Jiangmen uranium plant is scrapped after thousands take part in protests

Authorities back down over HK$46b project following marches by thousands of residents and pressure from Hong Kong and Macau

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 July, 2013, 11:27am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 July, 2013, 4:52am

Jiangmen authorities have scrapped plans for a controversial uranium processing plant after protests by local residents and opposition from Hong Kong and Macau.

The abrupt withdrawal of plans for the 37 billion yuan (HK$46.4 billion) plant, which could have provided enough fuel to meet half the country's nuclear power needs, came just a day after more than 2,000 people gathered to protest against its construction.

It is the latest in a series of industrial projects to be cancelled amid increasing public concern about the mainland's mounting pollution problems.

Opponents planned another rally yesterday and called on protesters to dress in red for "an innocent stroll" in the city's Donghu Square.

They had planned to go ahead with the rally, even though authorities had earlier promised to double the original 10-day public consultation period.

Hundreds had already gathered at 9am when Deputy Mayor Wu Guojie personally announced the decision to scrap the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) project, a move that appeared timed to pre-empt the protest.

"The people's government of the city of Heshan has decided to respect the public opinion and will not consider CNNC's Longwan industrial park project," the city government, a county-level city under the administration of Jiangmen, said in a statement.

More than 200 police officers were deployed, but most in the crowd simply left after the announcement.

The project, which would have been able to produce 1,000 tonnes of uranium a year by 2020, included facilities for uranium conversion and enrichment, as well as the manufacturing of nuclear fuel equipment.

Residents and academics agreed that opposition from Hong Kong and Macau contributed to the local government's decision to cancel the plan.

"The Pearl River Delta is significant," said Peng Peng, a political scientist at the Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences. "It's at the forefront of China's reform and also the backyard of Hong Kong and Macau.

"The province's leaders had to resolve the tension quickly and effectively or they would face immense pressure from the central authorities."

Analysts said provincial party leaders, such as Guangdong party secretary Hu Chunhua, had learnt from backlashes against similar industrial projects in Sichuan , Ningbo and Kunming.

"Guangdong must present an image of stability and openness," said political commentator Zhu Jianguo. "Hu must react correctly because the area attracts widespread attention across the world."

In addition to the strong opposition from Jiangmen residents, who took to the streets chanting slogans such as "Protect my homeland", the project drew stiff opposition from associations of former Jiangmen residents.

One Jiangmen native who now lives in Hong Kong said he took part in the rallies on Friday and yesterday because he still considered the city his home.

"If the nuclear project is built, it will scare away all overseas investment, and then the real estate prices in Jiangmen and its neighbouring cities will drop," he said.

Many locals remained suspicious yesterday's announcement was simply a delaying tactic.

"We don't believe the project will be dropped permanently because our government has no credibility at all," one participant in his 40s said. "I am afraid that the municipal government will use some excuses to resume it."