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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.

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China had considered and then rejected stronger standards, He said, because of the huge pressure for a rapid expansion and companies powerful enough to put corporate profits ahead of national security.

“There were internal discussions on upgrading standards in the past four years, but doing so would require a lot more investment which would affect the competitiveness and profitability of nuclear power,” He said. “Nuclear energy costs are cheap because we lower our standards.”

Rather than encouraging debate to expose weaknesses, the government tries to stamp it out, and in a country where challenging officials is risky, there is no mechanism to encourage or protect whistleblowers.

He said: “At the moment, the ministry of environmental protection is considering a new watchdog. When they invited me over for a discussion, I told them: ‘Your safety watchdog is not independent. It listens to the national nuclear corporation and hence the scrutiny is fake’.”

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