HUBIN VILLAGE (China) — This placid, leafy hamlet tucked beside a dam in the countryside hardly seems like the next testing ground over China’s efforts to cut smog and greenhouse gases. But here among cornfields and crumbling stone homes skirted by persimmon trees, the government intends to build a nuclear power plant.
“They want to build it here, right here,” said Mr Wang Jiuxing, a retired village official, tapping his foot outside a dilapidated general store, 870km west of Shanghai in China’s central Henan province. “They say all the preliminary work has been done”.
Hubin is one of dozens of sites across the country where officials have plans ready, awaiting further approval, to build atomic reactors over the next decade — an ambitious program to expand the use of nuclear energy that Beijing considers essential to weaning the Chinese economy from its reliance on coal-fired plants, which churn out air pollution and carbon dioxide.
Ask villagers here what they think of the proposed plant, though, and talk quickly turns to the Communist government’s dismal record of industrial accidents, as well as the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan. Residents in Hubin will be resettled to new homes a few miles away, but many said that they would still feel threatened living so close to a nuclear station.
“It’s just not safe,” said Ms Liu Shimin, a farmer in her 20s, nursing a baby outside her home near the banks of the Yahe River. “We’ll always be wondering, ‘What if there’s a big accident, like that one in Japan?’”
Such fears are on the rise in China as the nation embarks on a new phase of nuclear power construction that could make it the world’s biggest producer of nuclear energy by 2030. To meet its goals, analysts say, China must add six to eight reactor units — a plant usually has several — every year over the coming decade, most likely including its first in inland provinces like Henan and neighbouring Hubei.