On August 18, 2007, China officially started the construction of the
Hongheyan nuclear power plant, 110 km north of Dalian city in
Liaoning province, kicking off a new round of nuclear power building
in China. Using China's own CPR 1000 nuclear technology, the
Hongheyan nuclear power plant will have six reactors, each with a
capacity of 1,000 MW. Though Chinese media reported an assurance
from governmental officials on the safety of nuclear reactors, in a rare
stance China Daily publicized concerns over nuclear safety from
residents in nearby Changxing Island.

(663.5843) Pacific Environment - The third largest island in China, Changxing Island was once mapped into a national Spotted Seal nature reserve. Each spring, spotted seals and their pups harbor along the western shore of the Changxing Island while migrating to the open seas of the West Pacific.
The site of the Hongheyan nuclear power plant used to be a breeding ground of the spotted seal and a stopover for migratory birds traveling between the Russian Far East and Australia. Being a coastal flat with sparsely populated villages, this area was chosen as a potential site for a nuclear power plant as early as 1978. In 1995, nearly ten years after the Chernobyl accident, the construction plan was revisited. At the time, a senior official was opposed to the building of a nuclear power plant near the tourist city of Dalian. The construction was subsequently postponed for ten years.
Wang Zhifeng, a Dalian retired worker, expressed his outrage on the proposed nuclear plant, saying it would mean doomsday for China's spotted seal and the entire Bohai Sea marine ecosystem. In the spring of 2006, Wang learned about the proposed reactor and the impending construction activity from the Dalian Environment Protection Agency. According to Wang, the government of Dalian was not even invited during the decision-making process of the proposed Hongheyang NPP and no adequate Environmental Impact Assessment has been conducted. It is very likely some local environmental officials intentionally revealed the difference between the Dalian government and the advocates of nuclear power plant. But no one seems to be able to constitute an effective force to stop the nuclear power project.
But concerns about the growth of nuclear power are widely spread across the country in light of China's intended new nuclear era. China says it plans to build 40 nuclear reactors with a total capacity of 40,000MW by 2020. Eighteen Chinese provinces have been bidding for hosting nuclear power plants and have been actively in designing blueprints for the growth of nuclear power.
In March 2005, Premier Wen Jiabao publicly announced his support for a rapid development of the nuclear power sector. The China Nuclear Science
Academy submitted a letter to Chinese leadership urging the authority to prioritize nuclear power production due to China's energy shortage and rising demand for electricity. Currently, nuclear power consists of 12% of the total electricity output, while the largest part of the produced power comes from coal. However, it is estimated that China will run out of coal by the year 2050.
Besides the real shortage of power, economic incentive is another reason why local provinces actively lobby to have a nuclear reactor in their own province. International business interest is another factor-- Westing-house and the Russian nuclear power sector have been cultivating good relations with the Chinese government and actively promote the sale of their equipment.
China is ill-prepared for the coming of nuclear power. Besides the astronomical financial investment required, lack of nuclear technical personnel could pose long term challenges. Only three Chinese universities supply nuclear-related talents. Given the lack of training and experience, as well as lax quality management, China's nuclear power facility would not stay immune to the structural problems already widely occurring across economical sectors.
Chinese citizens worry about nuclear development Most citizens' nuclear awareness comes from memories of the Chernobyl accident in 1986. Chinese media had covered the catastrophe without any censorship. News about nuclear accidents in Japan's nuclear power plants has also been timely reported in China. Chinese media had also been open in publicizing anti-nuclear rallies in Taiwan and planned Taiwanese nuclear waste shipments to North Korea and international criticism around it. And each year, the Stop Castor campaign in Germany also reaches the Chinese TV news.
However, environmental impacts of nuclear power and nuclear wastes within China have not been reported much in Chinese media. Most recent publicity has focused on the transformation of a previous nuclear testing site in Qinghai into a radiation-free tourist site. Only modest coverage of uranium mining radiation incidents were reported in Chinese media. Therefore, Chinese people in general are less aware that the nuclear threat is close to their own regions, and no longer just an issue limited to other countries.

This situation is going to change. In Shandong province there are three proposed nuclear power stations, two near Wehai's famous Silver Beach resort and one near Rushan, six kilometers away. Last year, a well organized anti-nuclear petition campaign started against these proposed nuclear plants by Dahai (meaning 'Ocean') Commune. The founder of the Dahai Commune, nicknamed as Yi Wuchen ('Wearing-No-Dust'), walked along China's coastlines in the year 2000 and witnessed first hand how Chinese seas were under serious ecological threat. Later, Yi Wuchen initiated the Dahai Commune.
With help from student volunteers, the group built up an online community of ocean lovers. Through this online community, in 2006, Dahai Commune spread its open letter to Premier Wen Jiabo, expressing public opposition on the planned three reactors on the Shangdong peninsula. A petition letter was also delivered to the State Environment Protection Administration to voice their environmental concerns. Local concerned citizens in Weihai also formed a self-initiated network called "Silver Beach Environmental Initiators". They have been actively appealing to various governmental agencies in Beijing to reflect the need of protecting Silver Beach. The group stated that for such a nuclear project, a public hearing should have been organized before the plan was approved. The group demands that the government to promote renewable energy to meet energy needs.
Another anti-nuclear campaign happened in Hunan on July 25, when the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) signed an agreement with Hunan provincial government to build the Taohuajiang Nuclear Power Station. This would be the first nuclear power plant in an inland province. Similar online anti-nuclear debates on nuclear power plans in provinces like Fujian and Hainan were spread on the internet.
Northwest China, a legacy of nuclear wasteland Nuclear weapon testing in Xinjiang and Qinghai has led to a massive increase in cancer and congenital diseases among people living close to the sites. Chinese government documents show higher cancer rates and other more common diseases like tumors, leukemia and birth defects such as cleft palates in the regions. In Xinjiang, Lake Lop Nor was wiped out from the map due to nuclear testing and related human activities.
In Gansu, uranium mining and corruption of officials with the military mining company have led to grave human tragedies. One Chinese activist who spoke out is Sun Xiaodi, a former Project 792 worker. Since 1988 the whistleblower has repeatedly traveled to Beijing to reveal the scandal of corruption that saturates Chinese nuclear industry, government funding allocated to relocate uranium company staff, as well as frequent discharges of radioactive waste into the Gansu waterways. In 2006, Sun Xiaodi was awarded the Nuclear-Free Future Resistance Award by the international community. (see Nuclear Monitor 650, 15 December 2006)
International Opinion In Asia, the most well-connected anti•nuclear network is the No Nukes Asia Forum, which has organized forums in various East Asian countries. Though the member groups in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have been active nuclear watchdogs, the decentralized network does not have much capacity to function as a facilitator of the anti•nuclear movement in mainland China.
In July 2007 in Niger, where a Chinese company is searching for uranium supply, Niger's Tuareg-led rebels kidnapped a Chinese uranium dealer, Zhang Guohua, an executive at Chinese uranium company Sino-U. The group demanded his company stop its activities in the desert region. Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ) said they cannot allow the Chinese to continue extracting natural resources while civilians are being killed.
On March 8 2007, the Chinese language Southern Weekend mentioned a German Green Party environmental policy spokesperson and also a congress person who showed her disappointment over China's pursuit of nuclear power.
Despite concerns in Australia on exporting uranium to China, China will use its supply to expand its nuclear weaponry. Environmental organizations like Friends of the Earth-Australia, are worried about uranium mining's impact domestically. The Anti Nuclear Alliance of West Australia has also been trying to work with Chinese groups and audience to bring awareness on uranium mining and its negative impacts.
The Australian government estimates that by 2020 the Chinese demand for uranium could be equal to Australia's entire annual export performance. Even though nuclear energy will not be used in Australia for sometime, it still considers export to China. Within the Australian politics, the Greens in parliament, like their counterparts in Germany, disagree with uranium export to China. (However, uranium export to China may be less likely after Labor won the Australian general elections on November 25 - addition WISE-Amsterdam)

Future trends Much like the hydropower development boom, nuclear power is another energy sector which was put forward by governmental companies in the name of satisfying an energy shortage. As many petitioners highlighted, the huge financial investment in these projects will become a hotbed for corruption at different levels. The social and environmental impacts would be enormous and risk of any possible radiation accidents would destroy the confidence and trust of citizens on the safety of the nuclear power plants.
Current online anti-nuclear campaigns have mostly been "not in my backyard" ones. And it would be logical to form an inter-regional alliance for joint advocacy. But with the increased knowledge and capacity at Chinese environmental groups, as well as the growth of sophistication of anti-nuclear campaign organizers, a full-fledged anti-nuclear movement will soon be in the making.
Source and contact: Wen Bo. Wen Bo is China director of Pacific Environment and can be reached at savechinaseas@163.com