As Japanese authorities struggle to contain radiation leaks at the quake-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant, China is powering ahead with its new reactor program, sparking safety fears from environmental groups and local residents who say they lack information.
The U.S.$8.3 billion Taishan nuclear power plant in the densely populated Pearl River Delta in Guangdong province's Taishan city is currently under construction and slated to begin operation in December, using an imported European Pressurized Reactor with the biggest capacity in the world.
A second reactor at the plant, a joint venture between China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Co. (CGNPC) and Electricite de France (EDF), is scheduled to come online in December 2014.
But the plans have fueled concerns among environmentalists in neighboring Hong Kong, home to more than 7 million people, where a relatively free media already keeps a close eye on the nearby Daya Bay nuclear power station in Guangdong's Shenzhen city.
"This is the biggest reactor in the world; it's 100 times bigger than the Daya Bay reactor, and it contains three times as much radioactive material as the Fukushima No. 1 reactor," Hong Kong engineer and sustainability activist Albert Lai told RFA during a meeting of environmental groups on Wednesday.
Lai, who heads the Professional Commons network of activists, said the Taishan nuclear plant would produce seven times more radiation than an average nuclear power plant.
"If something went wrong, the results would be far, far worse than Fukushima," he said.
He said activists are also concerned that the Chinese government has failed to publish detailed information on the specifications of the plant, quality control documents, or environmental impact assessments.
"The fact that this is all taking place inside a black box gets people very worried," Lai said.
He said Professional Commons, along with eight other groups, has penned an open letter to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government calling on officials to transmit their concerns to provincial authorities in Guangdong.
A resident of Taishan's Chixi township surnamed Hong said he is against the plant.
"Who would want this sort of thing [in their backyard]? Of course I don't want it [here]," Hong said.
But he added: "Ordinary people don't know about [what goes on], because they never provide an explanation."
A second Chixi resident surnamed Han said she had heard about the project, but that little information has been forthcoming from the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
"We have no understanding of the project, so how could we be worried?" she said. "We don't even know what risks there could be."
An official who answered the phone at the Taishan municipal government offices on Wednesday declined to comment on the project.
"I don't really know about this," the official said. "You will have to contact the relevant departments."
The Taishan plant means that China now has the largest per-unit installed nuclear capacity in the world.
However, a former senior official in China’s nuclear power industry called on Beijing to be more open about its plans in order to ease fears in neighboring Macau and Hong Kong, former colonial outposts that returned to Chinese rule in the late 1990s.
Li Yulun, a former vice-president of the China National Nuclear Corp said China's nuclear industry and regulator should disclose to the public all information about the plants and the safety measures taken, and "dispel their worries.”
China National Nuclear Corp oversees all nuclear operations in China, whether civilian or military nuclear.
The environmental group Greenpeace reported in January 2012 that recurring defects had been found in the plant’s construction and that radiation levels at Taishan are already 1.4 times higher than around the Daya Bay plant.
The Guangdong provincial government announced it had shelved plans for a nuclear plant in Jiangmen, also in the Pearl River delta, following protests by thousands of people in July.
"There are two extremely important bits of information the government should release: the environmental impact assessment of the plant and the safety evaluation of the plant," Li told reporters in Macau recently.
In Western countries, information on nuclear power plants is in the public domain.
But he said Guangdong is an ideal location for nuclear power plants, owing to the "improbability of natural disasters such as earthquakes."
Japan on Tuesday pledged nearly U.S.$500 million to contain leaks and decontaminate radioactive water from the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, stepping up government efforts to cope with the legacy of the worst atomic disaster in a quarter of a century.
Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.