Japan nuclear crisis sparks concern and scrutiny across Asia

China suspends nuclear project approvals
March 17, 2011
Wreckage of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant

China's State Council has indefinitely suspended safety approvals for new nuclear plants in the strongest sign yet that the quake-ravaged northeast Japan, and the deepening crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, may affect China's ambitious nuclear expansion plan. Korea, India and Thailand have also put their nuclear plans and operations under review but Indonesia says it will still go ahead with its first nuclear power development.

"We will temporarily suspend approval of nuclear power projects, including those in the preliminary stages of development," China's State Council said in a statement.

The Council called for use of "the most advanced standards" to proceed with a safety assessment of all nuclear plants under construction. "Any hazards must be thoroughly dealt with, and those that do not conform to safety standards must immediately cease construction," the statement said.

The statement said all reactors in operation in China are safe and the country remains unaffected by radioactive leakages following explosions at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. "The radioactive leakages won't affect public health in China since they are diluted by the air and sea," the statement said, citing nuclear experts.

All six of the Fukushima Daiichi plant's reactors are now reportedly under strain following a third blast in four days and a fire at the number four reactor. Fuel rods in reactors three and four were reported to be close to melt-down having been exposed and helicopters were today bombarding both reactors with water in attempts to prevent a complete meltdown.

More serious than Three Mile Island

US Energy Secretary Steven Chu has said that the situation at the plant appears to be more serious than the partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania in 1979.

According to reports, Tokyo Electric Power Company is near to completing a new line to supply power to the stricken plant and resume pumping cooling water, but the question remains whether it will be in place in time.

Despite the moratorium on new safety approvals, experts in various reports have raised doubts that the new measures would have much overall effect on China's ambitious nuclear agenda. Last year alone, the central government approved 34 new nuclear power plant projects of which 26 have already been initiated, accounting for around 40 percent of the world's nuclear power plants in current construction.

Last weekend, the National People's Congress approved the 12th 5-year-Plan, which includes plans to build an additional 40GW of nuclear power. China currently operates six plants along its eastern and southern coasts, including one at Daya Bay within 50 km of Hong Kong and Shenzhen, which have a combined population of 16 million.

"The suspension (of new project approvals) is just a temporary one and will not influence China's long-term nuclear power construction plans," Lin Boqiang, director of the Center for Chinese Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University was quoted by Reuters.

"This is clearly the right thing to do and it is what every country will be doing to ensure that ordinary people are reassured about the safety of nuclear power plants," he said.

The Shaw Group Inc, which is leading a consortium to build four reactors in China, said the new generation AP1000 technology was safer and would have coped better with the Japanese quake and tsunami, and that lessons would be learned.

"At this time, we do not believe there will be an impact on Shaw's nuclear projects currently under construction in the United States and China. Our customers have indicated they intend to move forward, and we believe the construction time-lines will continue as planned," the company said in a statement.