Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Protest Erupts in Eastern China Temporarily Suspending Power Plant Project

By Daniel HuynhPublished October 2, 2016

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In Lianyungang, a city in Eastern China, thousands of locals have rallied up and protested the preliminary assessments for the construction of a nuclear power plant. Residents feared the possibilities of nuclear radiation leaks that can ultimately impact the port city.
By Daniel Huynh, 10/2/16

In 2012, China National Nuclear Port (CNNP) and Areva, a nuclear fuel group signed a deal to construct a nuclear facility in Eastern China. Although the manager of CNNP claimed that the risk of radiation is low, faculty from the Huaihai Institute of Technology are apprehensive about the efficiency of nuclear waste transportation. When CNNP surveyed Lianyungang as a potential site for this project, thousands of locals protested. As the city government attempted to calm protesters, news of this uproar spread through social media like wildfire.
 
Twenty miles from Lianyungang, there are two active nuclear power plants on an another port called Tianwan. In addition, to its active facilities, Tianwan has two active projects to construct power plants and has approval for more in the future. Heavily dependent on the coast for transportation, trade, and fishing, building a power plant can have drastic ecological effects in both Lianyungang and the Tianwan area. Radiation particles may leak into the soil, which eventually make their way into the ocean. Over time, organisms living in the ocean will accumulate these radioactive particles. If we consume these organisms containing toxic chemicals, our bodies can accumulate these particles which can lead to major health issues. Not only can these chemicals leak into the sea, it may also leak into clean water. Lianyungang is vulnerable to this type of pollution due to its geography and multiple waterways that eventually empty into the sea.
 
To expand on this, a major issue in general is that all nuclear facilities are located near a large body of water since water is needed to cool the reactor mechanisms. Water can be easily contaminated if a waste management program is not thoroughly executed.  Although the placement of these facilities near water is not avoidable, the two most prominent hazards are the location of the facility near a large population and its waste management program.
 
Currently, most if not all nuclear reactors in China are located near dense populations. To portray how dangerous it is to construct a nuclear facility in a heavily populated area, it is important to note past nuclear failures such as the Chernobyl disaster and Japanese nuclear meltdown in Fukushima. Back in 1986, a flawed design in the facility caused a nuclear explosion that rendered Chernobyl uninhabitable. To elaborate on the Fukushima disaster, a tsunami damaged three nuclear reactors, displacing about 150,000 people. Although the chances of a disaster like Chernobyl and Fukushima are low, it is paramount to assess the risks given that Lianyungang has a population of 4.5 million people in addition to being located next to the coast. This city is vulnerable to these types of disasters. NCCP and Areva should reconsider the location of their projects to a less densely populated area. Spreading out the placement of these facilities can decrease possible health issues considering the fact that there are multiple active nuclear power plants in within the vicinity of Lianyungang.  
 
The other health hazard other than a large population are waste management programs. Constructing an efficient waste management program is essential in reducing the risks of contamination. In comparing China's waste management program and the United Kingdom's there are discrete differences that can drastically reduce the risk of contamination. In China, nuclear waste are carried from coastal regions to the west of the country where waste treatment facilities are located. This is a grey area where some scholars in Lianyungang are apprehensive about the uncertainty in the risks associated with long distance traveling. In the UK, policies pushed for storing nuclear wastes below ground near the nuclear reactor or having a treatment facility within the vicinity. This may actually help to decrease the possibility of spreading radioactive particles across the country.

China intends to increase the amount of active nuclear reactors. Currently, there are 33 active nuclear power plants and 22 under construction. The high pressure to decrease carbon emissions encouraged a heavier dependence on nuclear energy to supply electricity to China's massive population which may ultimately create more hazardous risks associated with this demand.