Hong Kong needs answers on Taishan nuclear plant risks, as painful legacy of Fukushima lingers
Frances Yeung says work on the power plant should be suspended, amid the need for greater clarity of the potential risks, in the interests of public safety
It’s hard to believe that it was just six years ago when an earthquake, followed by a tsunami, caused the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, sending three reactors into meltdown and contaminating everything within a 20km radius and beyond.
Over 15,000 people died, 2,000 plus still remain unaccounted for, and more than 146,000 people living in nearby towns were forced to evacuate.
In Iitate village, about 39km from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the Japanese government has attempted to “decontaminate” the area by removing radioactive topsoil around homes and along the sides of major roads.
But no matter how hard they try, the decontamination will not be able to reach the forests that cover about 75 per cent of Iitate’s area.
Radiation does not die – one simply needs to look at the effect of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster as a clear example. Caesium-137, one of the radioactive materials released from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, takes 30 years to decay to half its original size. It has only been six years since Fukushima – the pollution is expected to last for a long, long time.
Yet the Japanese government thinks enough time has passed for Fukushima victims to return home. On March 31, the government plans to lift the evacuation order on Iitate village, allowing the 6,000-plus residents to go back home.
According to recommendations from the International Commission on Radiological Protection, the maximum dose of radiation that is safe for people to be exposed to in a year is one millisievert (1mSv/year).
However, Greenpeace Japan measured seven residential sites in Iitate and found the average exposure dose at 0.5 microsievert (μSv) to 1.2μSv per hour – two to five times greater than the government’s long-term target. That means, if these 6,000 residents were to return, their so-called safe living space would expose them to radiation equivalent to having a chest X-ray each week.
The nuclear power industry frequently conceals the truth to safeguard its own vested interests – it claims nuclear power is safe, in complete disregard for people’s lives.
Here in Hong Kong, in addition to the Daya Bay nuclear power plant in Guangdong, we face threats from the Taishan nuclear power plant. China General Nuclear Power Group, the main investor in the Taishan plant, issued a notice a few weeks ago saying that, after an evaluation of the “subsequent engineering construction plan and relevant risks”, it would delay the commercial operation of Taishan Unit 1 by six months to the second half of this year. So what exactly did they find out about the plant’s safety risks?
What we do know is that, two years ago, the French Nuclear Safety Authority admitted there were safety concerns about a European pressurised reactor being built in Flamanville in northern France. They warned that Taishan, which shares the same design and whose pressure vessels were produced from the same supplier as the French project, may also suffer from the same safety issues. So what is the China nuclear power group not telling us?
If the Taishan plant, which features the same faulty design as the one in France, is classified as risky, then how can they expect it to go into operation in the second half of the year?
The Fukushima nuclear disaster was a painful lesson for humanity and should serve as a warning. We have our own nuclear threat right here on our doorstep – a nuclear power plant built with knowingly faulty and unsafe parts.
The Hong Kong government must ask the central authorities to temporarily halt the Taishan nuclear plant, make the project’s risk assessment public, protect the rights of all Hong Kong people to know, and keep us safe.
Frances Yeung is a senior campaigner for Greenpeace