China suspends work on S$20b nuclear waste project following protests

Shipping containers are seen unloaded at a port area in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, China on August 8.
Shipping containers are seen unloaded at a port area in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, China on August 8. PHOTO: REUTERS

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - The city of Lianyungang in east China has suspended preliminary work on a nuclear waste processing plant following days of protests, it said on Wednesday (Aug 10).

The 100 billion yuan (S$20.2 billion) project, to be run by the state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) in collaboration with France's Areva, was scheduled to start construction in 2020 and be completed by 2030, but reports that Lianyungang would be chosen as the site sparked protests starting at the weekend among local residents concerned about the health risks of nuclear waste.

"The Lianyungang Municipal People's Government has decided to suspend site selection and preliminary work on the nuclear recycling project," it said in a notice posted on its website (http://www.lyg.gov.cn).

It did not give further details.

In a report published on Monday by the official local newspaper, the Lianyungang Daily, the local government said "no final decision had been made" on the location of the plant. It threatened to take legal action against "illegal elements" it accused of "fomenting social disorder" and spreading rumours about the project.

Lianyungang, in the province of Jiangsu, is the location of the Tianwan nuclear project, which currently consists of two Russian-designed reactors. Two more units are now under construction and there are plans to expand further.

China has ambitions to become a world leader in nuclear power. It had 30 reactors in commercial operation by the end of June this year, amounting to 28 gigawatts of capacity. It is aiming to raise that to 58 GW by the end of 2020.

However, it is struggling to resolve bottlenecks in the industry, including fuel processing, waste recycling, grid access and a shortage of qualified staff.

High-profile government-driven publicity campaigns designed to promote nuclear power have not stopped Chinese citizens from taking action against nuclear projects.

In 2013, residents in the city of Heshan in Guangdong province took to the streets to protest against a uranium processing plant scheduled to be built in the city. The project was eventually cancelled.