Completion of a major nuclear power project in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong will now be delayed until next year, sparking safety concerns from local residents who cite a lack of transparency by officials.
Plant operator China Nuclear General (CNG) announced in January that its French-designed Taishan nuclear power plant won't come into commercial operation until next year at the earliest.
"The time for Taishan Unit 1 and Taishan Unit 2 to commence commercial operation was adjusted to the first half of 2017 and the second half of 2017, respectively," CNG said in a Jan. 6 announcement on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
Taishan Unit 1 is still in the commissioning phase, while Taishan Unit 2 was only 78 percent completed by the end of 2015, it said.
Meanwhile, the delays at the U.S.$7.7 billion plant, which lies just 80 kilometers west of Macau, are causing further concern and uncertainty for local residents.
A resident of Xintou village near Chixi township, on the outskirts of Guangdong's Taishan city, said the plant lies just two kilometers from his home.
Construction work is still continuing on the site, and local residents have been informed by local officials that the start date has been postponed until 2017, the resident, who gave only a surname, Xu, said.
"They didn't say anything about [the reason]," Xu said. "Of course we are worried, because it's very close to where we live."
Xu said no arrangements have been made to relocate residents from villages close to the site.
"Of course we are against it because it will cause pollution," Xu said. "We are worried about the effects of radiation ... especially on children, who have many decades of life ahead of them."
A second Chixi resident surnamed Yao said local people had no choice but to accept the plant on their doorsteps.
"They've built it, anyway, whether we supported it or not," Yao said. "I'm not worried about stuff like that ... it should be pretty safe, right?"
Calls to the Taishan nuclear power plant and to CNG rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.
Last April, tests in France found that excessive carbon in the steel that formed the EPR reactor’s top and bottom could lead to unexpected cracks that could later spread, Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper reported at the time.
The plant’s two advanced 1.75GW pressurized water reactors are the largest single-piece electric generators in the world, and have a strong safety reputation, it said.
But France's nuclear safety authority, the ASN, raised concerns over the EPR reactors destined for the Taishan plant, saying the reactors hadn't been subjected to the most rigorous form of testing.
It said some mechanical properties can be measured only by destructive tests, which had not been carried out on the Taishan reactors.
It said problems that could lead to cracks in the reactor vessel can be detected only by destroying an identical reactor vessel during testing.
Manufacturer Areva said it would continue tests and make recommendations for compensatory measures if needed, ASN said.
The Taishan plant will run two third-generation pressurized water reactors known as EPRs, and recently completed a round of initial start-up tests at the end of January, according to CNG.
The completion of the test, which checks the initial start-up of fluid systems and support systems, was hailed as the first to be completed on an EPR.
The testing followed an on-site safety inspection by China's National Nuclear Safety Administration in late December.
Risk to Hong Kong
Developments in Taishan are also being closely watched in densely populated neighboring Hong Kong.
Ray Yeung, communications officer at Greenpeace in Hong Kong, said the addition of yet another nuclear power plant in Guangdong further raises the risk of an accident in the densely populated Pearl River Delta.
"Hong Kong is very close to Guangdong, and we have a large number of nuclear power plants in our immediate vicinity, which causes a lot of concern for people," Yeung said.
"If a nuclear accident did occur, we would be strongly affected, and [the addition of the Taishan plant] just raises the risk of that happening," he said.
Yeung said concerns are further being fueled by a lack of explanation from the Chinese government about the reasons for the delay.
"There is a lack of transparency in mainland China," he said.
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.