Green groups fear 'most dangerous' nuclear power plant on Hong Kong's doorstep

Green groups say flawed and untested technology puts city at risk from 'world's most dangerous nuclear power plant'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 September, 2013, 1:15pm

A nuclear power plant being built just 130 kilometres away from Hong Kong was yesterday labelled by green groups the "most dangerous nuclear power plant in the world".

The plant in Taishan, Guangdong, is using technology that has never been used before and would put the city and another 30 million people at risk in the Pearl River Delta in the event of a Fukushima-style meltdown, say nine groups, including Greenpeace, Green Sense and the Professional Commons lobby group. They are calling on Hong Kong authorities and the provincial and national governments to look again at the risks involved.

The Taishan Nuclear Power Plant, due to start operating in December, will run on two European pressurised reactors, or EPRs - a Franco-German pressurised-water reactor design which the groups say is still immature technology.

French nuclear power giant Areva sealed an €8 billion (HK$92.53 billion) deal to build the two reactors for China's state-owned Guangdong Nuclear Power Group in 2007. Construction began in 2009.

"It is very risky to import a European nuclear reactor technology that has not even met the proper nuclear safety standards and regulations in Europe," said Albert Lai Kwong-tak, an engineer and a policy expert at independent lobby group the Professional Commons.

Two EPR projects, one in France and another in Finland, have been plagued by delays after safety-related flaws were found. Both projects are not expected to be completed now until 2015 at the earliest, despite construction commencing years earlier than in Taishan.

Lai said that upon completion, Taishan would be the "most dangerous nuclear power plant in the world" given its potential radiation level was three times higher than Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant.

"Design flaws such as how to power cooling systems for its external spent nuclear fuel pool in the event of an emergency have not been addressed," he said.

"A digitised and automated emergency control unit also lacks a manual override … these are all lessons which should have been learnt after Fukushima.

"One must ask if Chinese authorities have taken any of these into account."

EPR technology is widely regarded as simpler, safer and more fuel-efficient.

Responding to media reports last week, the Security Bureau said the plant was too far away to have any impact on Hong Kong.

Chieng Ching-chang, a visiting professor at City University's department of mechanical and biomedical engineering, agreed.

"The distance between Taishan and Hong Kong is very far compared to the evacuation distance - usually in the order of five to 10 kilometres," she said. "EPR is a third-generation reactor and should be at least one order of magnitude safer than second-generation reactors in terms of core-damage frequency."

Areva did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.