History of the Taiwanese Anti-nuclear Movement

by on 週三, 29 五 2013 評論

Anti-nuclear demonstration on March 9, 2013 (Photo by 廖培恩)

Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 11th, 2011 in Japan, the anti-nuclear protests in Taiwan have been more numerous than ever. The most recent street demonstration against the building of the 4th nuclear power plant in Taiwan has attracted 200,000 citizens to walk the streets (that's 4 times larger than the first anti-nuclear procession right after Fukushima and ten times larger than the first major anti-nuclear procession 2 decades ago). More important perhaps, is that for many young people in Taiwan, it was their first experience in participating in social activism.

The construction of the first three nuclear power plants in Taiwan took place during its martial law period (1949-1987), a period in which several human rights, including freedom of speech, were repressed. The power plants were enlisted in the ten and twelve-year economic plan during the 80's and nuclear waste dumping sites were built on Orchid Island with the islanders believing it to be a construction site for new fish-canning factories. According to Ming-sho Ho, who did an extensive analysis on social movements in Taiwan, the nuclear controversy remained a "gentlemen's disagreement," involving little more than the elite intellectuals.

It wasn't after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 and the lifting of the martial law in 1987 that things started to take a radical, grassroots turn. Taiwan's first NGO, TEPU (Taiwan Environmental Protection Union) was formed, while local residents formed a anti-nuclear self-help association in Yanliao, the construction site of the fourth nuclear power plant, igniting the first sparks of anti-nuclear awareness in Taiwan.

Soundfarmers selling "I Love Nuclear" at a sound-art themed bazaar in the abandoned Nangang bottle cap factory
(photo by Betty Apple)

In the following decade, the anti-nuclear movement became deeply intertwined with the growing oppositional political force against the authoritarian KMT government, the DPP (Democratic People's Party). While the initial collaboration with the DPP did empower the environmental cause, Chen Shuibian, the first DPP president ever elected, failed to stop the construction of the power plant after announcing he would do so, which subsequently lead to public panic, economic despair and invited political attack. Chen buckled against political pressure and restarted the construction. The DPP's betrayal was devastating to the movement, as their heavy involvement has inevitably pigmented the issue a political green (the DPP's party colour) and it became hard to draw the attention away from politics and return to its original environmental focus.

The government's ambivalent attitude towards nuclear power and the Taipower company's lack of experience in building a nuclear power plant meant that the date of completion was delayed again and again, and budget for the construction quadrupled over time. Since it was unclear whether the construction process would actually become completed, anti-nuclear activists reset their focus on environmental damages caused by the construction, for example the loss of sand around the beach area around Gongliao and its consequent damage to the ecosystem. In meantime, NGOs such as the Green Citizens' Action Alliance, a branch from the TEPU that distanced itself from collaborations with political parties, started to hold documentary screenings, music concerts and local markets in order to attract the attention of a younger generation that had never experienced the turbulent decades before them.

After the KMT reclaimed the presidency in 2008, President Ma insisted on the activation of the 4th nuclear power plant, and the Fukushima nuclear disaster put the anti-nuclear movement into full throttle again. The difference was that this time, with the aid of the internet, related information and communication for organizations functioned at the speed of light. In addition, activist organizations were no longer limited to local residents in Yanliao or those identifying with official NGOs such as TEPU or the Green Citizens' Action Alliance. For instance, in 2011, eRenlai did a focus on NoNukes, a group of kids in their 20s who spiced up the protest scene by importing electronic and rock music trucks into demonstrations.

citizen no nuke

An anti-nuclear symbol is projected on the exterior of Taipei101 in the last seconds of 2012.
(photo by citizensnonuke.org)

Although NoNukes is currently inactive, they inspired more young people to participate in the anti-nuclear movement through the expression of visual art and music. A recent example is the anti-nuclear group P.L.U.R.S., who incorporated the spirit of rave into their anti-nuclear statement and sought to ally the different dance music organizations in Taipei. A DJ collective called Soundfarmers also released an electronic music compilation "I Love Nuclear!?", a project funded by the the Green Citizens' Action Alliance. They collaborated with 14 Taiwanese underground electronic music producers and donated all the income from the album to anti-nuclear purposes. There is also the mysterious VJ group who projected an enormous anti-nuclear image on the side of the 101-building amidst its 2013 NYE firework show and attracted wide media attention. They insist on retaining their anonymity, because they believe that "the anti-nuclear soul is there in everyone." 

Thus, we have seen a shift of anti-nuclear activism away from politics towards the cultural spectrum. Although one may argue that this form of activism is purely an imitation of the western activism during the 60's and 70's, the ball is still rolling and nothing can be said for sure. eRenlai will continue to watch the ebb and flow of this very interesting period.


anti-nuke chronology

A historical chronology of the anti-nuclear movement in Taiwan (created by Julia Chien and Guanjun Guo)

Click here to view in a bigger size

Julia Chien (黑玲)

Julia Chien a.k.a 黑玲 is an English/Chinese editor and contributor in eRenlai magazine. She also makes electronic music and DJs under the name of Waywon 味王. 







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