Even the most serious incident at Guangdong's Daya Bay nuclear power station will have a direct impact on only a tiny number of Hongkongers, emergency planning officials insist, as they rule out expanding the emergency planning zone beyond a 20-kilometre radius from the plant.
But anti-nuclear activists accuse the government of overconfidence and say it underestimates the potential impact of a nuclear disaster.
The government agreed to revise its emergency plan for Daya Bay after the Fukushima crisis in Japan last year. The Security Bureau released the revised plan yesterday, and confirmed that only about 100 residents in the northeastern New Territories would be evacuated, ordered to stay indoors or given thyroid-blocking tablets to reduce their exposure to radioactive iodine.
Bureau officials said the 20-kilometre limit was in line with the guidelines issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and was supported by risk assessments carried out by the Observatory.
Even if the situation worsened and the emergency zone was extended to 30 kilometres, only around 1,000 people in Hong Kong would have to be relocated, it said.
'This [Daya Bay] contingency plan is just one of our contingency plans, which also handle natural disasters like landslides or rainstorms. Our capability to handle emergencies is far beyond 30 kilometres,' an official said. He noted the government had evacuated about 4,000 people in a landslide in 1994.
The security official also said evacuation was not necessarily the best option during a nuclear emergency, as sometimes a plume of radiation drifted past and the effect might be short-lived.
Anti-nuclear activists gave a withering response to the bureau's assurances. 'Perhaps the Security Bureau is the only one in the world which believes a landslide or rainstorm is as dangerous as a nuclear disaster,' Prentice Koo Wai-muk, a Greenpeace campaigner, said.
Koo said the bureau had yet to address the need for a contingency plan tailored for groups at high risk from radiation such as pregnant women and infants. There was also no mention of how it would handle a situation in which a large number of people scrambled to leave the city.
The latest contingency plan has adopted criteria set by the IAEA, which requires evacuation or sheltering when the projected dose of radiation for a person in the affected area hits 100 millisieverts in the week after an accident.