Editorial / The Wild East
Taipei Times‘ Dec. 2 editorial, “Living in a nuclear wasteland”, was an informative summary outlining the Tao people’s dilemma, praiseworthy in its attempt to put a spotlight on this issue in the run-up to January’s presidential elections.
But this is not just an election-year issue. As a storage site of low-level radioactive waste by government-owned Taipower for decades, this is a public health issue that urgently needs to be addressed, both in the short and long term. This open letter raises additional points regarding this debate and suggests ways the scientific community could do more.
First, no scientific articles have been published on the issue of radioactive contamination of Orchid Island. A search on PubMed, the database of scientific journals, yields ZERO results for articles published on this issue. Why isn’t it monitored more closely by the scientific community?
It must be noted that Dr. Huh Chih-an’s study at Academia Sinica was funded by Taipower itself, thus making it difficult for him to report his findings to the public. He was, however, able to discuss his research at an Oct. 26 joint symposium on International Collaborative Study among Taiwan-Lithuania-Latvia at National Ocean University in Keelung. Fortunately, Prof. Peter Chang (Public Health, TMU) photographed slides from this presentation, so when Dr. Huh declined to comment on the breaking story of Orchid Island’s increased cesium-137 levels, Prof. Chang was the only person who could intelligently interpret Huh’s results for the general public. If Prof. Chang hadn’t attended Huh’s presentation, the story might have never been broken. But as a scientist, isn’t Dr. Huh ultimately obliged to serve the public, by making a full disclosure of his findings?
Further, the world-class brainpower at Academia Sinica needn’t be funded at all by outside interests to conduct whatever research they deem important. So especially now, shouldn’t Academia Sinica take the responsibility to continue this research themselves, independently, instead of acting passively and only in response to requests from those with potentially vested interests?
Taipower’s response to public outcry was to throw money at the problem, in hopes it would go away. This came in the form of attempts to placate Lanyu’s aboriginal community with free electricity and some payment. But the fact remains: the government’s electric company duped the entire island, gross fraudulence affecting the health and well-being of 4,000 residents with illicit storage of toxic waste – and this is material that nobody can say what its long-term effects and risks are. Not only did Taipower trick Orchid Islanders for years by telling them the dumpsite was a fishing cannery, but the fraud goes back even further, to deceiving the island’s (illiterate) representative into signing the initial contract in the first place.
There’s a crisis in public confidence at play, which authorities have yet to address. How could anyone trust Taipower to act in service to the public now? When rusting barrels were repackaged recently, the process was kept secret, when all of Taipower’s actions should at bare minimum be held to the strictest standards of transparency.
More about Orchid Island on The WILD EAST:
Paradise Lost? Orchid Island’s Rocky History