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Chinese towns spar over planned nuclear plant

By Elaine Kurtenbach
AP Business Writer / February 16, 2012
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SHANGHAI—Residents of two towns in eastern China are at odds over plans for a nuclear power plant, in a dispute reflecting mixed attitudes toward the industry as work looks set to resume on projects suspended after Japan's Fukushima disaster.

The government plans to raise China's nuclear power capacity to 80 gigawatts by 2020, according to the National Energy Commission. That is below the 90 gigawatt target reported before the Japan disaster, and less than the current nuclear capacity of the United States, which was just over 100 gigawatts last year.

State media reports Thursday said work appeared poised to resume after inspections that were ordered following a magnitude 9.0 offshore earthquake on March 11, 2011. It triggered a tsunami that killed about 19,000 people along Japan's northeastern coast and knocked out power at the Fukushima plant, resulting in the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

Top leaders are expected to approve various revisions of safety guidelines and other regulations by March, the Shanghai Securities News and other newspapers reported, citing unnamed commission officials.

Despite widespread public concern over possible radiation contamination from the disaster and calls for improved safety precautions and emergency preparedness, China remains committed to building up nuclear power to help reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants and curb its reliance on costly oil imports.

China currently has 13 nuclear reactors that provide about 10 gigawatts of generating capacity and plans call for expanding that to about 40 gigawatts by 2015.

Nuclear power accounted for only 1.04 percent of all electricity consumed in China last year.

Although the government has generally pushed ahead with whatever infrastructure projects it wants, the Chinese public is becoming increasingly vocal in its concerns over potential environmental risks or other disruptions.

The planned nuclear plant in Pengze, a town on the banks of the Yangtze River in Jiangxi province, is raising complaints from residents of Wangjiang, across the river in neighboring Anhui province.

They say residents will be living dangerously near the plant and are petitioning to delay construction pending further safety studies.

The plant in Pengze, approved in 2008, reportedly was the first such project planned for an inland region: so far most of China's nuclear plants are on the coast.

Both Anhui and Jiangxi are inland regions that until recently remained relatively poor compared with faster-developing coastal province. Local officials would generally view such big investments as welcome sources of jobs and tax revenues.

So far, there has been no sign of public protest from residents in Pengze, who are busy building guesthouses to accommodate the thousands of workers expected to be employed if the project goes ahead, according to a report in the Shanghai newspaper Oriental Morning Post.

But across the river, a group of retired officials living in Wangjiang, led by a former judge named Fang Guangwen, have been getting national attention with their petition drive to have the project delayed or canceled.

An official in the Wangjiang county information office, who gave only his surname, He, said the situation had been reported to provincial authorities. He would not comment further and provincial level officials refused comment.

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Associated Press researcher Fu Ting contributed to this report.

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