Alarmed by the nuclear disaster in Japan, China has ordered a comprehensive safety assessment of all nuclear plants under construction and suspended approval of new plants pending formulation of new safety regulations.
In a statement released on Wednesday, the State Council urged using “the most advanced standards” for the safety checks and told officials to immediately cease construction of the plants that do not conform to those standards.
China’s move came as Japan’s catastrophe threw a spotlight on its ambitious nuclear expansion plan. The energy-hungry country currently operates 13 nuclear reactors, all built along its eastern and southern coasts. It is also building 27 reactors, accounting for about 40 percent of all reactors under construction around the world. On top of that, approval has been granted to another 32.
To speed up the construction process, China has fast-tracked approvals for new plants in the past two years, causing concerns about safety among nuclear experts around the world.
Foreign experts have been unnerved by the massive hiring of young and inexperienced regulators by the Chinese nuclear safety authority in its bid to keep up with the building schedule.
China’s Wednesday decision to freeze nuclear approvals shows it took Japan’s catastrophe as a wake-up call. But China is unlikely to scale back its existing nuclear program.
On Saturday, a Chinese official in charge of environmental protection was quoted as saying that while China would learn from Japan’s problems, it will not change its plans for developing nuclear power.
Given Japan’s tragedy, it is only natural that China’s big push for nuclear power raises safety concerns in Korea. If accidents take place at any of the nuclear plants built in China, Korea will be the first to be affected.
In Wednesday’s statement, the State Council stressed that “safety is our top priority in developing nuclear power plants.” We hope China’s new safety regulations ensure that the most advanced standards are implemented in its plants.
At the same time, we urge the Korean government to boost collaboration with China in the nuclear sector for information exchange and sharing of regulatory expertise.