Never Again: the Water Cannons, nor the Reactor Meltdowns
Fukushima-Sunflower Movement Memorial Series (2)
Every year on the 11th of March is the Fukushima memorial day, reminding the world of the disaster an overpraised technology can bring to humanity. A week later, on the 18th of March, is the sunflower movement memorial day, a day the people of Taiwan commemorate one of the greatest social unrest in modern history. It can be emphasized no more how these two events have shaped the society of Taiwan in the recent years. (This is the second part of the Fukushima-Sunflower Movement Memorial Series)
During a course on nuclear power, the lecturer asked about our opinion towards it. About half of the classmates believed they should build some nuclear power plants in their own country. Most of them come from developing nations, seeing the technology as a hope to provide clean energy “too cheap to meter” for everyone.
Were it not for Fukushima, I would have the same opinion. But after seven long years, the melted fuel rods are still nowhere to be found, thus nobody really knows when the real decommission process will start. The economic loss was enormous, yet the social loss was greater. And the nightmare is far from ended.
Among the international society, Taiwan gave the greatest aid to Japan after the 311 earthquake. We also learnt the most from the disaster. As a nation also haunted by mega earthquakes, the unfortunate event at Fukushima triggered a strong environmental movement in Taiwan, a movement that coincided with one of the most violent and turbulent eras after democratization.
The years 2013 to 2015 saw protests among the streets of the island. Anti-nuclear movement was part of this proud history. The protest on 8 March, 2013 saw 200,000 citizens gathers around the entire island, demanding a termination of a nuclear power plant construction that had been ongoing for two decades and a schedule decommission of the three existing nuclear power plants. The occupation of a main intersection in Taipei on 27 and 28 of April 2014 demanded the same and resulted in a water cannon charge from the police.
2014 was the year of water cannons and police brutality. Just a month before the police water cannoned the anti-nuclear protesters, they had water cannoned a group of students occupying the executive yuan, demanding for transparent processes when signing foreign treaties (especially with China). It will be known as the sunflower movement, or more simply, the spring of 2014. Both oppression happened at nearly the exact location, and were still the most brutal events in the post martial law era besides the 520 incident in 1988.
The following years saw the collapse of the nationalist regime, but not the oppression, abuse of power, and violence. On the 24 of September 2017 (just a week before I left for Germany), students of National Taiwan University were attacked by a group of gangsters for protecting their sport field from commercial uses. The crimes and casualties reminded many of the most bloodiest months of 2014. And when the “progressive” government launched a modification of the labor law to make it more flexible (i.e less working hour and wage constraints), the protesters were met with the fiercest picket line in post martial law history.
These were the tragedies of the social and environmental movements in Taiwan. Cursed as it has been, true changes have always seen impossible. But hope still remains. This October we will witness the very first nuclear reactor retirement in Taiwan. In the meanwhile, our first offshore wind turbines finally got online last year, and our coal consumption will finally begin to drop. A genuine energy transition is finally taking its shape.
The Fukushima memorial day and the sunflower movement memorial day, remind us of the two most important events that shaped modern Taiwan history. Not only the loss and sorrowness should we remember well, but also the strive for a more democratic and just society that took place afterwards. The glory must be passed on, and the tragedy learnt and avoided. That is the spirit of the spring of 2014.