Plans by authorities in the central province of Henan to move ahead with four new nuclear power stations in the wake of the Fukushima disaster have sparked growing public fears in China.
In a directive dated Jan. 25, the provincial government was ordered to move ahead with the implementation of power generation plans that include new nuclear reactors at Nanyang, Xinyang, Luoyang and Pingdingshan, according to a statement on its official website.
“[We must make] steady progress with preliminary work for nuclear power projects,” the statements said.
“We must complete onsite protection work for nuclear power projects at Nanyang, Xinyang and the other nuclear power projects,” it said.
“We should proceed with the planning and construction of inland nuclear power projects on behalf of our country, and strive to continue to be included in the national nuclear long-term development plan,” the directive said.
It called on government departments to “strengthen public awareness of nuclear power projects, nuclear power project planning and construction to create a good atmosphere.”
As the plans circulated online, opposition to the plan appeared to be mounting in the wake of Chinese public reaction to rising radiation levels at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.
“An old issue in Japan has sent ripples across the East China Sea to shake China,” the Global Times newspaper, the sister paper of ruling Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece The People’s Daily, reported.
“The news has been traveling fast on the Chinese internet … Many Chinese became worried, some even canceling their trips to Japan,” the paper said.
A resident surnamed Li of Henan’s Anyang city told RFA that the news is causing great concern among local people.
“I am extremely worried about this; they definitely shouldn’t go ahead with building them,” Li said. “I heard the pollution from nuclear plants is very serious.”
“I expect there to be a public outcry in Anyang and in Henan about the plans to build nuclear power stations.”
While one resident of Luoyang said they hadn’t heard of the plans, another Henan resident Yang Chunxia, hit out at the plans online.
“Last year, 100,000 people took to the streets of Lianyungang in protest against a nuclear power plant there, and they successfully blocked [its] construction,” Yang wrote.
“The whole of Eastern Europe was polluted by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1983,” the user added. “Now, they’ve got their eye on Henan. What will Henan people do about it? Please, everyone who lives in Henan, please pass this on!”
Meanwhile, authorities in Anyang detained local resident Wang Shoufeng for five days’ administrative detention for “making things up to disrupt public order” after he posted on social media in a similar vein.
Wang told RFA on Tuesday that he was innocent.
“I don’t believe that I did anything to disrupt public order,” he said. “A lot of people here in Henan want the government to go public with the information on this, and clarify whether they are planning to go ahead with it.”
“We want to understand everything about this and to catch the attention of as many people as possible.”
Wang’s friend Feng Lei said local people have a right to know about the dangers of nuclear power.
“They had that huge nuclear leak in Japan, and people here in Henan want a safe environment for their children and grandchildren to live in,” Feng said.
“They will be pushing for that.”
Repeated calls to the Henan provincial government offices rang unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.
The growing concerns over China’s nuclear power program came as the Hong Kong-listed arm of a state-owned nuclear power company announced further delays to controversial reactors at Taishan in the southern province of Guangdong.
China General Nuclear Power, or CGN Power, began building the U.S.$8.3 billion Taishan plant in 2009, the first in the world to use European pressurized reactors (EPR) designed by French nuclear firm Areva.
Reactor design problems
Problems with the design of the reactors have emerged during testing, however, and were cited by Areva’s parent company, energy giant Electricite de France (EDF) in a recommendation to the U.K. parliament that it postpone the Chinese-invested Hinkley Point nuclear plant, which will also use EPR technology.
“The expected commercial operation of Taishan Unit 1 and Taishan Unit 2 are adjusted from the original first half of 2017 and the second half of 2017 to the second half of 2017 and the first half of 2018, respectively,” CGN said in a statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange on Monday.
The Taishan plant has sparked concerns both among local residents and anti-nuclear campaigners in Hong Kong.
A resident of Chixi township on the outskirts of Guangdong’s Taishan city, said the plant lies just two kilometers from his home.
“Nobody is comfortable with this, and there are always going to be some concerns around nuclear power plants,” the resident said. “If they leak, it can be very dangerous, and nobody will be able to live around here any more; we would have to leave.”
Engineer and sustainability campaigner Albert Lai, who convenes the Hong Kong think tank Professional Commons, told RFA that the project has been subject to repeated delays by the French partners over safety concerns.
“The French nuclear safety authority (ASN) has raised concerns over the structure of the EPR reactors destined for the Taishan plant,” Lai said. “I don’t think the Taishan plant should proceed while there is any possibility at all [that they could fail].”
He called on the Chinese government to make public the findings of recent tests of the reactors.
“There is another issue, which is that the Chinese nuclear safety authorities are closely entwined with the nuclear industry, and they lack an independent system for safety testing,” Lai said.
“China’s nuclear power industry has developed at such speed in recent years that there is now a shortage of technical and engineering personnel to run it.”
According to the ASN, the EPR reactors installed at the Taishan plant haven’t been subjected to the most rigorous form of testing.
It said some mechanical properties can be measured only by destructive tests, which had not been carried out on the Taishan reactors.
It said problems that could lead to cracks in the reactor vessel can be detected only by destroying an identical reactor vessel during testing.