a referendum on the Longmen Plant (Number 4) now reject it out of hand. “This is a joke, that the government is
      proposing to hold a referendum under the current Referendum Act, because the current version of the law is intended to prevent referendums from
      succeeding, making the outcome meaningless,” said the current DPP
      chairman Su (蘇貞昌), further adding that,
      “it’s obvious that the public are no longer reluctant to express
      their fears, doubts and anxieties about nuclear energy, so what the
      government should do is to stop construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant immediately, not hold a referendum on whether the construction
      should continue.”[xi]
      Yet it seems that the public were not reluctant to express their
      concerns earlier either. From 1994 to 1998, four referendums were held
      in Taipei City, Taipei County, and Yilan County and these reportedly did show a strong anti nuclear majority, but at that time the ruling KMT
      dismissed these as illegitimate.[xii] Now the tables have turned as a Referendum Act  passed in 2003 
      requires at least 50% of eligible voter participation, as well as
      requiring that at least half of those voters  say yes to the question
      proposed. Since the Act has been introduced, efforts to get sufficient
      voter turnout has proven unsuccessful six out of six times.
      Successful Anti Nuclear Movements and lessons for Taiwan
      Japanese activists have expressed similar concerns regarding a
      decisive vote on nuclear power. It appears that many in Japan are also
      apprehensive about turnout and the enormous propaganda that would
      accompany such initiatives. In fact, all across the nuclearpowered
      world, disinformation or lack of relevant information remains decisive.
      It took the strong leadership and decades of determination of anti
      nuclear groups in Germany, plus the critical support of former nuclear
      advocate and Chancellor Angela Merkel to finally begin a phaseout there. In Italy, the situation was a bit different. Italians had earlier voted against nuclear power following the accident at Chernobyl and again had the unfortunate experience of revisiting the issue due to an
      overzealous (redundant, I know) Berlusconi, who tried to
      undemocratically force nuclear power back on the grid.
      Other successful movements are worth examining for Taiwanese
      activists. In the second half of the 1980s in Long Island, New York, the federal government and local utility’s plans to dot the northern coast
      of Suffolk County with 11 nuclear reactors had failed. The Federal
      government had been promoting the necessity and safety of nuclear power
      and pushing for a nuclear renaissance.  The U.S. Energy Secretary John
      S. Herrington expressed the desperation of the industry in getting the
      Shoreham plant, the only fully-constructed of 11 proposed plants, to
      open by stating that if it didn’t, it would be a low point in the
      history of the nuclear industry. The activists reportedly used a mix of
      legal, political and activist initiatives, according to Karl Grossman,
      an anti nuclear journalist who covered the movement in depth.[xiii] In other words, they got creative and they were extremely aggressive and able to outsmart the other side.
      It appears that the anti nuclear victory on Long Island is a useful
      model for Taiwan. Both islands are heavily populated. One of the reasons for the defeat of the nuclear establishment on Long Island at that time was the refusal by New York State and Suffolk County to draw up
      evacuation plans that were federally mandated. Indeed, it was regarded
      as an impossible task to evacuate such an island and if a contingency
      plan is impossible, then there should be no amount of electricity
      generation worth that risk. Look at a map of Long Island and you will
      see several connections by bridge and ferry to the mainland (practically worthless in a major evacuation, but connections nonetheless). In
      Taiwan, no connections such as these exist. New York could hardly be
      considered a seismically active location. Taiwan is located in the “ring of fire” and has been put on alert many times because of tsunamis.
      A time for Taiwanese (and citizens the world over) to stand up for everything we cherish
      Taipower has already wreaked havoc on Lan Yu (aka Orchid Island) with its stockpiling of radioactive waste there. The Taiwanese government
      should stop playing politics and engaging in crony capitalism and
      instead heed the words of the experts who reported on the buildup of
      pressure in the Manila Trench. They should close down and decommission
      all of the plants on the beautiful island known as Taiwan. This utility
      should not be allowed to add to the hot patches of ocean that have been a stark reality since March 2011. Moreover, citizens should hold their
      governments accountable for the risks they take. The people should be
      the ones calling for economic and ecologicallycentric plans for solving
      the myriad problems that have come with the shopping malls and fast
      cheap food and energy. ‘Green New Deals’ should be the norm in every
      country and proprietary impulses should be curbed as people around the
      world share the best ideas and technologies.
      In the United States last month, President Obama’s choice for
      Secretary of Energy, or as he calls him “another brilliant scientist”,
      Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist from MIT, received a ringing
      endorsement from the nuclear establishment.[xiv] He will surely do the dirty work of promoting nuclear power, despite
      the overwhelming evidence that this technology is clearly not worth the
      humongous risks.
      Only days before the earthquake and meltdowns at Fukushima, Dan Rather told his Huffington Post readership that the issue of nuclear energy had been all but decided and everyone was in agreement—the renaissance was back on.[xv] The media leads the way in obfuscating and obscuring those humongous
      risks, as Joe Giambrone’s excellent March 18, 2013 CounterPunch piece on radiation and the media demonstrated.
      Bill McKibben, one of Foreign Policy magazine’s 2011 ‘top
      global thinkers’, essentially told me in a recent email exchange that
      there wasn’t really any room for the anti nuclear focus in February’s
      historic march in Washington. I found that rather bizarre considering
      the inherent danger to the planet that comes with nuclear power.
      All too often, the folks that shill for the nuclear industry use the
      language of “real world economics”. This helps rationalize their support of the dirty forms of energy that poison our air, water and earth and
      affect all forms of life on the planet negatively.
      All too often, environmental leaders go along with such
      rationalizations probably because, as in the case of Taiwan, they see
      closeness to political parties and leaders as being convenient and
      potentially advantageous someday.
      Today, we must stop and ask the critical question, how can we stand
      by and let the next Fukushima happen? Is there nothing starker in the
      real world of physics and biology than what has happened at Fukushima
      and Chernobyl? What will the next disaster bring? Will it be in
      California, Nebraska, New York, Vermont, France, Bulgaria, Russia,
      India, or China? Can we afford to lose all of Taiwan because some
      clearly corrupted utility and political party have hitched the fate of a nation to an industry, an establishment, that seeks to authoritatively
      dominate our economic and political existence? There are ‘brilliant
      scientists’ out there, like Dr. Chang and other scientists of conscience (with the excellent Helen Mary Caldicott, Chris Busby and Arnie
      Gundersen at the forefront), who reject the immorality of profits before people, but unfortunately the dictators, or those that dictate policy
      and restrict the flow of critical information, tend to win out and leave a radioactive disaster in their wake. Perhaps Taiwan can now bring an
      end to such corrupted atomic calculus and inspire the world, as opposed
      to irradiating it.
      Adam Chimienti is a teacher and a doctoral student originally from New York. He can be reached at ajchimienti@....
      [i] Chris Wang. “Ma Should Learn From Chiang: DPP,” Taipei Times, 23 February 2013, http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2013/02/23/2003555505/1.
      [ii] Florence de Changy. “Taiwan presses ahead with home-built nuclear power plant despite safety fears,”The Guardian Weekly, 14 February 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/feb/14/taiwan-asia-pacific.
      [iii] Margie Mason and Robin McDowell. “Asia’s coastal nuclear plants: Disaster-in-waiting?” Associated Press, 18 April 2011, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/42649580/ns/world_news-asiapacific/
      [iv] Steven Swinford and Christopher Hope, “Japan earthquake: Japan warned over nuclear plants, WikiLeaks cables show” The Telegraph 15 March 2011, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/wikileaks/8384059/Japan-earthquake-Japan-warned-over-nuclear-plants-WikiLeaks-cables-show.html.
      [v] Vincent Y. Chao and J. Michael Cole. “Experts question Wu’s nuclear facts,” Tapei Times, 17 March 2011, http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2011/03/17/2003498375
      [vi] See the following articles for more on the Tao people: Cindy Sui. “Tribal Culture Survives in Taiwan,” BBC Travel, 6 October 2011, http://www.bbc.com/travel/feature/20110930-tribal-culture-survives-in-taiwan; and Carmen Roberts. “Taiwan’s paradise island fights to save its identity,” BBC News, 7 October 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-radio-and-tv-15182502.
      [vii] Mure Dickie. “Japanese anti-nuclear demonstrations grow,” Washington Post, 17 July 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/japanese-anti-nuclear-demonstrations-grow/2012/07/16/gJQAPXPgoW_story.html
      [viii] One example of a scientific study that set out to prove that the
      benefits of energy conservation and renewable sources would be less
      costly than sticking with nuclear power is from a senior economist at
      the Japan Center for Economic Research: Tatsuo Kobayashi. “Energy Saving and Renewable Energy Less Costly Than Sticking with Nuclear Energy,” Redesigning the Japanese Economy: Beyond the Earthquake Disaster. 27 December 2011. Another excellent blog post and infographic on this subject comes from Energy Savvy at http://www.energysavvy.com/blog/2011/07/13/ticking-atomic-clock-nuclear-power-vs-efficient-homes/
      [ix] President Chen and his wife were arrested, charged and convicted of
      bribery upon leaving office in 2008 and are both serving their prison
      [x] This section was based on discussions with Dr. Chang Kuo-lung and cross referenced with: Ming-Sho Ho. “The Politics of Anti-Nuclear Protest in
      Taiwan: A Case of Party-Dependent Movement (1980-2000),”Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 37, No. 3, July 2003.
      [xi] Chris Wang and Loa Iok-sin. “President Ma should halt nuclear project: Su, Tsai,”
      Taipei Times, 1 March 2013-Page 4.
      [xii] Ming Sho-ho. Ibid.
      [xiii] Karl Grossman. “Eminent Domain and the Fight Against Nuclear Power,”Common Dreams, 23 January 2012, https://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/01/23-0.
      [xiv] Erika Bolstad. “Gina McCarthy tapped to head EPA, Ernest Moniz to lead Energy Department,” McClatchy Newspapers, 4 March 2013, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/03/04/184773/obama-taps-gina-mccarthy-ernest.html
      [xv] As far as my research could reveal, Dan Rather didn’t issue any update
      or statement in the weeks following his 2 March 2011 piece, “Nuclear
      Reactors,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dan-rather/nuclear-reactors_b_830392.html


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