Most people on the windswept outpost, 62 kilometres east of Taiwan’s mainland, would love to see the 100,277 barrels of nuclear waste gone. But many admit they are concerned about their livelihoods if that day comes. Orchid Island has been a flashpoint for Taiwan’s environmental movement since nuclear waste was first shipped there in 1982. Local residents, mostly members of the Tao aboriginal group, say the waste was put on the island without their consent. Periodic protests have claimed negative health and environmental effects.
In response, Taiwan Power Co has showered the community with cash handouts, subsidies, and other benefits. Orchid Island received subsidies worth 110 million Taiwan dollars in 2011, according to company data. That doubled local government spending, according to township secretary Huang Cheng-de. “The current situation, basically, is that Taipower gives us quite a bit of money, and our people are becoming pretty reliant,” Huang said. Most of the funds are divided into government-managed accounts for each of the island’s 4,700 residents, who can apply for it if they have a business or career-oriented need. Residents also receive free electricity, health-related emergency evacuations, scholarships for higher education and a 50-per-cent discount on all transportation costs to Taiwan’s mainland. Statistics indicate local residents are taking advantage of the benefits. In 2011, they used nearly twice as much electricity per household as the national average, according to company data.
Protests have weakened and for many residents, including Chou the restaurant owner, the existence of nuclear waste has become more acceptable. “Most people here are against the nuclear waste, but since its already here, they should pay us for using our land,” Chou said. “For now, I’m okay with it as long as they don’t add any more barrels.” The utility plans to move the waste off the island by 2021, but only if another township in Taiwan agrees by referendum to take it, according to Huang Tian-Huang, a company deputy director. If it goes to plan, “so goes the compensation,” Huang said, although he acknowledged that gaining consent from another community will be difficult. Questions remain on what would support Orchid Island’s economy if those subsidies end.
For Taiwan aborigines, nuclear waste is blessing and curse, http://www.timeslive.co.za, Sept. 16, 2012