Chinese city residents protest over plans for nuclear research plant

  • Local suspicions over Changsha plant heightened by failure to officially announce the plans until one day before public consultation process was due to end
PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 December, 2018, 7:40pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 December, 2018, 9:51pm

Dozens of residents in a city in central China have staged a protest over plans to build a nuclear research institute near their homes.

The protesters fear that radioactive materials used at the planned facility in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, will pose a health risk.

The institute behind the project did not officially release their plans on Tuesday – after work had began on the site and one day before the public consultation period was supposed to end.

An environmental impact assessment into the project said No 230 Research Institute, a branch of the China National Nuclear Corporation, had acquired a space of over 20,000 square metres near a densely populated area to expand its offices and laboratories at the site, which will be dedicated to the geological exploration of uranium.

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Although the facility is not intended to handle refined uranium, and scientists say that unprocessed material does not emit harmful levels of radiation, residents have expressed concerns about the possible health risks and have called for building work to be halted.

Their concerns were heightened by the failure to carry out an assessment of the radiological hazards and the decision to announce the plans a day before the consultation period was due to end.

Wu Xiaosha, one of the protesters, said people were also angry that the project is already being built without approval.

“The environmental impact assessment report lied about the population in the area – it said there are only 40,000 people in the area, but actually it’s nearly 250,000,” said Wu.

Yang Wenqiang, an official from the Changsha Urban Rural Planning Bureau, refused to comment on the matter, saying the government was holding an emergency meeting and would release a statement later.

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In a public letter issued on Thursday, Luo Zheng, deputy head of the Xueshi subdistrict, said he had no idea what the project was planning to do and had asked the institute to explain its population estimate – a question it has not yet answered.

“As for what this institute does and why should it be built here, I am very curious too,” Luo said.

He said he would visit related institutions to see how they operated and how they evaluated risk.

Environmental concerns have fuelled a growing number of protests in China in recent years as public awareness of the possible health risks increases.

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences reported that half of protests with more than 10,000 participants between 2001 and 2013 were sparked by concerns about pollution.