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Hong Kong electric company plans floating LNG terminal near Soko Islands

CLP Power says project will open city up to additional source of gas supply and help meet post-2020 fuel mix requirements

CLP Power is eyeing the eastern waters of the Soko Islands, off southern Lantau, for a floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal that will enable it to tap more gas from international markets.

This will come nearly a decade after it shelved a land-based version of the project in the southern Sokos despite government approval. A 25-year gas deal with the mainland was signed instead.

The project will help it meet new requirements for half of the city’s electricity needs to come from natural gas after 2020.

CLP, which supplies Lantau, Kowloon and the New Territories, remains tight-lipped on details such as costs and tariff implications, but said the facility would provide the city with additional sources of gas at more competitive market prices and spread out price risks.

CLP’s gas is now piped from Central Asia via the Second West-East Gas Pipeline as part of the contract with the mainland and from the depleting Yacheng gas field near Hainan. As a result,it has little bargaining power over prices.

HK Electric, which supplies Hong Kong and Lamma, obtains Australian and Qatari gas via an LNG receiving terminal in Dapeng, Shenzhen.

“If we don’t have another source…we will have to continue to buy gas from the mainland and our bargaining power will remain weak,” said CLP senior director Edward Chiu On-tin.

The offshore facility, spanning less than a hectare in size, will likely handle about 30 to 50 carriers a year. LNG transferred to the terminal will be converted back into gas and piped to Black Point Power Station in Tuen Mun for use in power generation.

While 22 such terminals are already in operation worldwide, Chiu admitted such a project would be first for Hong Kong. “We will have to consult the Town Planning Board and the Marine Department” on planning and regulation matters, Chiu said.

The company will be submitting a project brief to the Environmental Protection Department in due course.

From there, an environmental impact assessment will be conducted, which will address issues such as impacts on the planned Soko Islands and Southwest Lantau marine parks. Chiu expected “temporary impacts” during the construction phase, but did not foresee any major ecological harm in the long-run as no land reclamation was required.

Dolphin Conservation Society chairman Dr Samuel Hung Ka-yiu said the project did indeed have a smaller footprint than the original land-based project, but posed the same environmental challenges.

“The main facility is located in key habitat used by the finless porpoise and undersea gas pipes are likely to pass through other marine parks around Lantau.”

WWF-Hong Kong’s Samantha Lee mei-wah said regasification – a process which involves pumping seawater to heat the LNG back into gas form – could disrupt fisheries. “This freezing water is discharged and the sudden reduction in seawater temperatures can harm marine life,” she said.

CLP says other locations are being considered, but the waters east of the Soko Islands will remain a “high priority” option.

Energy Advisory Committee member Dr William Yu Yuen-ping said the facility would provide Hong Kong with cheaper gas, but would likely be an expensive fixed asset with a long payback period.

The Environment Bureau said it would review the plan upon receiving CLP’s project proposal.
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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/1935188/hong-kong-electric-company-plans-floating-lng

Hong Kong’s hybrid electric buses found to use more fuel than normal ones

‘The numbers don’t look satisfactory,’ says environment official

Hybrid electric double-decker buses actually guzzle more fuel than conventional buses because of Hong Kong’s hilly roads and hot weather, according to preliminary results from an ongoing trial.

Environmental Protection Department officials admitted the six hybrid buses, trialled over a year, were “not as efficient as they thought”. They pointed to heavy use of air conditioning systems, which accounted for up to 40 per cent of the energy used in the summer.

Although fuel performance was better in winter, the buses still used 3.4 per cent more fuel on average than regular buses.

“The numbers don’t look satisfactory right now,” assistant director for air policy Mok Wai-chuen told the legislature’s environmental affairs panel on Wednesday.

“Because buses in Hong Kong use a lot of energy in air conditioning, the benefits of the hybrid mode are not maximised. We are allowing [the manufacturer] time to improve designs … and will come back to report on this later.”

The government spent HK$33 million helping the three franchised bus companies acquire the six hybrids in a bid to explore less polluting vehicle options. The two-year trial began in November 2014.

Lawmaker Tony Tse Wai-chuen questioned why none of the obvious issues were identified before the start of the trial and feared the experiment would end up being “futile”.

Separately, the department announced the start of its latest review of the city’s air quality objectives. These objectives were last tweaked in 2014.

It set up a working group to conduct the review and look into control measures “for other lesser air pollution sources” such as aviation emissions and volatile organic compounds, a major component of ozone.

The latest official data shows ambient concentrations of PM10, PM2.5, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide dropping 21, 24, 13 and 31 per cent respectively from 2011 to 2015.

Roadside concentrations fell 26, 21, 19 and 33 per cent in the same period respectively. But harmful ozone pollution at both general and roadside stations is still on the rise.

The Clean Air Network urged the government to set the new objectives according to the World Health Organisation’s most stringent air quality guidelines, as several of the current objectives only met its interim targets, which it said did not provide adequate protection to public health.
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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/1932126/hong-kongs-hybrid-electric-buses-found-use-more

Balance of power: The future for nuclear power in Hong Kong

Today the Post looks at the debate over how to meet Hong Kong’s future energy needs, in the first instalment of a two-part series five years after the Fukushima disaster

In 18 years an agreement under which Hong Kong imports a large chunk of its electricity from Guangdong province is scheduled to come to an end.

The power is generated at Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station in Shenzhen.

That station’s two pressurised water reactors produce 14 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year. Nearly 80 per cent of that goes to Hong Kong and the rest to Guangdong.

But 2034 will also mark the 40th year of operations at the 1,868 megawatt facility. That’s the minimum age at which an average nuclear power plant must be decommissioned and cleaned up, a costly and complex process that many nuclear powers around the world are only recently beginning to fathom.

As the world marks the fifth anniversary of Japan’s Fukushima disaster this week, energy experts and environmentalists are debating whether there is a nuclear future in Hong Kong beyond 2034.

Pro-nuclear voices believe fission is still the most reliable and stable “baseload” energy source for Hong Kong – one that emits virtually no carbon and is neither subject to the price swings of fossil fuels nor hindered by the supply constraints of renewable energy such as solar and wind.

Anti-nuclear groups believe the 2011 disaster gives reason enough for any country to phase out nuclear power. For Hong Kong and the densely populated Pearl River Delta region the possible impacts of a Fukushima-style breakdown are especially high.

Globally, the nuclear industry appears to be struggling. According to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 398 plants are now operating, down from 431 the year before Fukushima. With energy prices still bottoming out, competition from cheap coal, gas and subsidised renewables has muscled its way into the equation.

Steve Thomas, professor of energy policy at London’s University of Greenwich, said because of these issues, the prospects of nuclear, especially in America and Europe, are being limited.

In East Asia, nuclear power’s future is unclear post-Fukushima. As China and South Korea look to build more reactors, Taiwan’s new government has set a policy of phasing out nuclear by 2025.

Thomas said: “The cost of nuclear and renewables is cost neutral now. But while the cost curve for renewable energy is down, the one for nuclear will only go up.”

Even in Hong Kong the gap in unit cost between nuclear and the likes of coal and gas has widened.

Thomas also pointed to the cost of disposing of spent nuclear fuel “waste” and decommissioning plants. For example, despite a pledged permanent waste facility for Daya Bay’s spent fuel rods, they are stored in a temporary facility a few kilometres from the plant, sparking safety concerns.

“Governments don’t care too much about the decommissioning of plants or the cost of waste disposal because it so far down the line, but in the end, consumers will have to pay,” said Thomas.

CLP, the Hong Kong power company supplied by Daya Bay, said the plant included the charge for spent nuclear fuel and the cost of station decommissioning in the future, “with the intention that future consumers will not pay for today’s consumption”.

Hong Kong’s Environment Bureau remains tight-lipped on anything electricity-related beyond 2025. In an interview with the Post last November, Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing said the government would maintain an “open attitude” to nuclear after the Daya Bay contract ends.

Last year, the government announced that half of its power needs after 2020 would come from locally generated natural gas, with an unchanged 25 per cent from nuclear power.

A spokesman for CLP said the reactors at Daya Bay were, like most others, designed to last 40 years, but the life of most modern reactors could be extended up to around 60 years.

“Given that we still have 18 years to go to 2034, it is too early to comment on its operating life or nuclear power purchase beyond that point,” he said.

The company said the cost of nuclear was relatively stable since a large portion of it covered construction and only a small portion covered cost of nuclear fuel.

An Environment Bureau spokesman said importing power from the mainland grid remained a feasible option in the long-term. But he would not comment on specific details as it would “jeopardise” the government’s position and consumers’ interests amid discussions with the city’s two power suppliers on a new regulatory framework after 2018.

He said a study would be commissioned to look at how interconnection between the mainland’s and Hong Kong’s grids could be strengthened as well as that between the existing grids in the city.

Energy economist Dr William Yu Yuen-ping, a member of the government’s Energy Advisory Committee, said nuclear would most likely remain in the fuel mix, being the practical choice.

“From a perspective of energy policy, nuclear’s function as baseload power source will give Hong Kong impetus to keep nuclear in the mix [after 2034],” Yu said, who also heads the World Green Organisation environmental group.

Yu doubted there would be enough renewable energy, with the unpredictability of sunlight and wind speeds, to fill the shortfall without the city having to increase its reserve capacity.

He also doubted that natural gas could replace it, given its volatile prices.

Dr Luk Bing-lam, who chairs the Hong Kong Nuclear Society, an academic association that champions “nuclear literacy”, said another factor for Hong Kong to consider would be the mainland’s expansion in nuclear capacity, which the central government aims to double by 2020.

Luk said: “China will be using more nuclear so if Hong Kong doesn’t, we will be bearing all the risks but not reaping any of the benefits.”

If Daya Bay was headed for decommissioning, Luk urged the government to make a decision soon on whether or not nuclear would continue to be a part of Hong Kong’s future fuel mix.

“Competition for nuclear with other Chinese cities will heat up,” Luk said.

“Our position will get weaker as more time passes.”

He suggested that the government and CLP could consider tapping into nuclear from four reactors at the neighbouring Ling Ao plant, which – unlike Daya Bay – CLP does not have a stake in.

Greenpeace Hong Kong argues there is no rationale for continuing nuclear in Hong Kong’s fuel mix given the dangers of a Fukushima-style collapse near a densely populated region.

They also point to the dubious safety standards and speed of construction of mainland nuclear plants. As many as 39 reactors, spread across Guangdong province could be up and running within close proximity to the city in the next few decades.

Greenpeace senior campaigner Frances Yeung Hoi-shan urged the government to boost efforts into promoting energy efficiency and to incentivise using renewables. “Hong Kong should go nuclear-free by 2034,” she said.

But how difficult would it be for a city with such a narrow portfolio of fuel choices to ween itself off nuclear as the nation supplying it with nuclear continues to boost the share of atomic energy in its fuel mix?

Yeung pointed to the example of Seoul, South Korea, a city of 10 million which, through tough action by its municipal government has been able to promote more decentralised generation, more renewable energy production and energy sharing schemes, to reduce dependency on nuclear energy from power plants across the country.

This flies in the face of the national government’s policy, which is commits it to increasing the number of nuclear reactors from 24 by the end of 2015 to 26 by 2030.

“Hong Kong officials keep saying everything is too difficult, too expensive,” said Yeung.

“But the problem is there is no perseverance and no innovation. This is something that requires a vision, political leadership, creativity. We must also make use of the autonomy we have in setting our energy policy.”
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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/1922749/balance-power-future-nuclear-power-hong-kong

OWTFHoddesdon-vs-HKG

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CTA Letter to EPD on Landfill Gas Levels in Hong Kong

From: EPD
Sent: 26 February, 2016
To: CTA
Subject: Query on current levels of Landfill Gas in Hong Kong

Dear Mr. Middleton,

Thank you again for your email dated 12 Jan 2016 regarding the use of LFG.

You may well understand that LFG is generated as a result of physical, chemical and microbial processes that undergo within the waste cells of the landfill. The processes and hence the generation rate would vary from time to time according to different waste intake history, environmental conditions (e.g. temperature, extent of leachate circulation), and configurations of the landfill site (e.g. landfill depth and thickness of cover material), etc. It is noted that the LFG generation at local landfills has been relatively steady over the past few years. In any case, we have been closely monitoring the management of the landfills to ensure landfill operations are in accordance with stringent environmental standards.

As you have already noted that it is a government policy to encourage utilization of LFG recovered from the landfill sites. Apart from on-site utilization at all three strategic landfills, there have been arrangements for off-site utilization at NENT and SENT landfills. In order to make best use of the LFG recovered, EPD has been working closely with the landfill contractor of WENT Landfill in exploring and identifying various practicable beneficial use of surplus LFG recovered at the landfill site. As part of our on-going effort, we have taken the liberty to pass on the information of overseas experience in your email to the contractor for reference/consideration.

May I thank you again for your interest in the Hong Kong environment, which is very much appreciated and important for the continual enhancement of our local environment.

Regards,
H. S. Chan
for the Director of Environmental Protection Department

—————————————————————————————————————-

From: CTA
Sent: 12th January, 2016
To: EPD
Subject: Query on current levels of Landfill Gas in Hong Kong

Dear Gary

Thanks for your reply

In 2008 the LFG at the 3 sites collected was as follows: 26,600 m3 per hour

Obviously as the landfills get older and larger the LFG would normally increase but I note that the 2014 rate is 12.400/6,450/7,185 = 26,035 m3 per hour
which is lower than 2008, of which you state approx 80% (20,828 m3 per hour) would be beneficially used and the remainder (5,200 m3 per hour/ 124,800 m3 per day / 45,552,000 m3 per year)
is flared off.

That seems an awful lot of wasted methane and relevant pollution caused by the flaring. I understand methane is 21 times more damaging to the environment than CO2 but surely some better use
could be made of the gas ?

For example I note that companies like SITA promote liquid biomethane from landfill gas in UK and Europe – why not here too ?

http://www.sita.co.uk/downloads/Gasrec-web.pdf

Kind regards,
James Middleton
Chairman
www.cleartheair.org.hk

 

CTA Letter to Legco on Hong Kong Waste Management

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Gas unit to cut Lamma smog

Hongkong Electric will replace older generating units at Lamma Power Station with a new gas-fired combined cycle turbine unit in 2020 to reduce emissions.

http://www.thestandard.com.hk/section-news.php?id=165363&story_id=45941455&con_type=1&d_str=20160120

Hongkong Electric will replace older generating units at Lamma Power Station with a new gas-fired combined cycle turbine unit in 2020 to reduce emissions.

The more efficient L10 unit will help HK Electric meet the stringent emission requirements set by the government to increase the proportion of natural gas generation to 50 percent by 2020.

It has signed an agreement with Mitsubishi Corporation to commission the construction of L10, which is expected to cost HK$3 billion.

Managing director Wan Chi-tin, who signed the agreement with Mitsubishi in Tokyo, said the L10 will enable a cleaner power supply while maintaining reliability.

“When L10 is commissioned in 2020, it will enable HK Electric to further reduce our carbon footprint and other emissions while maintaining power supply reliability,” he said yesterday.

L10 is cleaner and more efficient after adopting combined cycle generation technology.

The company says the technology “is one of the cleanest, most popular and efficient ways to generate electricity by fossil fuels in the world.”

It also has greater fuel efficiency through generating additional power from its steam turbine, which uses the high- temperature exhaust gas from the gas turbine.

Gas generation produces fewer emissions than other fossil fuels, reducing its environmental impact.

Meanwhile, Secretary for Environment Wong Kam-sing said the government is working to reduce the maximum return ratio of the territory’s two electric companies.

Under the Scheme of Control Agreement with the government, each of the power companies is allowed to make a capped rate of return of 9.99 percent after tax on its average net fixed assets. It will expire in 2018.

On a radio program yesterday, Wong said the government wants to increase the use of renewable energy.

He said a public consultation last year found citizens they want to reduce the return rate to between six and eight percent.

“We should not aim at the lowest ratio possible, but a balanced one,” Wong said.

45,552,000 cubic meters of landfill gas is currently flared off per year from the 3 HKG open landfill sites

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Five Hong Kong electric buses pulled from service in under two weeks due to glitches

The No 11 Citybus went into operation on December 27, covering a circular route from Central Ferry Piers to Jardine’s Lookout.

The No 11 Citybus went into operation on December 27, covering a circular route from Central Ferry Piers to Jardine’s Lookout.

BYD, the Shenzhen-based manufacturer, blames minor software problem it says has now been fixed

Five electric buses have been taken out of service with glitches after less than two weeks on the road.

Checks on three Citybus vehicles and two from New World First Bus revealed problems with the exit doors, so they were called back to the depot for maintenance.

“The doors opened when the rubber trims of the door were pushed while the buses were still,” said a spokesman for New World Services, which owns the two franchised bus companies.

“This issue does not occur when the bus is in motion. We have recalled the buses and contacted the manufacturer to follow up the problem.”

The manufacturer, Shenzhen-based BYD, blamed minor problems with the software.

“We have updated the software and retuned the buses to NWFB and Citybus for a thorough inspection,” a spokeswoman said.

She stressed it was the first time anywhere in the world that the problem had surfaced and that the company would keep in close touch with the bus companies to ensure passenger safety.

The city’s first electric bus – a battery-powered, single-decker with 31 seats – hit the roads on December 27. The Citybus vehicle went into operation on the circular No 11 route from Central Ferry Piers to Jardine’s Lookout.

Two more Citybus circular routes, No 12 and 25A, started running over the next two days, while two New World First Bus routes, No 81 and 78, launched on December 28 and January 5.

The Transport Department said the buses had passed safety tests and it would keep an eye on the issue.

Breakdowns of electric buses made on the mainland have raised safety concerns.

The Hong Kong Productivity Council rolled out its first locally designed, made-in-China electric bus for road tests in October, but it caught fire a month later.

In 2013, Kowloon Motor Bus put a BYD green bus on trial for half a year, but if failed and was returned to the manufacturer.
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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/1899539/door-glitch-forces-hong-kong-electric-buses-road

Hong Kong fallout from China’s reckless nuclear ambitions feared

Unproven and possibly faulty nuclear reactors are being built on Hong Kong’s doorstep and throughout China, a country not known for its transparency or industrial safety, writes Stuart Heaver

Fifty years ago, when China first revealed its nuclear power ambitions, most in the West dismissed them as Maoist propaganda, but there is nothing imaginary about the nation’s current boom in nuclear energy – and not everyone is happy about it.

Scientists and conservationists fear the ever-increasing commercial and environmental pressure to expand the nuclear power sector means not enough attention is being paid to safety. Within a couple of decades, Hong Kong could be in close proximity to as many as 39 reactors, spread across Guangdong province. Two of them are nearing completion just 140km west of Hong Kong, in Taishan, in what has been labelled by green groups as the “most dangerous nuclear power plant in the world”.

We are very worried about Taishan and the design flaws in the reactor vessel and we would like to know what [China General Nuclear Power Group] are doing
Frances Yeung, Greenpeace Asia

“China is developing its nuclear capability too fast; they just don’t have enough trained staff or adequate independent safety infrastructure,” says civil engineer Albert Lai Kwong-tak, convenor of Hong Kong think tank the Professional Commons and a long-standing opponent of nuclear energy. Yet, despite the reservations of campaigners, China is not only the world’s biggest market for nuclear technology but, according to the World Nuclear Association (WNA), it is set to “go global”.

china-nuclear

“The only country that is building plants to a significant degree is China,” says nuclear industry analyst Mycle Schneider, from his Beijing hotel room. And the driving force behind the nuclear push is no mystery. The nation is trying to meet an increasing demand for electricity while curbing its emissions of carbon dioxide. According to the United States-based Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), from 1992 to 2012, electricity consumption grew from 666 billion kilowatt-hours to 4,468 billion kilowatt-hours – an average annual growth rate of about 10 per cent – and, currently, non-fossil fuels account for only about 12 per cent of supply in China.

The climate change agreement reached in Paris last month seems only to have increased the political pressure to expand nuclear energy production. China’s senior climate negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, told a news conference in Beijing last month that nuclear energy was “essential” to meet the nation’s 2030 climate change commitments.

“A more dynamic view is that there are [many] nuclear reactors being built around Hong Kong, so immediately the risk increases,” says Lai. According to data provided by the WNA, as well as the nine reactors already in operation, 18 are currently under construction, planned or proposed for Guangdong. There are less definite proposals for a further 12. (Nationally, 30 reactors are in operation, with 64 under construction or planned and another 92 proposed.)

build-nuclear

Lai is worried that, despite the track record at the Daya Bay nuclear plant, which has been supplying electricity to Hong Kong since 1994 and provides almost 25 per cent of the city’s needs, nuclear power is “not a mature technology”. He says there are still no proven safe means of disposing of radioactive waste and, despite pledges to build a dedicated facility, all of Daya Bay’s spent fuel rods are still in a temporary facility about 5km from the main plant.

“In Daya Bay, we adopted French technology, but we now have multiple technologies and much of it is unproven,” says Lai, echoing the official findings reported to China’s State Council in 2012 as part of a nuclear safety review in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster: “China has multiple types of nuclear reactors, multiple technologies and multiple standards of safety”.

The reactors being built in Taishan appear to be among the most problematic. Construction of the plant was begun by French nuclear energy giant Areva and the €8 billion (HK$67 billion) contract with China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) to install two third-generation European pressure reactors (EPR) there was heralded by Areva as “the largest international commercial contract signed in civil nuclear history”. The unveiling of the deal, at a ceremony in November 2007, was attended by the Chinese and French presidents in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. In order to save time and money, according to Areva’s official website, the plant was to use technology that had been proven at two EPR plants already under construction in Europe.

“Thanks to the operating experience gained by Areva’s teams on the two first-of-a-kind EPR reactors at Olkiluoto [in Finland] and Flamanville [in France], the project schedule has been shortened by 40 months,” reads a statement on Areva’s website.

It is astonishing that this statement has remained on the website because there is no operating experience to speak of; both Olkiluoto and Flamanville have yet to go online. Both are many years behind schedule and billions of euros over budget. Olkiluoto is already the subject of a complicated and expensive legal dispute between Areva and its partners in Finland.

Rather than being the third plant successfully using the technology, Taishan, surrounded by dense Pearl River Delta conurbations, is more likely to be operating untested EPR reactors, the first fully functioning ones on the planet, should they go into service. Both units are two years behind schedule and last April the news got a whole lot worse, when Pierre-Franck Chevet, head of French nuclear safety agency Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire (ASN), reported that a “serious anomaly affecting a crucial component of the nuclear power plant” had been detected.

“Some 92 nuclear power plants have already been abandoned mid-construction and Flamanville could be added to that list anytime soon,” says Schneider. “They found a technical fault [in the reactor casing] and it’s the same situation at Taishan. The material has not been manufactured to the correct technical specification. This is extremely complex.”

Chevet hastily flew to Beijing but the outcome of his meeting has yet to be made public. He had added that unless he was satisfied with the plans to rectify the problem, he could put a stop to the EPR project in France, a decision that could have disastrous and far-reaching ramifications for Beijing’s nuclear ambitions and the French economy, which is heavily reliant on the nuclear programme in China.

“The situation in France is absolutely critical because the financial status of the key nuclear companies could actually threaten the state,” says Schneider. Areva is in such a fragile financial condition, French state-owned power company EDF announced last summer that it was to take over at least 51 per cent of Areva’s reactor business.

“The share price of Areva is just going from historical low to historical low,” says Schneider, who doesn’t think there is any quick fix to the EPR problem.

China is committed to third-generation reactors on the grounds that they are safer and cheaper to operate than older technology. If it is proved that one of the two key designs – the EPR – is unworkable or unsafe, the nation’s entire nuclear programme is likely to be reviewed.

In response to inquiries regarding the safety of Taishan 1&2 and Chevet’s dash to Beijing, ASN informed Post Magazine, “P.F. Chevet was in China last July. The visit was dedicated to the bilateral exchanges about safety”, without providing any further information.

TAISHAN IS VEILED IN SECRECY, even though the safety implications directly affect tens of millions of people and the fear is that the very high levels of political and financial capital invested in the Chinese nuclear dream will eventually outweigh any public safety concerns.

The principal evacuation zone established after the Fukushima plant was damaged by the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 was 30km. Nevertheless, says Schneider, technical evaluations have found hot spots of radioactivity 60km from the plant that were higher than those found in the exclusion zones surrounding Chernobyl, the Soviet nuclear power plant that melted down in 1986.

The finances of China’s nuclear energy programme are eye-watering and the stakes are high. The total assets of CGN, which operates most of the Guangdong plants, are expected to have grown to one trillion yuan (HK$1.19 trillion) by 2020, according to state media reports, and the numbers affect economies outside China.

According to the NEI, the direct economic benefit to the US of the recently renewed 123 Agreement to continue trading nuclear technology with China is expected to be between US$70 billion and US$204 billion through to 2040, when the agreement expires. Between 20,000 and 45,000 US jobs depend on that trade and those jobs are potential political gold in an election year – and the only customer for the American Westinghouse AP1000 reactor is China, which is currently constructing four, in Zhejiang and Shandong provinces. The third-generation AP1000 is also untested in the real world, and the reactors being built in China are years behind schedule, too.

When, in November, Areva announced a possible minority stake sale to another major player, China National Nuclear Corp, and a partnership covering all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, some commentators saw it as a bailout by the Chinese. Schneider finds it astounding that anyone would seek a partnership with what he calls a “bankrupt company”.

“Everybody is scared to death about losing billions of euros if these plants don’t open,” says Schneider, adding that all eyes will be on tests in France scheduled for this year and the ASN will be under enormous pressure.

“You don’t need to be an expert to imagine the huge commercial pressure in play,” says Schneider. “But what does it mean when an almost bankrupt company is operating a nuclear facility?”

IN 2011, 172,000 PEOPLE were evacuated from the exclusion zone around Fukushima. Later that year, Nature magazine and Columbia University, in New York, reported that two-thirds of the world’s power plants have 30km radiuses that each encompasses more than 172,000 people. If that radius is widened to 75km, the plants at Longgang, in Shenzhen – Daya Bay and Ling Ao – top the league in terms of number of people most at risk, each threatening about 28 million people, including everyone in Hong Kong.

The same Nature article looked at key risks for nuclear energy plants: the likelihood of external events (tsunami/earthquake/terrorist attack, etc), the age of reactors and what experts call “the culture of safety”.

chernoble

Age is a concern in China because nuclear plants are most dangerous at the beginning as well as at the end of their life cycles. The 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the US occurred in a reactor that had started operation only three months earlier, and the accident at Chernobyl occurred after only two years of operation. A serious loss of coolant occurred at the French Civaux-1 reactor in 1998, less than five months after start-up.

With regard to external threats, one of the Guangdong plants on the drawing board is proposed for Huizhou, which, it is envisioned, will have two AP1000 reactors up and running by 2025.

Earthquaketrack.com [3] reports that no less than 16 earthquakes have shaken Huizhou in the past 30 years, the most recent, on August 31, 2012, having a magnitude of 4.4.

Nature explains that the “culture of safety” is an intangible value but extends beyond legislation and regulation to an innate appreciation of risk. Recent industrial accidents, such as the explosion at the port of Tianjin last August and the mudslide at a construction-waste site in Shenzhen last month, suggest such a culture isn’t particularly strong in China.

“We are very worried about Taishan and the design flaws in the reactor vessel and we would like to know what CGN are doing,” says Frances Yeung Hoi-shan, energy group leader for Greenpeace Asia. “We simply don’t know. Investors were informed that the plant would not open until 2017 but there was little detail.”

It comes as no surprise that Greenpeace Asia has consistently rejected nuclear power as part of Hong Kong’s energy mix – the parent group was initially set up to protest nuclear weapons testing, after all – but it has a separate concern about the proliferation of nuclear plants in Guangdong and how transparent the safety processes will be. In April, the environmental group wrote to the Hong Kong government requesting information about Taishan 1&2 and Yeeng was not impressed with the reply, which only reaffirmed that any major incidents would be reported as an extension of the protocol set up for Daya Bay and that “tests” were being carried out.

greenpeace-nuclear

“Transparency is very important about these plants because Hong Kong people have a right to know. The government is not proactive enough. We can’t just sit and wait to be informed when something does go wrong,” she says.

Says Lai, “If the French authorities had not told us about the problems with the EPR, we would probably have never known.”

Daya Bay is owned under a joint venture in which local power provider CLP has a 25 per cent stake, so it can exert pressure at board level and even offer public visits to the site. Its influence also extends to a limited extent to the four reactors subsequently built at the neighbouring Ling Ao plant, says CLP, in which it has no financial interest.

“Besides being represented in the board of the joint-venture company of Daya Bay, CLP has also played an instrumental role in introducing international safety practices at the plant level,” says Tang Chi-cheung, senior director, nuclear at CLP Holdings. He says his company’s involvement has improved public communication and has played a part in “enhancing transparency”. He emphasises the environmental benefits of nuclear power, which, according to CLP figures, saves 7.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from being emitted each year in Hong Kong.

“To put the environmental benefit into perspective, it is equivalent to planting a woodland area of 57 times the size of Hong Kong Island,” says Tang, who does not rule out sourcing electricity from wholly Chinese-owned plants, including Taishan 1&2.

“It is too early to get into the specifics of more nuclear imports given that it is a future decision to be reached by the government and the general community,” he says.

Tang expresses confidence in China’s regulatory body and says that, post-Fukushima, the central government “has placed a priority on safety in its nuclear programme”.

nuke

FIFTY YEARS AGO LAST MONTH, a front page headline in the South China Morning Post read, “China: ‘We can build N-power stations'”. And it has – but nuclear is still responsible for only about 2 per cent to the nation’s energy mix, and industry experts such as Schneider think China is possibly the last show in town for nuclear power, as the “smart money” moves to renewable alternatives.

While no one is alleging negligence on the part of the Chinese Nuclear Safety Administration and many agree that safety has been tightened post-Fukushima, even advocates of nuclear energy express reservations in private about the frenetic pace of growth and the lack of transparency. Schneider says one senior Chinese academic confided in him at an energy conference in Macau that he thought the speed of expansion was “more than crazy”.

One million signatures were obtained in objection to Daya Bay before it opened in 1994 and a 2013 Hong Kong government survey revealed that only 34.5 per cent of respondents were confident about the operational safety of Shenzhen’s nuclear power plants. Although a respected local operator such as CLP, with a share price to maintain, can influence decisions regarding safety at Daya Bay, such a mechanism does not apply to the other plants in Guangdong, including Taishan 1&2.

“We need to get this right,” says Lai, because if the pace of expansion continues unchecked and the public and media remain excluded from the apparent nuclear success story until a Fukushima occurs in Guangdong, it may well spell doom for everyone in the Pearl River Delta.

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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/article/1898583/hong-kong-fallout-chinas-reckless-nuclear-ambitions-feared