Fifty years ago, when China first revealed its nuclear power ambitions, most in the West dismissed them as Maoist propaganda, but there is nothing imaginary about the nation’s current boom in nuclear energy – and not everyone is happy about it. Scientists and conservationists fear the ever-increasing commercial and environmental pressure to expand the nuclear power sector means not enough attention is being paid to safety. Within a couple of decades, Hong Kong could be in close proximity to as many as 39 reactors, spread across Guangdong province. Two of them are nearing completion just 140km west of Hong Kong, in Taishan, in what has been labelled by green groups as the “most dangerous nuclear power plant in the world”. Rather than being the third plant successfully using the technology, Taishan, surrounded by dense Pearl River Delta conurbations, is more likely to be operating untested EPR reactors, the first fully functioning ones on the planet, should they go into service. Both units are two years behind schedule and last April the news got a whole lot worse, when Pierre-Franck Chevet, head of French nuclear safety agency Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (ASN), reported that a “serious anomaly affecting a crucial component of the nuclear power plant” had been detected.”We are very worried about Taishan and the design flaws in the reactor vessel and we would like to know what CGN are doing,” says Frances Yeung Hoi-shan, energy group leader for Greenpeace Asia. “We simply don’t know. Investors were informed that the plant would not open until 2017 but there was little detail.” It comes as no surprise that Greenpeace Asia has consistently rejected nuclear power as part of Hong Kong’s energy mix – the parent group was initially set up to protest nuclear weapons testing, after all – but it has a separate concern about the proliferation of nuclear plants in Guangdong and how transparent the safety processes will be. In April, the environmental group wrote to the Hong Kong government requesting information about Taishan 1&2 and Yeeng was not impressed with the reply, which only reaffirmed that any major incidents would be reported as an extension of the protocol set up for Daya Bay and that “tests” were being carried out.
South China Morning Post 10th Jan 2016 read more »
Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and wider concerns over the safety of Chinese nuclear facilities, China’s central government suspended its consideration of proposals for construction of nuclear power plants at inland sites. But in the last couple of years, pressure has been renewed to build nuclear plants at sites away from the coast. Beijing is now mulling over the decision to build new nuclear plants inland as an alternative to coal power, which has been the cause of disastrous air pollution in parts of the country. As we have argued elsewhere, there is a growing tension between the government’s plan for rapid expansion of nuclear power and its commitment to safety. The final decision over inland nuclear construction will decide how this tension is resolved. For now, Chinese policymakers face a risky decision. All of China’s nuclear power plants are currently located in coastal provinces. But in the second half of the last decade, plans were drawn up to start construction of nuclear power plants in inland areas.
China Dialogue 11th Jan 2016 read more »