by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Abasaa/WikiCommons/Public Domain

ANTI-NUCLEAR GROUPS demonstrated in front of the Legislative Yuan on March 11th, to commemorate the 13th anniversary of the Fukushima disaster. The Fukushima disaster involved the catastrophic meltdown of reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on March 11th, 2011, after an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan.

The Fukushima disaster is thought to have been a major factor in the revival of the Taiwanese anti-nuclear movement in the last years of the Ma administration. In particular, though Taiwan has long had an anti-nuclear movement of its own, Taiwan also sees frequent seismic activity similar to Japan. This has led to fears that Taiwan could see a nuclear disaster similar to Fukushima.

Nevertheless, ironically enough, pro-nuclear advocates in Taiwan have long used the claim that because Japan returned to the use of nuclear energy after the Fukushima disaster, this shows the safety of nuclear energy. Given the major protests that Japan saw after Fukushima, this view reflects a profound lack of knowledge about Japanese politics. As a consequence of government mismanagement of the disaster, including a lack of disclosure about radiation levels and changing standards for assessing the risks, Japan saw what were then the largest set of protests it had seen since the 1960s in 2011 and 2012.

Otherwise, one sees a downplaying of the scale of the disaster, with reference to how no lives were lost, and minimizing the social impact of the meltdown. Indeed, this also illustrates Taiwan’s bizarre lack of knowledge about one of its closest neighbors, given how large the lingering trauma of the Fukushima disaster in Japan was.

Speakers at the rally pointed to how the Japanese government has continued to try and paper over the Fukushima disaster, as observed in a discharge of nuclear wastewater into the Pacific Ocean. Taiwanese environmental groups have been critical of how Taiwan, as well as other countries in the region, potentially stand to be impacted by this wastewater discharge.

Petition circulated for the March 11th anniversary by the Green Citizen Action Alliance

Likewise, speakers highlighted how Taiwan’s small territory and densely packed urban areas would make a nuclear disaster catastrophic in Taiwan, in that there would be few places to flee to. This, too, contributes to issues regarding nuclear waste disposal in Taiwan, in that there are few places to store nuclear waste and local communities often do not want to host nuclear waste disposal.

Indeed, seeing as the KMT is historically the pro-nuclear party in Taiwanese politics, this led to criticisms of the KMT in the 2024 elections. KMT presidential candidate Hou You-yi, as New Taipei mayor, demurred on nuclear waste disposal facilities because it was opposed by local residents.

At the same time, as the KMT’s presidential candidate, Hou championed nuclear energy. This took place in an election cycle that also saw independent pan-Blue candidate Terry Gou champion the notion of building small-scale nuclear reactors across Taiwan, not only to cope with the energy needs that Taiwan could potentially see in the event of a Chinese invasion, but with the claim that this would bring economic prosperity to Taiwan.

More generally, one notes that the KMT’s nuclear advocacy often relies on an appeal to past history, appealing to nostalgia about a time in which Taiwan was economically prosperous and nuclear energy constituted a much higher proportion of the energy mix. However, in line with the KMT’s stance as historically antagonistic toward Japan, it proves odd in past years that the KMT has attacked Japan over the issue of its nuclear wastewater discharge, and opposed the Tsai administration on the issue of lifting Taiwan’s ban on food imports from Fukushima prefecture in the decade after the disaster.

The DPP has historically been closer to the anti-nuclear movement. The primary organizer of the demonstration was, for example, the Green Citizen Action Alliance. DPP legislator Hung Sun-han was formerly the deputy chair of the environmental group. Yet energy policy has been one issue in which the DPP and KMT have changed positions between when in power and out of it. As a result, it has been difficult for environmental groups to navigate a political terrain characterized by stark partisanship between the two parties. After all, while the anti-nuclear movement was large in the years of the Ma administration, it has died down with the DPP in power. This is in line with how much of Taiwanese civil society receded after the DPP took power, not only through co-optation of civil society groups, but because the lack of an acute sense of threat without the KMT in power resulted in significantly weaker mobilizations.

No more articles