THE Hong Kong Government is receiving advice on nuclear power from a company which has a stake in the troubled Daya Bay power plant, environmentalists said yesterday. Friends of the Earth (FoE) director Mei Ng said she was told yesterday by Hong Kong Nuclear Investment Company spokesman (HKNIC) Albert Chan Yue-chung that China Light and Power (CLP) is a government adviser on nuclear energy. HKNIC, a subsidiary of CLP, has a 25 per cent stake in the Daya Bay plant, and the Government has two representatives - Secretary for Economic Services Gordon Siu Kwing-chue and Secretary for Security Peter Lai Hing-ling - on its board of directors. Mr Chan said the Government consulted CLP representatives for their nuclear expertise and information, but CLP had no clout over direct policy. But Ms Ng said the arrangement could create a conflict of interest in government decisions relating to the problem-plagued Daya Bay facility. She said the Government should set up a department of energy, to make 'sure that safety is being looked at'. 'Because the Government is being advised on nuclear issues by the same company which part-owns Daya Bay, I think it is capable of keeping us in the dark for reasons of 'sensitivity',' Ms Ng said. She also wanted to know exactly how the directors were being briefed, and whether they had ever asked the public how it felt about them sitting on the board of a private utility. Nuclear-energy issues are handled by Economic Services Branch, with input from Security Branch and the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department on aspects of safety and design specifications. But Mr Chan said there was no need for a new Hong Kong Energy Department to oversee Daya Bay. 'Every country which has nuclear power plants has its own regulatory body. But the Japanese don't monitor German plants, and the British don't monitor French plants, so why should we monitor a plant not in this country?' he said. 'Because a Hong Kong company has invested in Daya Bay, the Government - through us - can be informed regarding various matters concerning the nuclear power plant.' French engineers from Framatome, the firm which developed the Daya Bay reactor, were still holding round-the-clock meetings to solve the problem which forced the plant to close almost a week ago. 'It [Daya Bay] won't be restarted until all the safety criteria are met and after approval from the safety authorities in China,' Mr Chan said. Pressure to repay its US$4 billion (HK$30.9 billion) debt may prompt risk-taking, the groups fear. Greenpeace International's Asia nuclear representative Jean McSorley said: 'They expect to see a return on the plant quickly, so they are reluctant to stop operations. There have been so many problems, and I think they are beginning to feel the financial pinch.' Last week the plant shut down completely as problems escalated. Last month all 53 control rods - believed to have cost millions - were replaced but the new rods also failed tests, forcing another shutdown. On Tuesday the Legislative Council's environmental affairs panel will discuss the environmental impact of Daya Bay with Security Branch Principal Assistant Secretary Andrew Kluth. Daya Bay's start-up costs came largely from loans guaranteed by the Bank of China. 'Very little' has been paid off, according to HKNIC. Spokesman Mr Chan said the plant could operate 70 per cent of the time and still meet its repayment schedule. Last year it operated 80 per cent of the time. 'If we set a target, we want to meet a target. But whatever pressure there is, nothing is more important than safety,' Mr Chan said. A leading Japanese nuclear expert told the Sunday Morning Post the regularity of incidents heightened the chance of simultaneous reactor failures and a major accident. Founder and director of the Tokyo Citizen's Nuclear Information Centre, Dr Jinzaburo Takagi, pointed to quality control as a possible reason for the frequent problems at Daya Bay, a plant of common design. 'Usually a reactor is designed to withstand any single failure. But if two failures happen simultaneously by chance, this will be a major accident. 'With these frequent troubles, there is a higher possibility that these failures will happen simultaneously,' he said. In its first year alone, Daya Bay, just 50 kilometres from Central, was shut down 13 times. In contrast, Japan's Genkai Number Three nuclear plant on Kyushu Island - of similar design to Daya Bay - has been trouble-free since starting up within weeks of the China venture. Dr Takagi said the Japanese plant has had no problems, and has shut down only for scheduled inspections.