Jiangmen government gives written pledge to scrap uranium processing plant

After a rally by over 2,000 protesters, officials issue a formal statement confirming plans to scrap a proposed uranium processing plant

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 July, 2013, 5:12am

Jiangmen handed over an official document reaffirming the city's plans to scrap a proposed uranium processing plant yesterday after residents refused to believe that the project was dead.

The formal red-letter statement was released after more than 2,000 protesters marched on the municipal government headquarters - the third such rally in as many days - to secure written assurances that Jiangmen officials would stick by their promise on Saturday to withdraw the project.

Even public appearances by municipal party secretary Liu Hai and Mayor Peng Guomei failed to satisfy protesters that the 37 billion yuan (HK$46.4 billion) plant would not return.

"I am here to promise all the Jiangmen people that the government has formally scrapped the project, with an official document being released very soon," Liu told the crowd at about 11am, urging them to return home.

But the crowd stood its ground, leaving only after Jiangmen Vice-Mayor Huang Yue-sheng arrived and read the document out loud. It was also posted on the government's website and a bulletin board outside the government building.

The incident underlined what analysts say is a growing credibility problem for local officials on the mainland, where environmental protests have recently prompted the withdrawal of several major industrial projects.

Many opponents remained sceptical that the government would so easily abandon a plant that could provide as much as half of the fuel for the country's atomic power needs.

"The authorities would not give up on such a big project," said one protester, who vowed to keep fighting the uranium-processing plant until it "gets out of the Pearl River Delta". "We are afraid that the authorities will move it to somewhere else in the PRD, stealthily."

The municipal government had sent Huang and another vice-mayor to address a crowd of about 1,000 who had assembled in Donghu Square by 9am. But protesters refused to listen, complaining their ranks were too low to make a guarantee.

The crowd then began marching to the government headquarters, chanting slogans like "We want healthy children!", "No nukes!" and "No GDP!" They were joined by another 1,000 on their way, while being watched by more than 200 police officers.

"We just can't believe how our government could suddenly become so efficient," one protester said. "It's impossible for the officials to make such an important decision in one day. It's well known that all government departments have to spend at least one week to resolve just a very small issue."

Guangzhou-based sociologist Yuan Weishi said the project's abrupt withdrawal appears to have only contributed to the people's mistrust of the government. Residents only became aware of the project on July 4, when the government announced a 10-day consultation.

Antony Wang Dong, a Macau-based political commentator, said the Jiangmen government's fast decision had run counter to officials' usual working style.

One protester said that the red-letter document could help provide legitimacy for future protests if the government failed to keep its word.

"We can use this document to warn the authorities to stick to their guarantee," he said.