Nuclear Activism: Limiting the Fallout
Following the success of widespread public protests against a planned uranium processing plant in Jiangmen, Guangdong province last week, Reuters notes that the project’s cancellation hinders Beijing’s nuclear power plans:
The abrupt cancellation of a $6.5 billion uranium processing project in southern China has left Beijing with a headache as it tries to secure the fuel required to sustain an ambitious nuclear reactor building program.
China has been buying stakes in uranium mines in Asia and Africa, but without the capacity to enrich and process the ore it will still be dependent on foreign firms to turn it into useable fuel.
Another article from Reuters covers the rising public distrust of nuclear power, and also notes that government plans for nuclear expansion remain ambitious:
The outcry highlighted growing skepticism in China over official assurances about safety following a series of food and pollution scandals.
In the Internet age, in which the Chinese public is becoming increasingly vocal about their rights and mobilizing on social networks, popular protests like the demonstrations in the city of Jiangmen against the processing plant suggest a wider backlash against nuclear power.
[…]In the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan, Beijing cut its 2020 nuclear power capacity target to 58 gigawatt (GW) from 80-90 GW. But the new goal still represents a nearly four-fold increase from the current capacity and makes China the world’s largest nuclear market.
The Economist looks at political sensitivity surrounding anti-nuclear public sentiment in China:
The state-owned companies behind these projects, as well as investment-hungry local governments, are not abandoning the idea of building them. Before Fukushima, hundreds of millions of dollars had already been poured into preparing the site for Pengze, including the relocation of villagers and levelling hilltops. The area remains fenced off and guarded. (“Any risk can be controlled, any irregularity can be eliminated, any accident can be avoided,” proclaims a large blue billboard on the perimeter.) In June a senior government adviser on nuclear energy said inland projects would “steadily” resume after 2015.
[…]The government in Beijing would be happy if anti-nuclear protests were to stay at the level of bickering between counties or even the occasional outburst of nimbyism, as in Jiangmen. But there is a risk that the success of Jiangmen residents in securing a change of heart could encourage others. “We can expect similar protests wherever a nuclear project is planned,” says Eva Sternfeld of Berlin’s Technical University, who has studied such activism.
As well as complicating China’s nuclear plans, such protests would raise fears in Beijing of something more worrying: an anti-nuclear movement becoming a cover for anti-government activity. Taiwan offers a precedent. In the 1980s opponents of the island’s authoritarian government rallied public support for their cause by tapping into public concerns about nuclear power. The Communist Party does not want to run that kind of risk. [Source]
As public concerns about nuclear power development mount, the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) recently announced a technological breakthrough in domestic uranium enrichment capabilities. Also see “Nuclear Energy in a Changing China,” from the Union of Concerned Scientists’ All Things Nuclear, or all prior CDT coverage of environmental protests and nuclear power.