17th March 2011 and the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports that as Japan struggled to limit its nuclear disaster, China has reaffirmed its nuclear power programme expansion.
Despite the March 11th earthquake and tsunami which triggered the nuclear crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants, the Chinese government quickly confirmed China’s commitment to nuclear power. China, officials said, will learn from Japan’s experience of nuclear crisis but they asserted that China’s modern nuclear power plants will not pose the dangers posed by Fukushima.
A spokesman for the China National Nuclear Corporation, Xu Mi, said (just days after the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan):
“There is a higher standard in China than the world’s average” when building nuclear power plants.
China was already constructing 25 new nuclear power plants when disaster struck at Fukushima. Those new nuclear facilities will bring the total to 38 in China and dozens more are planned. Nuclear power is central to the Chinese government’s plan to reduce emissions from coal and other fossil fuels.
While China is, officially, unperturbed by the Japanese nuclear disaster, the WSJ report makes the point that other national governments were almost immediately motivated to review their nuclear strategy after Fukushima’s reactors proved vulnerable to risk. Germany and Switzerland announced they would reassess their nuclear programs in the light of the danger revealed by Japan’s crisis. Taiwan began a “special assessment of risks” in its three nuclear plants. India said it was considering “additional safeguards” for its nuclear reactors.
Yet China National Nuclear – China’s foremost nuclear power corporation – confirmed it was going ahead with a new nuclear plant in the southwestern city Chongqing. Chongqing, however, is just a few hundred miles from what was the epicenter of a 7.9-magnitude earthquake in 2008. That quake killed nearly 90,000 people.
The Chongqing earthquake was one of several powerful Chinese earthquakes in recent years – China has many fault lines. Most recent earthquakes and tremors have been in the west of the country while most of China’s nuclear plants are near the coast in the east. But quakes have hit China’s eastern coast as well. In 1976, a massive earthquake in the east registered 7.5 and killed at least 250,000 people. The quake destroyed Tangshan, a city on the northeast coast which lies around a couple of hundred miles away from a nuclear power plant which was then under construction in Dalian. The Chinese must also take note that strong tremors from the Sendai earthquake hit their east coast and rocked buildings in Beijing.
Like the rest of the world, China is going to have to try to find a balance between efficient power generation and safety. Some nuclear authorities say the Chinese are quite right to say their nuclear reactors pose lower risks than those in northeastern Japan. The new plants under construction are expected to feature “Toshiba Corp. Westinghouse third-generation AP1000 model reactors” – these reactors are apparently not dependent on water pumps, which failed dismally in Fukushima. In theory, that makes them less vulnerable to accidents and natural disasters which could lead to radiation release and/or meltdown.
Still, China Daily – a government-run newspaper – reported recently that the Chinese government spends a mere $500,000 each year to ensure safety at each nuclear facility. This contrasts poorly with around $7 million per plant spent annually by the US government.
And there are international concerns, however, about the secrecy and lack of openness that surrounds Chinese nuclear power production. In May 2010, the Hong Kong press reported radiation leaks at the Daya Bay nuclear plant, near Hong Kong. China denied them. Weeks later, Chinese local government officials admitted radiation had leaked from Daya Bay but denied it had been “a nuclear incident.”
The government in Beijing, however, is as determined to boost its nuclear energy production now as it was back in 1986 after the Chernobyl disaster. At that time, China was about to open its first nuclear plant. Just days after Chernobyl unleashed the biggest nuclear disaster the world had known, China announced that the Chernobyl accident would not stall the opening of the nuclear plant. It was Daya Bay.
While the Chinese government may have few qualms about pushing forward its nuclear power programme, it seems to be aware that the Chinese people may have greater reservations. Sina Weibo, a popular service rather like Twitter, began blocking searches on the topic nuclear leak shortly after Fukushima began leaking radiation into the air.
** See also:http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/7855016/japanese_earthquake_and_tsunami_disaster.html?cat=3 **