Under Public Pressure, China Scraps Its Largest Nuclear Fuel Processing Project Near Hong Kong

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Bowing to public pressure, China canceled the construction of its largest nuclear-fuel processing plant in the country’s southern Guangdong province, after hundreds of protesters objecting to the project took to the streets Friday.

Bowing to public pressure, China canceled the construction of its largest nuclear-fuel processing plant in the China’s southern Guangdong province, after hundreds of protesters objecting to the project took to the streets Friday.

The proposed $6 billion uranium processing plant’s construction at Zhishan Township, about 60 miles away from Hong Kong and Macau, had triggered concerns about radiation and other environment issues in both cities.

“To respect people’s desire, the Heshan government will not propose the [China National Nuclear Corp.] project,” said a one-line statement published on the Heshan city government’s website Saturday, according to Reuters.

The Heshan city government, under the administration of authorities in the city of Jiangmen, had defended the project as recently as Friday morning, when it said it would extend by 10 days the period during which the public could assess the plant’s risk assessment report, the South China Morning Post said.

People outraged at the authorities’ decision at that time to continue with the proposed plant went in procession through Jiangmen, carrying banners and signs expressing their opposition to the proposed plant.

Hundreds participated in the protests, organized via the social-messaging services QQ and WeChat, the SCMP reported. China’s government had censored posts about protests on the microblogging site Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, the newspaper said.

The proposed Longwan Industrial Park project with a 230-hectare uranium processing plant could have met as much as one-half of China’s nuclear-fuel processing needs.  The $6 billion plant planned by the state-run China National Nuclear Corp. was to have had facilities for uranium conversion and enrichment, as well as manufacturing of nuclear-fuel equipment, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

The decision to scrap the project as a way to “respect people’s desire” reflects the Chinese government’s growing tolerance of public pressure associated with issues of health and the environment.  

China has canceled or relocated several major petrochemical and metal plants after locals protested againt them over environmental issues in the recent past, but this is the first time government has scrapped a nuclear power project because of public pressure.

China is rapidly shifting to nuclear-power reactors to cut its dependency on coal-based power stations, and by 2020 it aims to produce 5 percent of the total energy it needs from its nuclear-power generators.   

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