In July last year, I visited Japan’s nuclear disaster area in Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures with former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) and a dozen experts on nuclear energy, medicine and environmental protection. Radiation in Miyagi Prefecture’s Onagawa, Ishinomaki and Sendai was high, but when we reached Watari, about 50km from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, residual radiation was dozens of times higher than the background radiation, and the area was no longer suitable for long-term residence.
As we continued south, radiation levels continued to rise. After passing through Soma, in Fukushima Prefecture, we were getting very close to the 20km-radius evacuation zone. From there, we moved west and entered Mount Ryozen, about 60km northwest of the Fukushima plant. At a rest stop, radiation shot up to more than 500 times the background radiation. Because radiation spreads with the wind and the local topography, it does not remain within a designated area.
A magnitude 8.8 earthquake struck off the coast of the Maule region in southern Chile in February 2010, setting off a tsunami that was more than 10m high and causing great disaster. In late 2004, the third-strongest earthquake ever recorded, measuring 9.2, struck off the western coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, triggering a tsunami more than 20m high that took the lives of 270,000 people along the rim of the Indian Ocean. There were no nuclear power stations in these two major earthquake zones, so there was no radiation threat. It is very likely these areas can be rebuilt in about a decade. In contrast, Japan will be suffering from uranium radiation for a century, maybe even 1,000 years. Which of these disasters is more serious?
Taiwan is located between the world’s largest continental plate, the Eurasian Plate, and the largest sea plate, the Philippine Sea Plate. Earthquakes are frequent and the rate of mountain formation is faster than anywhere else on Earth. With Taiwan’s highest peaks reaching almost 4,000m above sea level, it is also very likely that undersea pressures could create a destructive tsunami.
Northeast of Taiwan is the 1,800km long Ryukyu subduction zone, along which a tsunami struck Ishigaki Island in 1771, a mere 200km from Taiwan. Conservative estimates put the height of the tsunami at 35m. If that were to happen again, the tsunami would reach Taiwan in about 20 minutes.
One thing is certain: There will be other tsunamis. The only question is when or how big they will be. If Taiwan’s nuclear power stations are still in operation when that happens and if their more than 25,000 high-level spent fuel rods remain untreated, Taiwan will be in deep trouble.
In such a scenario, an evacuation zone with a 20km radius centered on the Jinshan and Guosheng nuclear power plants in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Shihmen (石門) and Wanli (萬里) districts, respectively — provided the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), also in New Taipei City, is not yet operational — would include Keelung and parts of New Taipei City. Those affected within a 50km radius would include about 7.5 million people in Taipei, New Taipei City and Yilan.
This whole area would become a disaster zone of the first degree. If it happens during winter, radiation will be carried southward by the seasonal winds and even affect Hsinchu and Taoyuan — the center of the nation’s electronics industry — and other areas within a 100km radius.