Despite assurances that nuclear accidents in China are “unlikely to happen”, China has admitted in an official white paper that its nuclear emergency response mechanism is “inadequate”. The safety concerns have halted construction of two next-generation nuclear generators in Guangdong.
Published last week, the paper on the country’s nuclear emergency response by the State Council Information Office expressed concerns with the country’s plans for nuclear energy expansion. “China’s nuclear emergency response [system] still has certain inadequacies in terms of technology, equipment, human resources, capacity and standards”, the paper said. The paper also acknowledged growing public anxiety over nuclear energy and promised to “answer public concerns in time” and “clear the doubts”.
Despite the “slower approval” of nuclear reactors, the report states that the central government is adamant it can achieve its goal of 58 gigawatts of installed nuclear energy by 2020. The setback follows last March’s lifting of a moratorium on the construction of nuclear power plants imposed in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
The paper went on to recommend the creation of a national emergency and rescue team to deal with potential nuclear power emergencies. The sentiment was echoed by Xu Dazhe, director of the China Atomic Energy Authority. “For us, the most important task now is to improve the safety level of nuclear construction, and prevent accidents from occurring via innovation, secure and reliable standards, as well as advanced technologies and equipment,” said Xu.
The safety concerns detailed in the white paper come at a time when China has already unveiled a highly ambitious plan to use large-scale nuclear power developments to wean the country off fossil fuels. Draft proposals detail a plan for China to allocate 500 billion yuan ($78 billion) to build six to eight new nuclear power plants every year for the next five years.
The long-term trajectory is to construct 110 nuclear power plants by 2030, a number of plants greater than even the United States. Part of that plan includes the development of “floating, mobile nuclear reactors” that can be moved from one part of the sea to another. However, such plans will undergo a “careful and scientific” feasibility review before being approved, said Xu.
Physicist He Zuoxiu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, called the pace and scope of China’s nuclear energy ambitions “insane”. He said nuclear energy is only feasible due to the compromises Chinese are willing to make. “Nuclear energy costs are cheap because we lower our standards,” he explained. “China currently does not have enough experience to make sound judgments on whether there could be accidents,” He added. “The number of reactors and the amount of time they have been operating safely both matter.”
Industry experts have downplayed the concerns of scientists such as He. Zhou Dadi, Vice Director of the China Energy Research Society, said last year, “Due to China’s mature nuclear technology and strict safety controls, serious accidents are unlikely to happen.”