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Nuclear waste in Orchid island, Taiwan


Around the Chinese New Year season in 1991, the Yami people rose up in protests which caught the attention of the media and public in all of Taiwan. Led by Kuo JIan-ping, a Yami Presbyterian missionary, and with the support of anti-nuclear groups in Taiwan like the  Taiwan Environmental Protection Union and the Green Association, the Yami anti-nuclear group held demonstrations on Orchid Island and in Taipei, where they carried a protest letter straight to the Taiwan Power Company. (3). The Yami protest letter contained three requests: 1) the expansion of the second phase of construction on the waste site be stopped; 2) the immediate stoppage of transport of nuclear waste from Taiwan to the Orchid Island storage site; 3) by June 30, 1991, the shutdown of the storage site. Their first request was met, although there are likely other factors involved besides the protests. But the  peration of the storage site  continued despite the opposition.

Local environmental movements in Taiwan have   succeeded in slowing or halting a number of recent corporate global industrial projects including the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant near Taipei, megadam projects in central and south of Taiwan, petrochemical industry projects, and the Miramar Resort Village .  Other projects that environmentalists are protesting  against, are the construction or expansi on of large industrial facilities, so called science parks, in the central counties of Changhua ,  Maioli and Yunlin.  Environmentalists are fighting enormous odds (2). 

How do issues of environmental justice play out in conditions of unequal power and  cultural diversity?  According to Prof. Fan, Mei-Fang, this question can be explored (1) using the case of the controversy surrounding the storage of nuclear waste on Orchid Island, Taiwan, the homeland of the Yami aborigines. 

A report by WISE (3) , in 1992, explained that Orchid Island, 65 km off Taiwan's southeast coast, is the homeland of the Yami people, one of Taiwan's nine aboriginal tribes. The Yami have traditionally supported themselves with agriculture (primarily taro) and fishing, although tourism is also a big part of the economy. There are some 2900 Yami people, but only about 2000 people live on Orchid Island today. (1992). For geographical and political reasons, the Yami have historically been the most isolated of Taiwan's aboriginal tribes. 

The Need for a Nuclear Dump

In a case of extreme environmental injustice, in  the early 1970s, Taiwan's Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) convened a group of experts to examine various sites for a temporary storage facility for mid- and low-level nuclear waste. (3) In 1974, this committee chose the Long Men (Dragon Gate) area on the southern tip of Orchid Island. A harbor was built in 1978, construction began on the depository 1980, and shipments began arriving in May of 1982. The site became the depository for mid- and low-level nuclear waste from Taiwan's three nuclear plants as well as nuclear medical and research centers. To date (1992), over 90,000 containers, each weighing 50 kg, have been stored there. (The Orchid Island facility is only for mid- and low-level radwaste. Taiwan's spent fuel radioactive waste is stored at the nuclear plants themselves.) (3). 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Nuclear waste in Orchid island, Taiwan
State or province:Orchid island (Lanyu)
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict: 1st level:Nuclear
Specific commodities:Nuclear waste

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

Since 1991, the Tao have been fighting to remove the nuclear waste but the site and the waste still remain. Located a two-hour ferry ride from Taiwan’s southeast coast, Orchid Island — known locally as Lanyu — houses nearly 100,000 barrels of radioactive waste from power plants on the mainland of Taiwan. It serves as a sore point of contention among the indigenous Tao towards the Taiwanese government (4).

According to (4), in September 2016 on a warm September evening, the Tao residents lined up in front of the community gymnasium an hour early to both grab a good seat and grab the free gift: surplus Arnold Palmer Golf logo fleece blankets. In addition to blankets or other small gifts once a year, subsidies are provided to the Tao by the Taiwanese government for housing the nuclear waste – further complicating the push for the site removal. “Half of the Tao people actually want to have the nuclear waste stored here,” says Wu Kun Yu, a TaiPower employee who works at the nuclear waste disposal site. Electricity is completely free on Orchid Island and each resident receives about $2,000 (60,000 NT) a year as compensation.(4).

Type of populationRural
Affected Population:5,000
Start of the conflict:1991
Company names or state enterprises:Taiwan Power Company (Taipower ) from Taiwan
Relevant government actors:President of Taiwan
Government of Taiwan
Cabinet-level Atomic Energy Council (AEC)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Lanyu Youth Action Alliance
Council of Indigenous Peoples (Taiwan)
Survival International

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Tao (or Yami) indigenous people
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Street protest/marches
Refusal of compensation
In 2002, almost 2,000 protesters, including many aboriginal residents of Taiwan's Orchid Island staged a sit-in in front of the storage plant, calling on Taipower to remove nuclear waste from the island. They were also protesting against the government's failure to keep its pledge to withdraw 100,000 barrels of low-level nuclear waste from their isle by the end of 2002. 15 years later, the Tao youth Young Aborigines on Orchid Island (Lanyu, 蘭嶼) protested for a clear deadline for the removal of nuclear waste from the island.
Raising flags on the island, the campaigners said they would not accept an apology from the government and would not accept further delays for removal of the waste material.

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsRisk of nuclear radiation
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Negotiated alternative solution
Under negotiation
Development of alternatives:Removal of the nuclear waste. Young Aborigines on Orchid Island (Lanyu, 蘭嶼) in 2017 protested for a clear deadline for the removal of nuclear waste from the island. Raising flags on the island, the campaigners said they would not accept an apology from the government and would not accept further delays for removal of the waste material. The Orchid Island Youth Movement Alliance, which organized the protest, said that since President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) apology last year (2016) to Aborigines for historical injustices, no action has yet been taken on the issue of nuclear waste on Orchid Island — where more than 90 percent of residents are Tao. The Lanyu nuclear waste storage facility was built in 1982 and stopped processing nuclear waste in 1996. In February 2017, the government reiterated its promise to relocate waste on the island and panned several potential sites including uninhabited islands near Keelung, as well as Kinmen, Penghu and Matsu counties. Chanting slogans outside the waste facility, campaigners demanded that the government take concrete action and clarify a timetable for when waste relocation would be completed. “We are not interested in empty promises or in talking things over,” one campaigner said. (5).
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:By 2016, President Tsai apologized to the nation’s indigenous peoples in a formal speech at the Presidential Palace August 1, 2016. In the speech, the president made specific reference to the Tao (Yami) people of Orchid Island (Lanyu), and apologized for the fact that a nuclear waste facility was constructed on their island without their knowledge or approval.

Sources and Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

(3) Orchid Island: Taiwan's Nuclear Dumpsite

Nuclear Monitor Issue: #387-388

Special: Environmental Racism and Nuclear Development


Off the coast of the southeast Taiwan lie two small islands which, although geographically and historically quite different, share one distinction. They are both places where Taiwan sends its undesirables. One of them, Green Island, is famous for its high security prison. The other, Orchid Island, is where Taiwan dumps its mid- and low-level nuclear waste.

An example of Environmental Colonialism

Duncan R. Marsh

Edgar (Jun-Yi) Lin

Pi-yao Lin

(1) Fan, Mei-Fang (范玫芳) 2006. Environmental Justice and Nuclear Waste Conflicts in Taiwan. Environmental Politics 15(3): 417- 434.

2015. Bridging the Blue-Green Divide: The Role of Environme

ntal NGOs in Tackling Environmental Problems in Taiwan. Yttrium Sua. Pomona College.

(2) Huang, Peter I-min. "Rediscovering Local Environmentalism in Taiwan."CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture (2014):

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

(4) Orchid Island's Nuclear Fate (The Diplomat). For decades Taiwan has stored its nuclear waste on Orchid Island, home of the Tao. By Howard Hsu. October 07, 2016

Good report. A long-running dispute over nuclear waste pits the Taiwanese government against the neglected indigenous people of Orchid Island. Story by James Louie.

(5) Taipei Times, 2 August 2017. Lanyu residents demand removal of nuclear waste. By Chang Tsun-wei and William Hetherington

Excellent report by Cultural Survival, A Minority within a Minority: Cultural Survival on Taiwan's Orchid Island. June 2002

45 years ago: Investigation: Lanyu chosen as temporary nuclear waste storage site. The results of a survey found that the best sea dumping location was only 120 nautical miles from the Philippines.

By George Liao,Taiwan News, Staff Writer, 2016/11/13

President to Visit Orchid Island Tomorrow: Nuclear Waste Issue and Transitional Justice. Taiwan English News. August 14, 2016 Phillip Charlier

Other documents

Source: Taiwan News (13 Nov 2016).

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Last update10/07/2018






Source: Taiwan News (13 Nov 2016).