Taiwanese author Egoyan Zheng leaned heavily on the Fukushima disaster in 2011 to tackle nuclear issues in his suspense novel “Ground Zero.”
The Japanese translation of the award-winning book was released by Hakusuisha Publishing Co. in May.
The story evolves around the existing Lungmen Nuclear Power Plant, located about 40 kilometers east from Taipei, after it experiences a meltdown of unknown cause. With the northern part of Taiwan rendered a no-go zone, the authorities announce that the capital is transferring to the southwestern coastal city of Tainan.
Zheng, who is noted in Taiwan as a writer of science-fiction, adopted his pseudonym after Armenian-Canadian film director Atom Egoyan.
Anti-nuclear sentiment in Taiwan soared after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster with calls to halt construction of the Lungmen facility.
In light of the public uproar, Zheng said he decided to switch from his tried-and-tested sci-fi style to write a semi-fictional story and “tap into reality” by evoking the catastrophe that occurred in Japan.
He added depth to the story, which was published in 2013, by relying on real-life characters, such as popular Taiwanese TV emcee Liu Baojie and Taiwan’s president at that time, Ma Ying-jeou.
“This nuclear power plant is very peculiar,” said Zheng in the interview. “Its existence became like a maze after foreign companies that were in charge of basic design and supervising, and subcontracting companies in charge of construction were changed, and entangled with series of additional budgets (poured into the project over years). It embodied the vulnerability of civilization.”
Based on problems affecting Taiwan’s fourth nuclear facility that have already been exposed by an engineer working at the facility, the story evolves into a search for truth about a critical nuclear accident (Ground Zero) in two timelines–before and after.
“Everything that leads up to the accident reflects the reality of Taiwanese society today, while the depiction of the aftermath is obviously fictitious,” said Zheng.
As it turned out, Taiwan halted the construction project of the Lungmen plant in 2014 and decided in 2016 to phase out nuclear power generation by 2025.
With its anti-nuclear power stance and moves to accept same-sex marriage, Taiwan in many respects is among Asia’s most democratically advanced societies.