Authors: Mei-Fang Fan
News media have reported that a researcher from Academic Sinica detected cobalt 60 and cesium 137 near the nuclear waste repository on Orchid Island, Taiwan in November 2011. How do local people evaluate the radioactive risks and claims that “not exceeding the regulatory standards is safe”? This research combined the theoretical perspectives of environmental justice and social studies of science to explore risk assessment and the regulatory controversies of nuclear waste, and how citizen action challenges official scientific claims and problems of environmental injustices. The case highlights the risk knowledge gap, the interplay of multiple injustices, and the problem of undone science. Antinuclear waste activists from different generations of tribesmen on Orchid Island have collaborated with expert activists and antinuclear organisations from the north coast of Taiwan to form hybrid antinuclear alliances. They took action to express their demands and challenged the official regulatory standards and test methods. The complex interest network of nuclear regulatory and research institutions has weakened the credibility of scientific knowledge production and the release of risk information. The Taiwan government must adopt contextual local knowledge and recognize differences in environmental and health risk assessment. Local residents’ active participation and agency is the key to seek a solution that is responsive to the local social and cultural rationale and distributive equity.
Keywords: environmental justice; nuclear waste; risk perception; regulation; technology controversies