Operation of Taishan nuclear plant may put HK safety at risk

April 19, 2016 14:31
The Taishan Nuclear Power Plant is being constructed just 130 kilometers from Hong Kong. Photo: Baidu

As the Chernobyl nuclear disaster marks its 30th anniversary next week, focus is cast on the potential safety risk of a power plant that is being constructed just 130 kilometers from Hong Kong.

Two reactors of the power plant, which is located in Taishan, Guangdong province, are scheduled to start operations early next year, or about eight years after it began construction in 2009, news website hk01.com reports.

The project is a joint venture between China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) and Électricité de France (EDF), with the former controlling a 70 percent stake and the latter holding the rest.

After conducting tests on the project in April last year, the French Nuclear Safety Authority found anomalies in the structure of the reactor vessel manufactured by French state-owned nuclear power giant Areva.

It said the metal used for its lid and bottom were not hard enough and contained excessive carbon concentration, suggesting that it is prone to small cracks that could result in radiation leaks.

The test results, which were revealed jointly by Areva and EDF last week, also showed the vessel itself could face the risk of cracks.

China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration has promised the reactors will not be commissioned until the problem about cracks is resolved, CGN has never announced how serious the cracks would be, but only said in December last year that operations of the reactors will not begin until 2017.

It did not reply to enquiries by hk01.com.

Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany, said both the lid and bottoms are keys to prevent any radiation leak but high carbon concentration in the materials would pose a much more serious risk than previously thought, adding that they could splinter like glass without any warning advance sign.

He said Chinese authorities should consider imposing a ban on the use of the reactor vessel in question as their French counterparts did.

In response to safety concerns, a Security Bureau spokesman said the risk of a nuclear accident in Taishan affecting Hong Kong is extremely low as the plant is quite far from the city based on international standards.

Moreover, the government has prepared full-scale counter measures which could be immediately deployed should an accident happen, the spokesman said.

On the possible impact of a radiation leak on Hong Kong, Greenpeace senior campaigner Frances Yeung Hoi-shan urged the government to propose three things to Beijing: immediate suspension of the plant’s construction work, disclosure of all details about the facility, and a complete explanation of the plans and measures to be undertaken to ensure the safety of Hong Kong people.

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