How should Hong Kong react to China's nuclear expansion?
Arguably, the influence of Hong Kong's vehicles for public expression - e.g. an open press, the ability to ask questions in the Legislative Council, the right to dissenting assembly - have helped enhance safety and management at the Daya Bay nuclear power plant. That has been beneficial not only for Hong Kong people but also for the people of Guangdong, and indeed for all Chinese people who use or live near nuclear facilities, in so far as Daya Bay was a bellwether for the country's nuclear development.
This is a role Hong Kong can continue to play, but it is a role that requires discussion, learning, and wise counsel. Experts on nuclear operations, safety, and risk management play a uniquely important part, as well as utilities, government, the media, research and education institutions, civil society and the broader public.
Finally, a healthy and rigorous discussion on the expansion of nuclear power should open our thinking to the advantages and trade-offs across the energy spectrum. During the three months from 11 March 2011 that Hong Kong newspapers featured the Fukushima accident regularly on their front pages, on less prominent pages they also reported at least 20 separate coal mine incidents across China in which over 140 people lost their lives, and dozens were missing or injured. The lives of over 400 villagers in Sichuan were endangered by a nearby coal mine, and civil unrest in Inner Mongolia was directly linked to coal operations.
The cursory descriptions of most of these incidents indicate that they are regarded as humdrum in the local media. Hong Kong people should be as much concerned about the actuality of harm to public health in China's total energy scene as the potential for harm from the nuclear sector. Shouldn't the same concern for human life and environmental integrity that characterizes the scrutiny of the nuclear industry be applied across the board of energy options in China, including coal, hydropower, and even wind and solar?