by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Brian Hioe

THE ANNUAL anti-nuclear demonstration and march held to commemorate the anniversary of the Fukushima disaster in Japan on March 11th, 2011 was held in Taipei today. The demonstration marked the seventh anniversary of the disaster, during which the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor was prompted by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake. The Fukushima disaster led to the revival of Taiwan’s longstanding anti-nuclear movement, seeing as there has long been concerns that the high-level of seismic activity in Taiwan could lead to a similar nuclear disaster following an earthquake—and as Taiwan is much smaller than Japan geographically, this could be disastrous. Given the high and low ebbs of the Japanese anti-nuclear movement, at various points since 2011, Fukushima commemorations in Taiwan have actually been larger than in Japan.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

Attendance was, however, low compared to previous years, with high estimates placing attendance at 2,000, but possibly much lower attendance, closer to the hundred range. In 2014 during the Ma administration, shortly before the Sunflower Movement broke out, the anti-nuclear march drew 200,000. Anti-nuclear demonstrations after the Sunflower Movement drew 50,000 to occupy Zhongxiao West Road in front of Taipei Main Station, with tensions high due to a hunger strike by former DPP chair and democracy movement martyr Lin Yi-Hsiung against nuclear energy. Demonstrators were later driven out by police, who fired water cannons on the crowd.

Perhaps, then, low numbers points to how key social issues are deeply linked to anger against specific political parties in Taiwan, with the anti-nuclear movement having seen a notable decline since the Tsai administration took office. Last year’s anti-nuclear demonstration did not draw more than several thousand as well, although organizers last year stated that they had anticipated over 100,000.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

It may be that the public at large is still convinced that the Tsai administration remains committed to its goal of eventually phasing out nuclear power then. The Tsai administration officially promises to realize a nuclear-free Taiwan by 2025. However, the Atomic Energy Commission recently approved a request by Taipower to restart the No. 2 Guosheng Nuclear Reactor. The Tsai administration also in the past year quietly indicated approval for restarting the Ma An-Shan Nuclear Power Plant.

Nevertheless, as evidenced in the low turnout today, this has not led to mass protests as in the past. This could also indicate that the public has in past years proven primarily opposed to the controversial Gongsheng Reactor No. 4, viewed as dangerous by the public due to its use of mixed parts and its on-and-off process of construction, and not nuclear power overall.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

On the other hand, civil society groups continue to organize around the issue. Participant groups today included the environmental NGOs that spearheaded past anti-nuclear demonstrations, including the Green Citizen Action Alliance, the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union, the Taiwan Environmental Information Association, the Yanliao Anti-Nuclear Self-Help Association, and others, Third Force parties as the New Power Party, and groups, such as the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline, some of which set up booths.

Speakers during the march cited that, as with other social issues, the Tsai administration has demonstrated disinterest in genuinely taking steps to phase out nuclear energy in Taiwan, and also continues the policies of past administrations with regards to failing to seek the approval of local residents to build nuclear waste facilities and the like, as in the case of Nan’ao Township in Yilan. Similarly, speakers were highly critical of what they perceived as the stigmatization of anti-nuclear activists in the media, particularly with regard to media lashing out at anti-nuclear activists as a cause behind problems of air pollution in Taiwan becoming worse in past months.

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Speakers would also raise high levels of seismic activity in Taiwan as of late as pointing to the dangers of a nuclear disaster similar to the Fukushima disaster taking place in Taiwan and were critical of the Japanese government for trying to claim that radiation dangers no longer exist in Fukushima to lure tourists back to Fukushima and government claims that food from Fukushima is no longer affected by radiation contamination. Speakers did cite that they were aware of lower numbers than in past years, thanking participants for continuing to be attentive to the issue, and pointing to how this indicated the need to further raise awareness of the issues of nuclear energy in Taiwan.

The march was shorter than in past years, taking the demonstration from its starting point on Ketagalan Boulevard, north on Zhongshan South Road past the Legislative Yuan, towards Taipei Main Station, on Zhongxiao West Road where the anti-nuclear street occupation during the period of Lin Yi-Hsiung’s hunger strike against nuclear power, and back. However, while the march was crossing by the 228 Memorial Park, someone threw a plastic bottle at the march from an office building. For unknown reasons, the police would issue a warning of illegal gathering as the march was returning to Ketagalan Boulevard, although there were no further issues with the police afterwards and the march peacefully returned to Ketagalan Boulevard, where talks continued, and several performances took place.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

Among the performers during the demonstration was famed Hakka singer-songwriter Lin Sheng-xiang, who performed at Tsai Ing-wen’s inauguration. Given Lin’s history of anti-nuclear activism, Lin’s performance at Tsai’s inauguration was seen as signalling commitment by Tsai to anti-nuclear policies, much as how performances by indigenous singer-songwriter Panay Kusui and Fire EX, famed for writing the Sunflower Movement anthem, “Island’s Sunrise,” was seen as signalling commitment to indigenous rights and the social demands of youth activists. But Tsai has seen criticism from both indigenous and environmental activists for going back on such promises. Panay would be another perform today.

Notably, for the first time in the history of the anti-nuclear demonstration, the stage was entirely powered using solar panels and not diesel generators, in order to raise awareness regarding renewable forms of energy, and displays set up on Ketagalan Boulevard to educate regarding renewable energy.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

In all, given the lacking attendance this year and last year, it remains a task for future organizing as to how to reinvigorate Taiwan’s anti-nuclear movement. But what steps are needed to accomplish are unknown. It may be that further backsliding by the Tsai administration will naturally lead to rising public anger, but this may take time.

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