Hong Kong has role to play at new nuclear plant

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 3:27am

Some people have understandably expressed safety concerns about the nuclear power plant which is under construction in Taishan, given the lack of information from the authorities and the operator.

Hongkongers are also worried about whether there will be an accident notification mechanism in place once the plant commences operation.

The fact that Guangdong is undergoing a nuclear expansion scheme fuels legitimate concerns and calls for greater transparency.

While people demand more information on the Taishan project, there is a need to put the debate into perspective.

There are claims that the European Pressurised Water Reactor (EPR) technology in Taishan is immature and has not been approved by European countries. The fact is EPR is one of the world's most advanced pressurised water reactors, an improved descendant of two familiar and proven reactor technologies - the French Framatome N4 reactor system and the German Konvoi reactor system. EPR has already been accepted by nuclear safety regulators in Finland, France and China for construction, and more recently in the UK for preparation for construction.

Finland, France and China have commenced construction of EPR power plants.

On the project delays in the first two countries, they were mainly caused by construction problems rather than safety issues inherent in the design of EPR. At a recent Hong Kong Nuclear Society seminar, Olivier Bard, deputy general manager of the Taishan project, said France and Finland had not built any new nuclear reactor for at least 10 years before commissioning the EPR projects. The time gap resulted in a relearning process where labour skills need to be developed. This is in contrast with China, which has undergone a continual nuclear expansion over the past decades, accumulating the construction experience and labour skills required to deliver the project on schedule. China also benefited from the experience of the projects in Finland and France, which started earlier.

Apparently there is a knowledge gap to be filled before mounting concerns can be fully addressed. Although Taishan is over 100 kilometres away, Hong Kong can play a more constructive role, for example, providing risk analysis, and testing and certification services.

Our active participation could give Hongkongers peace of mind while assisting the mainland and Hong Kong authorities in managing the risks involved.

Dr Luk Bing-lam, chairman, Hong Kong Nuclear Society