TAIPEI (CNA) — A group of indigenous Tao people and anti-nuclear activists protested in front of the Executive Yuan Friday, demanding that the government move its nuclear waste storage facility off Orchid Island.
The protesters also rebuffed a government offer of NT$2.55 billion (US$83.6 million) in compensation to residents of the island.
They chanted slogans demanding the relocation of the facility away from the island off Taitung County that is home to the Tao people, also known as the Yami, and made it clear that they will never give up that goal, accusing the government of trying to buy them off ahead of major elections.
Speaking in his mother tongue in a news conference, Capen Nganaen, a Tao tribal elder and a policy adviser to President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), said through an interpreter that he accepted the post with the hope of holding more in-depth dialogue with the government.
But Capen Nganaen said that over the past few years, this has not happened and he accused Tsai of seeking to try to win popular support with money as major national elections approach.
Syaman Vongayan, convener of the Mobilization of Orchid Island’s Anti-nuclear Movement, said Tsai has pledged that she will carefully handle the issue of the relocation of the radioactive waste storage facility away from the island.
Syaman Vongayan argued that Tsai is just following the policy of previous administrations and demanded that she take back her offer of NT$2.55 billion and instead use the money to finance the waste relocation.
Currently, some 4,000 Tao people live on Orchid Island, but the government did not fully communicate with them before deciding to allocate the money to the residents in compensation for the damage caused to them by the facility over the past four decades, Lanyu Elementary School Principal Syamen Womzas said.
Although the demands raised by the protesters probably do not represent the views of all the local residents, Syamen Womzas said, it is extremely important to speak out.
Echoing Syaman Vongayan’s view, he said the government should first address the facility’s relocation and create legislation to deal with the compensation issue.
As to the question of where the nuclear waste should be relocated to, Anti-Nuclear Action Platform spokesperson Tsuei Su-hsin (崔愫欣) contended that it should be shipped back to Taiwan proper, from whence it came.
Some of the protesters later met Minister Without Portfolio Lin Wan-i (林萬億) inside the Executive Yuan to express their firm stance against the nuclear waste storage plant and asked the government not to try to buy them off as the Jan. 11 presidential and legislative polls approach.
Last Friday, Tsai announced that the government will pay NT$2.55 billion to Orchid Island residents in compensation for infringing on their rights by maintaining the nuclear waste storage facility there.
The president made the announcement in Taitung, which has jurisdiction over the island, describing the move as reflecting the government’s goal of pursuing transitional justice for indigenous tribes.
She described the payment as a step toward compensating the people of the island, but admitted that there is still a lot to do to “correct our past errors.”
Following Friday’s meeting with the protesters, Lin told CNA that the compensation offer is mainly aimed at making up for the damage caused to the Orchid Island residents as a result of the nuclear waste storage.
However, he termed the relocation of the facility an issue that the government must address swiftly, adding that the administration will allocate additional budget if moves toward relocation are implemented.
Lin promised to relay to Tsai and Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) the residents’ concerns over the facility and their hope that a dialogue platform can be established to improve communication between the two sides.
The Executive Yuan has highlighted historical documents showing that it was former President Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) and Premier Sun Yun-suan (孫運璿) who went ahead with the decision to build the facility without informing the Tao people in advance.
The decision to use Orchid Island as the location for the storage of low- and medium-level nuclear waste from Taiwan’s nuclear power plants was made in 1974 and it began receiving shipments in 1982.
The whole process has long been recognized as deceptive, with a 1993 report in the Nuclear Monitor newsletter titled “Orchid Island: Taiwan’s Nuclear Dumpsite” detailing how residents at the time were led to believe that what was being built was actually a fish cannery.