Daya Bay set for ramped up safety drill after crisis

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 March, 2011, 12:00am

The first safety drill in a decade to be carried out at the Daya Bay nuclear power plant in Guangdong will take place next year - and Hong Kong officials yesterday said it would be ramped up in the wake of the crisis at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant triggered by the earthquake and tsunami nine days ago.

More departments will be involved in the safety drill than previously expected, but the government has ruled out public participation in the safety exercise, as it would have too much of an impact on the daily life of the city.

As has been the case in previous drills, international experts will observe the drill, which will cover the two nuclear power stations at Daya Bay, 50 kilometres from Hong Kong, which began operations in 1994 and 2002 respectively.

Undersecretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said large-scale drills had been carried out by the Hong Kong government in November 1990, May 1993, December 1996 and February 2001, according to security bureau information.

'As nuclear experts have given many new ideas and recommendations in the Fukushima nuclear crisis, we will take these into consideration for the revamp of our contingency plan on the Daya Bay nuclear plants,' Lai said.

More than 10 departments will participate in the safety drill next year, which will test their communications and response to the accidental release of radioactive materials from the plants.

At a special meeting yesterday of the Legislative Council's security panel, lawmakers asked if the drill could be brought forward to this year.

'It could ease the public's worries and show the Hong Kong government is capable and ready to respond to such an emergency,' Kam Nai-wai of the Democratic Party said.

Undersecretary for Food and Health Gabriel Leung said Hong Kong would continue testing food imports from Japan for signs of radioactive contamination. He was speaking after Japanese authorities said they had found unsafe levels of radioactive iodine - produced when nuclear reactors leak - in spinach and milk samples from Fukushima.

Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen said in a pre-recorded RTHK radio programme that Hong Kong would keep watch on developments in Japan.

'Some Hong Kong people feel anxious, even fearful, and some have overreacted to the situation in Japan. The government will take a prompt and transparent approach to dealing with the consequences of the quake,' Tang said. He said false and unscientific information caused needless panic and a rush on salt and rice.

Testing time

The number of large-scale safety drills Hong Kong authorities have held at the Daya Bay nuclear plant: 4