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China warned over ‘insane’ plans for new nuclear power plants via The Guardian

He Zuoxiu, a leading Chinese scientist, says the country is not investing enough in safety controls after lifting of post-Fukushima disaster reactor ban

China’s plans for a rapid expansion of nuclear power plants are “insane” because the country is not investing enough in safety controls, a leading Chinese scientist has warned.

Proposals to build plants inland, as China ends a moratorium on new generators imposed after the Fukushima disaster in March 2011, are particularly risky, the physicist He Zuoxiu said, because if there was an accident it could contaminate rivers that hundreds of millions of people rely on for water and taint groundwater supplies to vast swathes of important farmlands.

China halted the approval of new reactors in 2011 in order to review its safety standards, but gave the go-ahead in March for two units, part of an attempt to surpass Japan’s nuclear-generating capacity by 2020 and become the world’s biggest user of nuclear power a decade later.

Barack Obama recently announced plans to renew a nuclear cooperation deal with Beijing that would allow it to buy more US-designed reactors, and potentially pursue the technology to reprocess plutonium from spent fuel.

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“There are currently two voices on nuclear energy in China. One prioritises safety while the other prioritises development,” He [Zuoxiu] told the Guardian in an interview at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

He spoke of risks including “corruption, poor management abilities and decision-making capabilities”. He said: “They want to build 58 (gigawatts of nuclear generating capacity) by 2020 and eventually 120 to 200. This is insane.”
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He’s challenge to the nuclear plans is particularly powerful because of his scientific credentials and a long history of taking a pro-government stance on controversial issues, from the 1950s destruction of Beijing’s city walls to the crackdown in the 1990s on the religious group Falun Gong.

He would like to see China stop its expansion once the plants that have been approved or are now under construction are finished, and then gain a few decades experience of running them safely before expanding again. Almost all the country’s working reactors started up after 2000.

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One of He’s biggest concerns is the proposal to meet the aggressive expansion plans by building nuclear plants inland. Three provinces have already chosen locations for plants and started preliminary work, and several more have been proposed.

China is short of water, and areas with enough water to cool a plant in daily operations or an emergency are densely populated. He [Zuoxiu] said: “They say they could build the plants in deserts, but the problem is there isn’t any water in the deserts.”

If plants are built near cities and farmland, any accident would put millions of people at risk from immediate fallout and long-term contamination similar to the radioactive leaks at Fukushima.

“If they build plants in places with a lot of water, the consequences of a nuclear leakage would be extremely grave,” He said. “I wouldn’t oppose it if they can guarantee it is 100% safe, but no one can guarantee this.

“To be honest, as I’m already 88, it won’t affect me much whether or not nuclear plants are safe. But I am concerned about the welfare of our children and think we shouldn’t just evaluate the profitability of new projects.”

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