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Mining & Energy

China’s nuclear power ambitions threatened by public trust


Map of China's nuclear power plants

Map of China’s nuclear power plants

As China pushes an aggressive expansion of nuclear power, it is running into a major stumbling block – a breakdown of trust, post-Fukushima, in official assurances of public safety.

A plan to build a $6 billion uranium processing plant in the southern province of Guangdong was cancelled this week after about a thousand people took to the streets demanding the project was scrapped over public health and environmental fears.

Beijing plans to plough tens of billions of dollars into the construction of dozens of nuclear power projects across the country by 2020, as part of efforts to reduce its reliance on dirty coal-fired power and cut air pollution.

Industry insiders blamed the cancellation of the project on poor communication and a lack of public education. They say if things do not improve more protests could spring up elsewhere, threatening those plans to build new reactors.

“The public consultation last only 10 days, which is way too short,” said a top industry executive with knowledge of the matter. “The materials it provided about the project are also woefully inadequate.” He declined to be identified as he was not authorised to publicly comment on the project.

The outcry highlighted growing scepticism in China over official assurances about safety following a series of food and pollution scandals.

In the Internet age, in which the Chinese public is becoming increasingly vocal about their rights and mobilising on social networks, popular protests like the demonstrations in the city of Jiangmen against the processing plant suggest a wider backlash against nuclear power.

“If public communication is not done properly, it would have a major negative impact on China’s future nuclear power development,” said Lin Boqiang, professor and director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University.

“Other people could learn from Jiangmen. The government should learn how to do effective communication with the public over major nuclear projects.”

NUCLEAR POWER TARGET

China has 15 nuclear reactors currently in service.

In the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan, Beijing cut its 2020 nuclear power capacity target to 58 gigawatt (GW) from 80-90 GW. But the new goal still represents a nearly four-fold increase from the current capacity and makes China the world’s largest nuclear market.

Foreign nuclear groups such as Toshiba Corp’s Westinghouse and Areva have won multi-billion dollar contracts to build nuclear power plants in the world’s second largest economy.

The uranium processing project in Jiangmen, near Hong Kong, was supposed to supply fuel to existing and future power plants in Guangdong, a major Chinese industrial powerhouse and a centre of nuclear energy expansion.

China has been buying stakes in uranium mines in Asia and Africa, but without the capacity to enrich and process the ore it will still be dependent on foreign firms to turn it into usable fuel.

Already, anti-nuclear activists in Hong Kong, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, have launched a petition this week to oppose further expansion of nuclear capacity in Guangdong, according to Frances Yeung, senior environmental affairs officer at Friends of the Earth’s Hong Kong office.

Massive protests broke out in Hong Kong in the 1980s when China announced its plan to build the Daya Bay nuclear plant just across the border from the city, then under British rule. Fuelled by fears of nuclear accidents following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, more than 1 million signatures were collected to register public objections to the construction.

The Chinese government eventually built the plant, but the French-designed project suffered delays.

POOR COMMUNICATIONS SKILLS

The scrapped Jiangmen project was a joint venture between China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) and China General Nuclear Power Group (CGNPG). They are now looking for alternative sites.

But power industry executives say that the Chinese state-run nuclear power companies and local governments lack the communication skills to reassure the public at a time of heightened fears about safety.

Public safety concerns have forced China to cancel plans to build several major chemical projects in coastal areas in recent years. Critics say unsupervised local governments have been pushing for economic growth at the expense of the environment and public health.

Nuclear fuel processing, the work that would have been done at the proposed Jiangmen project, poses little risk to public health, according to industry experts and the industry lobby group, the World Nuclear Association.

They say enriching uranium at a processing plant poses less risk than handling spent nuclear fuel, which is highly radioactive, at a reactor. But, the public in Jiangmen were not convinced.

“Great, long live Jiangmen leaders. Germany has also decided to give up nuclear power,” a Jiangmen resident said in a post on the Jiangmen government’s page on the popular social networking site Weibo, under registered name of ‘YOoUuNnGg’, in reaction to its decision to scrap the uranium processing project.

The Global Times, a strident tabloid owned by the top state-run paper the People’s Daily, attributed the scrapping of the project to an “opaque and unreasonable” decision-making process and called on local governments to “establish a system that fosters consultations between officials and the public”.

Chinese state-owned enterprises like CNNC and CGN have been increasingly aware of their public image and seeking to improve transparency, but critics say they are still largely functioning as government bureaucracies rather than commercial enterprises.

When reached by Reuters, an official at CNNC’s propaganda department in Beijing said she could not immediately comment on the report and asked for emailed questions regarding the Jiangmen project. CGN could not be reached for comments.

“I suspect that the Chinese have got a long way to go in developing public consultation before they site new facilities – and not just in nuclear,” said Steve Kidd, former head of World Nuclear Association, now an industry consultant.

Source: Reuters “Public trust crisis threatens China’s nuclear power ambitions”
 

 

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About chankaiyee2

Author of the book "Tiananmen's Tremendous Achievements" about how with the help of Tiananmen Protests, talented scholars with moral integrity seized power in the Party and state and brought prosperity to China. The second edition of the book will be published within a few days to mark the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Protests All the parts in the first edition remain in the second edition with a few changes due to information available later and better understanding. There are also some changes for improvements of style. The new parts are Chapters 12-19 on events in China after the first edition was published: The fierce power struggle for succession between reformists and conservatives; Xi Jinping winning all elders’ support during his mysterious disappearance for 2 weeks in early September, 2012; and Xi Jinping Cyclone. Chan Kai Yee's new book: SPACE ERA STRATEGY: The Way China Beats The US An eye-opening book that tells the truth how the US is losing to China. The US is losing as it adopts the outdated strategy of Air-Sea Battle while China adopts the space era strategy to pursue integrated space and air capabilities: It is losing due to its diplomacy that has given rise to Russian-Chinese alliance. US outdated strategy has enabled China to catch up and surpass the US in key weapons: Hypersonic weapons (HGV) that Pentagon regards as the weapon that will dominate the world in the future. Aerospaceplane in China’s development of space-air bomber that can engage enemy anywhere in the world within an hour and destroy an entire aircraft carrier battle group within minutes. Anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, anti-ASAT weapons, stealth aircrafts, drones, AEW&C, etc. The book gives detailed descriptions of China’s weapon development based on information mainly from Chinese sources that the author monitors closely. U.S. Must Not Be Beaten by China! China is not a democracy. Its political system cannot prevent the emergence of a despotic leader or stop such a leader when he begins to bring disasters to people. A few decades ago, Mao Zedong, the worst tyrant in world history did emerge and bring disasters to Chinese people. He wanted to fight a nuclear war to replace capitalism with communism but could not bring nuclear holocaust to world people as China was too weak and poor at that time. If a despot like Mao Zedong emerges when China has surpassed the US in military strength, world people will suffer the misery experienced by Chinese people in Mao era. China surpassing the US in GDP is not something to worry about as China has the heavy burden to satisfy its huge population, but China surpassing the US in military strength will be world people’s greatest concern if China remains an autocracy. US people are of much better quality than Chinese people. What they lack is a wise leader to adopt the correct strategy and diplomacy and the creative ways to use its resources in developing its military capabilities. I hope that with the emergence of a great leader, the US can put an end to its decline and remain number one in the world. China, US, space era strategy, air-sea battle, space-air bomber, arms race, weapon development, chan kai yee

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