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Turnout for this year's anti-nuclear march was disappointing, even as the government shows signs it is willing to rely on nuclear power.
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 Sunday.
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, 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.
Attendance was, however, low compared to previous years, with high estimates placing numbers at 2,000. The reality could have been much lower, closer to the hundreds. 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 Democratic Progressive Party 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, though organizers last year stated that they had anticipated over 100,000.
Perhaps the public is still convinced that the Tsai administration remains committed to its goal of eventually phasing out nuclear power. 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 by Sunday's low turnout, this has not led to mass protests. 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.
On the other hand, civil society groups continue to organize around the issue. Participants at the protest 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, as well as "third force" parties such as the New Power Party, not to mention various progressive groups, including the LGBT-rights group the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association.
Speakers suggested that, as with other social issues like same-sex marriage legislation, the Tsai administration has demonstrated disinterest in genuinely taking steps to phase out nuclear energy in Taiwan. They also highlighted the continuation of the policies of past administrations with regards to failing to seek the approval of local residents to build nuclear waste facilities, 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 over problems of worsening air pollution in Taiwan.
Speakers also called attention to the high levels of seismic activity in Taiwan of late as pointing to the dangers of a nuclear disaster similar to that which occurred in Fukushima. They also criticized the Japanese government for claiming that Fukushima and the food it produces no longer poses radiation dangers. Speakers acknowledged the low turnout and thanked participants for continuing to be attentive to the issue while pointing to how this indicated the need to further raise awareness of the issues of nuclear energy in Taiwan.
While the march passed by the 228 Memorial Park, someone threw a plastic bottle at the protesters from an office building. For unknown reasons, the police issued a warning over illegal gatherings as the march was returning to Ketagalan Boulevard, though there were no further issues and the march peacefully returned to Ketagalan Boulevard, where talks continued, and several performances took place.
Among the performers during the demonstration was famed Hakka singer-songwriter Lin Sheng-xiang (林生祥), who performed at Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) inauguration. Given her 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 since been criticized from both indigenous and environmental activists for reneging on such promises.
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 of renewable forms of energy.
In all, given the poor attendance this year and last year, future organizers must think hard as to how to reinvigorate Taiwan’s anti-nuclear movement.
The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The original post was published on New Bloom here.
TNL Editor: David Green