At Fault on the Nu River

For China Dialogue, Liu Jianqiang interviews two Chinese geologists about the lessons China can learn from the recent earthquake in Japan:

The two experts argue that the Japanese authorities underestimated the potential impact of deep-ocean faults and earthquakes on power plants. As a result, they failed to locate their atomic energy facilities on the country’s less vulnerable west coast and, ultimately, to avoid the radiation crisis the world has watched unfold over the past week.

There are worrying parallels in China, said Xu and Sun. But rather than focusing on the nuclear industry, their gripe is with their country’s hydropower sector – and, more specifically, the controversial plans to build a cascade of dams on the Nu River, China’s last great waterway without large-scale hydropower and the focus of an animated public campaign.

Xu, a retired researcher from the China Earthquake Administration’s Institute of Geology, and Sun, a former employee of the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), who was once in charge of evaluating the nation’s uranium resources, have written to the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, setting out their concerns. In their letter, they write that the risks of building dams on the Nu – a plan that was shelved in 2004 following a public outcry, but has recently been revived – have not been fully assessed. “We are extremely troubled by this,” they add.

Arguing in defence of China’s nuclear power expansion at Reuters in an article previously featured on CDT, Wei Gu proposed that the risk of situations like the one at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant could be minimised by placing power stations away from tectonically active regions. The allegedly inadequate risk evaluations for the Nu River dams, however, do not offer an encouraging precedent for this strategy.

Read more about dams in China and the Nu River via CDT.


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