Open communication lines on Daya Bay

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 January, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 January, 1995, 12:00am

IF DAYA Bay officials are to be believed it was a very minor incident. So minor, in fact, that they refuse to describe it as an incident at all.

However the revelation that two French supervisors were slightly contaminated with radioactive dust at the nuclear power plant on January 6 has nonetheless marred this week's first anniversary of operations.

The amount of radiation involved was insignificant. At 0.0002 rems, it is the equivalent of drinking two glasses of mineral water. That is hardly enough to justify pushing panic buttons.

More serious is the fact that the incident would not have been made public if environmental group, Friends of the Earth had not brought it to the attention of legislators.

On Friday, the Hong Kong Nuclear Investment Company, the local partner in the nuclear project, went on the defensive, saying it could hardly be expected to inform the territory of 'every sneeze' that occurs there. However, officials should know better than that.

Any incident involving leaks, accidents or contamination at Daya Bay, no matter how trivial, is bound to raise concern in Hong Kong. With the territory only 50 kilometres from the nuclear plant, locals are in constant need of reassurance that the strictest safety standards are adhered to at Daya Bay.

When information of even the most trivial of incidents is withheld, it only fuels suspicion, rightly or wrongly, that there is something to hide.

Unfortunately, Daya Bay's record in its first year of operation, has not been an encouraging one. Reports of at least 59 incidents at the plant, were met with stone-walling and evasion, when this newspaper investigated them last February. In May, a million people in Hong Kong and Macau suffered from a power cut caused by human error at the plant.

If the second year is to be better, then officials and plant operators must improve their communication lines to the Hong Kong public. The more information there is about Daya Bay, no matter how trivial, the more Hong Kong people can improve their understanding of the plant.

It may be tedious to report 'every sneeze', but it is better than causing panic, especially when it is not warranted as in this latest incident.