Thousands of anti-nuclear protesters take to streets in Taiwan
Organizers estimate turnout at 110,000
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2014-03-08 03:11 PM
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – More than 100,000 people took to the streets of eight Taiwanese cities Saturday to voice their opposition to nuclear energy as the third anniversary of the Fukushima disaster approached.

Amid pouring rain in some parts of the country, the rallies and marches in Taipei, Kaohsiung, Taichung, Taitung, Yilan, Tainan, Miaoli and Hengchun looked likely to fail in repeating last year’s feat of bringing together more than 220,000 people. By early Saturday evening, an estimated 70,000 people were marching through Taipei, organizers said, with an added 40,000 in the other locations. Police put the figures for Taipei at 22,000 and for the whole country, including the capital, at 32,450 by 5 p.m.

Concern about nuclear safety has been mounting again as the controversial fourth nuclear plant in Gongliao, New Taipei City, approaches completion. An official safety review is expected to be finalized before the end of the summer, though the government says the nuclear fuel rods will not be installed before next year and only if the safety issue is resolved satisfactorily.

In Taipei, a group including top politicians, religious leaders and animal rights activists started marching from the National Taiwan University campus. Families with children, artists and entertainers gathered at the Dinghao Plaza in the heart of the eastern shopping district, where prominent director and writer Wu Nien-jen told them they should not saddle up the next generation with nuclear waste. Social action groups, disaster victims, young people and gays left from a park on Nanjing East Road, with residents of the north coast, which counts three out of four nuclear power plants, at the head of the march.

In front of the Executive Yuan building, one of the three marches suddenly stopped, with participants sitting down and calling for a halt to nuclear energy. A protester was dressed up as if covered in nuclear waste and held up a puppet representing a baby to illustrate the threat to future generations, reports said. The sudden move by the protesters reportedly created traffic jams around the busy intersection close to Taipei’s main railway station.

The destination of all groups was Ketagalan Boulevard, the wide road leading to the Presidential Office Building. A massive rally featuring speeches and live music started up around 5:30 p.m. and came to a close by 10.

Marchers also included 100 toddlers below the age of two and a man dressed up as the movie character the Pink Panther, reports said. A truck with loudspeakers provided loud electronic dance music to create a party atmosphere, while professional dance troupes performed along the route.

Yellow was the main color of the protest, with yellow placards bearing black Chinese characters calling for an end to nuclear energy with slogans like “No Nukes, No Fear” and “Nuclear Go Zero,” and dozens of people wearing yellow rain coats. “We oppose the nuclear plant because Taiwan is small, we can’t risk any accident,” a banner read in Chinese and English.

The Green Citizens’ Action Alliance, one of the main organizers, admitted that the rain had damaged their hopes of a large turnout. Last year’s event saw 100,000 people turn up in Taipei.

Singer Deserts Chang posted an online call to persuade the public not to let the weather influence its determination to call for the abolition of nuclear energy on the island. Activists said that if a disaster the size of Fukushima hit Taiwan, nobody would be able to escape.

Democratic Progressive Party Chairman Su Tseng-chang, who over the past few days had called on party members and on the public to take part in the protests in large numbers, headed a delegation in one of the marches. Apart from leaders of the DPP and the Taiwan Solidarity Union, ruling Kuomintang Taipei City mayoral contender Ting Shou-chung also appeared at an anti-nuclear rally.

Former DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen said the government should cease work on the fourth plant immediately because it had turned out to be a bottomless pit.

Former Premier Frank Hsieh praised the suggestion from independent mayoral hopeful Ko Wen-je for Taipei City to hold a referendum about nuclear energy the same day as the election, November 29.

The Constitution guaranteed the safety of the nation’s citizens, but once the fuel rods were installed, that safety would be gone, Hsieh said. People would live in fear both of the nuclear reactors and the waste materials, he added.

In Taichung, 1,800 people formed the yellow word “No” against a black background on a field to express their disgust at the government’s nuclear policies.

One of the themes in Taitung was the opposition against the storage of nuclear waste on Orchid Island, which forms part of the county. Members of indigenous peoples showed up in traditional dress, and participants held a run as a symbol for clean energy.

Residents of the sparsely populated scenic region in Taiwan’s southeast also expressed opposition to the eventual choice of the township of Tajen to store more nuclear waste, including an estimated 240,000 barrels from the fourth plant.

In the morning, about 300 farmers, teachers and homemakers protested in Yilan, demanding an emphasis on the development of sustainable energy in the county.

The government of President Ma Ying-jeou came under fire earlier in the week for spending taxpayers’ money on commercials defending nuclear energy. Officials said safety tests on the Gongliao plant would be completed before the end of summer, but the installation of fuel rods would not be started before next year.

The Cabinet-level Atomic Energy Council said it was neutral and respected the protesters. The Executive Yuan emphasized its policy corresponded to the protest demands, but the timetable was different. Instead of an immediate stop, the Cabinet favored a gradual stepping out of nuclear energy, a spokesman said. A KMT spokesman said the gradual reduction was also a party policy, in contrast to the DPP, which he accused of not taking energy needs into account.

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