Fears Over Nuke Plant

Activists in Hong Kong demand government oversight of a controversial power plant.

2011-04-19
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Daya-Bay-Nuclear-Plant-305.jpg A screenshot showing the Daya Bay Nuclear Plant taken from the Web site of Hong Kong Nuclear Investment Co., a CLP unit that owns 25 percent of the plant.
RFA

The Japanese nuclear disaster has sparked calls in Hong Kong for government-backed monitoring of waste and emissions from Guangzhou's neighboring Daya Bay nuclear power station, amid growing concern over nuclear power in the region.

Civic Party legislator Albert Lai said a recent opinion poll by his party showed that 62 percent of people in the former British colony opposed further expansion of nuclear power, while 66 percent said they thought Hong Kong should stop using nuclear power altogether.

"What the government needs to do is set up a high-level, independent commission with non-government participation," Lai said on Tuesday.

"Its main task would be nuclear safety, and it could advise the government on the one hand, and deal with the public on the other," he said.

"People will only have confidence in something with such a high degree of transparency."

The Daya Bay plant, just across the border from densely populated Hong Kong, has recently shown slightly raised levels of radioactive noble gases, halogen and aerosol emissions, according to Greenpeace campaigner Prentice Koo Wai-muk.

Koo said Monday that while Daya Bay's emissions of such gases were usually at around 0.1 percent of permitted levels, the levels had been rising slowly from 2.07 percent of permitted levels in June, to 5.25 percent in December.

He said Greenpeace would continue to monitor output from the plant, although the group had to rely on data supplied by the plant itself.

"Right now, the information they release is really insufficient," said Koo, who recently visited Chernobyl to study the aftereffects of that disaster. "For example, why are they releasing radioactive gases?"

"What is the concentration of such gases ... and what effects do they have on human health?"

He called on Daya Bay stakeholders Hong Kong Nuclear Investment Co. to release more information. "[They] haven't even given us the basic information," Koo said.

Plan for protest

Greenpeace has said it plans to protest in Hong Kong's Central business district next Sunday to call on the territory's Special Administration Region (SAR) government to monitor safety at the Daya Bay nuclear plant directly.

It says a number of concerns have arisen about safety at the plant following Japan's nuclear disaster in the wake of a major earthquake in March.

Activists and lawmakers have accused the SAR government of failing to ensure proper oversight of Daya Bay, given Hong Kong's involvement in the plant, Koo said.

"Lots of experts, even those on Daya Bay's safety inspection committee, agree that in theory, the plant should emit no radioactive material if it is operating perfectly," Koo said.

"So what is the reason for the continued emission of radioactive materials?"

"Since the Fukushima nuclear accident ... we believe there is a need for continued monitoring of the operation of the reactors," he added.

Following a RFA report last year, Hong Kong’s leading electricity supplier, CLP Holdings, admitted that the Daya Bay nuclear power plant in southern China had experienced a “very small leakage” from a fuel rod.

The plant saw a “small increase” in radioactive substances in cooling water at the plant’s Unit 2 on May 23, CLP said in a statement at the time, adding that there was no impact to the public.

CLP announced a further radiation leak on Oct. 27.

Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station opened in 1994 to wide criticism because of its proximity to Hong Kong’s city center, just 50 kms (30
miles) away. More than 1 million people signed a petition opposing the plant during its construction.

Cooling water contamination

City University engineering professor and nuclear safety expert Luk Bing-lam said there had also been media reports over the presence of the radioactive isotope tritium in the cooling water inside the reactor.

"Tritium has a half-life of 12 years, and it can't penetrate the human body," Luk said. "So it's not going to pose a threat to humans if it is found in the atmosphere."

"But if it's in the water, and people consume it by eating or drinking it, then it can stay in the bowels for more than 10 days before being expelled."

"All in all, its impact isn't too great."

Calls to Daya Bay Safety Inspection Commission chairman Raymond Ho Chung-tai and commission member Lee Chack-fan went unanswered during office hours on Monday.

But Hong Kong Nuclear Investment Co. said in a statement that the company had published details of tritium levels emitted by the plant since June 2010.

"Tritium is a natural by-product generated in the nuclear power production process and is present in the reactor cooling water," HKNIC said.

"The purification system will treat the reactor cooling water in a continuous manner, with the minute amount of tritium left behind being discharged according to normal procedures of the power station, which is undertaken strictly in compliance with the relevant requirements of the State," the statement said.

"There is NO mishandling of the water discharge procedure."

"The release of this minute amount of tritium was NOT arisen from releasing the pressure level in the reactor and has nothing to do with the fuel rod matter identified in May last year," it said.

It said tritium levels in the waste water from Daya Bay were extremely low and stable.

A security official for the Hong Kong government issued the same information when contacted for a comment on Monday.

Reported by Dai Weisen for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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