After the Salt Rush, Nuclear Fears Remain

Although Chinese authorities are still comitted to nuclear power, public fears about the technology remain heightened, as the New York Times reports:

The salt panic, plus a surge in online voices opposing plans to build dozens of power plants across the country, suggest that the government may have a harder time than it expected managing its aggressive nuclear energy plans. Currently, these foresee an approximate eightfold expansion within just nine years.

Chinese and overseas experts worry that safety cannot be guaranteed at that rate of growth, saying the country lacked experienced nuclear engineers, plant operators and a nuclear safety culture ….

“The salt-buying panic shows that in the future, the lack of trust in this area between people and the government is going to be really serious,” said Kevin Jianjun Tu, a senior associate for energy and climate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington….

There are precedents of popular resistance influencing the outcome of government-backed projects. In 2007, residents of the prosperous coastal city of Xiamen organized demonstrations via text message against a planned chemical plant, forcing its relocation. Yet such movements remain rare ….

The Xiamen demonstrations were cited by Human Rights in China (PDF) as an example of the country’s “growing civil consciousness”:

On June 1, 2007, more than 20,000 people demon- strated in the streets of Xiamen without a permit from the Public Security Bureau to protest plans to build a paraxylene (PX)1 chemical factory in their city. At nightfall, dozens of Xiamen residents continued to stage a peaceful sit-in in front of City Hall. The possible consequences of “breaking the law” no longer deterred the citizens of Xiamen from undertaking the largest demonstration in a major Chinese city since June 1989.

Before the demonstration, more than one million Xia- men citizens sent out cell-phone text messages oppos- ing the PX chemical factory project. All contained the same warning: “Taiwanese businessman Chen Yuhao’s Xianglu Group has invested in a joint venture project to build a chemical factory to manufacture paraxylene (PX) in Haicang District. Making this deadly poison [here] would be like dropping an atomic bomb on Xia- men Island. It would mean that in the future, the people of Xiamen would live with leukemia and deformed children.”

Doubts about nuclear power are shared by many in Taiwan, whose chances of effecting change may be somewhat brighter. From Global Voices Online:

Lin Tsung-yao (林宗堯), member of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant Safety Monitoring Committee, has called upon the Taiwan Power company to do a thorough reevaluation of construction of its fourth nuclear power plant:

The fourth nuclear power plant is an assembled plant… The Taiwan Power Company designed the plant itself and contracted out. When it purchased the parts in Taiwan, it usually chose the cheapest ones…Because these parts were purchased at different times and have different levels of quality, the proceedings of construction was a mess…Now test runs have begun, but we see problems like the cancelation of contracts with the original consulting company and General Electric. Therefore, we no longer have experienced consultants and supervision for this plant ….

Despite these safety concerns, Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou has said that the government has dismissed calls by opposition lawmakers to halt the project, scheduled to go into operation in 2012.

March 23, 2011 6:20 PM
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