Taiwan’s anti-nuclear movement has a long history dating back to the authoritarian period, in which environmental issues became a point of rising anger against the KMT and in which environmental issues became a way to express a larger set of criticisms against the KMT. As such, the early DPP newly emergent from the Taiwan democracy movement included environmentalism as a strong part of its political platform. Local rage about the damage to the environment or to local livelihoods from prior nuclear reactors led to much outrage against the KMT for fronting nuclear energy, as well as when nuclear contamination through reuse of radioactive steel led to residents being exposed to radiation through construction materials.
Anti-nuclear demonstration on April 22nd, the day Lin Yi-Hsiung began his hunger strike. Photo credit: Brian Hioe
Taiwan’s anti-nuclear movement, particularly regarding opposition to Gongliao (貢寮) Reactor No. 4, has a long history then, seeing as nuclear energy was pushed for and forced onto the Taiwanese public by the KMT developmentalist state. The KMT was notably adamant on the need to construct nuclear energy reactors through its history, including threatening to impeach DPP president Chen Shui-Bian (陳水扁) when he intended to back away from nuclear energy. The DPP’s failure to take a stronger stance on nuclear energy, even from then-DPP chair Tsai Ing-Wen (蔡英文), have been instrumental in the growth of skepticism of the DPP from Taiwanese civil society activists.
The Taiwanese public has long feared the construction of further nuclear reactors in Taiwan due to the possibility for ecological disaster given Taiwan’s frequent earthquakes and Gongliao Reactor No. 4, which has been under construction on-and-off for decades, is frequently seen as especially dangerous because of its use of mixed parts in its construction. The death of two demonstrators against Gongliao Reactor No. 4 in a demonstration on October 3rd, 1991 is remembered as a seminal event in Taiwan’s environmental movement spearheading opposition towards nuclear energy, partly because this spearheaded a government witch hunt of anti-nuclear activists afterwards. The award-winning documentary Gongliao How are you? (貢寮你好嗎?), directed by Cui Suxin (崔愫欣), has been produced about demonstrations against Gongliao, succeeding in bringing international attention to the movement. Adding to public doubt regarding nuclear energy would be the government’s attempts to deceive Yami indigenous on Lanyu (蘭嶼) about the construction of a nuclear waste disposal facility on their lands, passing this off as a cannery, illustrating the government’s wholehearted willingness to lie about public safety. Furthermore, concerns about Japanese food imports affected by radioactivity added to existing food scares regarding chemical contamination which had gone unnoticed by government regulatory bodies.
Photo credit: Brian Hioe
However, Taiwan’s contemporary anti-nuclear movement is a development after the Fukushima Incident following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake in Japan, which once against stoked fears of nuclear disaster in Taiwan, and led to demonstrations one month after the Fukushima Incident on April 30th, 2011, an event known as 430. The revived anti-nuclear movement proved a key force in unifying many single-issue movements together into Taiwanese youth activism as we know it today, given the universality of its cause; a nuclear disaster would affect all residents of Taiwan, no matter who they were. Much demonstration was centered on the weekly 4-5-6 Movement protest in Taipei, which was organized by a group of directors, involved many artists, and served as a platform for many celebrities to express opposition to nuclear energy.
The strength of the anti-nuclear movement, then, in the period immediately prior to the Sunflower Movement. The anti-nuclear march against nuclear power which was held yearly after the Fukushima Incident drew tens of thousands in the years following 2011, numbering 130,000 demonstrators on March 11th, one week before the Legislative Yuan occupation began. Lin Yi-Hsiung’s (林義雄) hunger strike against nuclear energy after the end of the Legislative Yuan occupation mobilized approximately 50,000 onto the streets of Taipei and saw the occupation of major intersection Zhongxiao West Road, and only ended later that night with the forcible attempted eviction of the protesters using riot police, tear gas, and water cannons.
Anti-nuclear demonstrators on Zhongxiao West Road on April 27th. Photo credit: Brian Hioe
This is a sign of the strength of Taiwan’s anti-nuclear movement and the crucial role of the movement in the Taiwanese youth activism, as tied to the Sunflower Movement. Eventually, Lin ended his hunger strike and the government backed away from plans to finish the construction of Gongliao Reactor No. 4. However, the issue of nuclear power remains up in the air in Taiwan, seeing as many past administrations from both the pan-Blue and pan-Green camps have stated that they eventually hope to realize a nuclear free homeland in Taiwan, but the state-owned energy company of Taipower (台灣電力公司, or 台電 for short) continues to insist on the need for nuclear energy in Taiwan, and has been accused in the past of engineering energy shortages to justify this claim.
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