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Is China's nuclear power risky?

Aug. 29, 2011 at 1:04 PM   |   Comments

BEIJING, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- By settling for cheap technology, China has "vastly increased" the risk of a nuclear accident, claim diplomatic cables from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, The Guardian newspaper reports.

The U.S. Embassy cables from August 2008, released by WikiLeaks, warned that China's choice of technology would be a century old by the time dozens of China's reactors come to the end of their lifespan.

In one of the August 2008 cables, the embassy suggested "continuous high-level advocacy" on behalf of Westinghouse to push its AP-1000 reactor, noting that China was in the process of building 50-60 new nuclear plants by 2020, the newspaper reports. At that time, China was keen on building its CPR-1000 reactors, based on old Westinghouse technology.

Choosing CPR-100 rather than building a fleet of state-of-the art reactors, one cable warned, China would be burdened with technology that, by the end of its lifetime, will be 100 years old.

"By bypassing the passive safety technology of the AP1000, which, according to Westinghouse, is 100 times safer than the CPR-1000, China is vastly increasing the aggregate risk of its nuclear power fleet," the cable said.

Passive safety technology allows a reactor to automatically shut down if there is a disaster.

China's state council approved four CPR-1000s just days before the Japanese Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis which was triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Beijing temporarily halted construction on new or renovated nuclear reactors following the Fukushima disaster but the China Nuclear Energy Association said last week that safety inspectors had concluded inspections, which could pave the way for construction to resume.

With 26 reactors currently under construction, China accounts for almost half of all nuclear reactors being built around the world, the World Nuclear Association says.

The activation earlier this month of a 1-gigawatt nuclear unit at Ling Ao brings China's nuclear capacity up to 11.878 gigawatts, and the total number of active reactors to 14.

China's latest five-year plan calls for 11.4 percent of the country's energy needs to come from non-fossil fuel sources, with 43 gigawatts from nuclear power. As the world's biggest consumer of energy, China now relies on coal for more than 70 percent of its energy needs.

"The open question remains how the Chinese government is going to improve nuclear safety," wrote Qiang Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Environmental Science and Technology in April. "This country still lacks a fully independent nuclear safety regulatory agency."

Topics: Wikileaks
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