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UK government could approve Hinkley Point but delay Essex project

The government is considering a proposal to detach development of the Hinkley Point nuclear power plant from an agreement allowing China to build a reactor in Essex.

The proposal is one of the options under consideration after Theresa May delayed approving the £18bn Hinkley Point project last month, according to a report in the Times (£).

The prime minister is concerned about China’s involvement with the project to build Britain’s first nuclear power plant for a generation in Somerset and a further agreement for China to build reactors in Bradwell, Essex, and Sizewell, Suffolk.

The government enlisted China last September to fund a third of Hinkley Point in a deal meant to ease financial pressure on EDF, the French builder of the plant, and forge closer links with China.

But May, who raised objections to the deal when she was home secretary, called a surprise review soon after becoming prime minister.

An option under consideration in Whitehall is to approve Hinkley Point but delay a decision on the Bradwell reactor to allow a discussion about its effect on British security, the Times said.

Any attempt to split Hinkley Point from the agreement to let China build reactors in Britain would endanger the whole deal because the Bradwell plant was meant to be a showcase for China’s nuclear technology in Europe.

Tension over Hinkley Point means May risks an awkward first G20 meeting of world leaders as prime minister. The meeting, on 4 and 5 September, takes place in the Chinese City of Hangzhou and will be hosted by Xi Jinping, China’s president, who signed the Hinkley Point agreement last year.

EDF, the French state-owned energy group, approved the building of Hinkley Point in July after months of doubts about whether it was financially strong enough to take on the giant project.

On Sunday, Vincent de Rivaz, EDF’s UK chief executive, called on the UK to set aside concerns about Chinese involvement in the project.

“We know and trust our Chinese partners.” he wrote in the Sunday Telegraph. De Rivaz said there were “enormous benefits for the UK” from the involvement of China, which has the largest civil nuclear programme in the world.

China has made clear its frustration over May’s decision to delay a decision on Hinkley Point. The Chinese ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, wrote that relations with Britain were at a “crucial historical juncture”.

May then wrote to Xi and China’s premier, Li Keqiang, promising closer business and trade ties between Britain and the world’s second-biggest economy.

May’s chief of staff, Nick Timothy, last year raised concerns that Chinese state-owned companies were investing in sensitive infrastructure.

Timothy wrote on the ConservativeHome website: “Rational concerns about national security are being swept to one side because of the desperate desire for Chinese trade and investment.”

Nuclear cover-up: environment ministry slaps penalties on errant crew over failures at Guangdong plant

Fourstaff members at a nuclear power plant in Guangdong have been punished for breaching ¬operational guidelines and trying to cover up the failures, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said this week, more than a year after the incident took place.

Three staff at the Yangjiang nuclear power plant in Guangdong, about 220km north of Hong Kong, were given administrative warnings, while the crew’s leader, Wei Haifeng, was stripped of his senior nuclear operator’s licence, a severe punishment.

Their actions caused a heat ¬removal pump on one of the key reactors to stop functioning for six minutes at the plant, the first to go online in China after the 2011 -Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. The operators then tried to cover up the incident by failing to log it as required, the ministry said.

The incident did not result in a radioactive leak or pose a direct public safety threat, two nuclear experts said.

According to the ministry, the breaches occurred on March 22, 2015 when the reactor was undergoing maintenance. The pump is a crucial part of the reactor’s water cooling system.

The plant’s developer, China General National Power Corp, told the South China Morning Post the incident did not affect plant safety because it occurred during maintenance. It also said it did “thorough analysis and a deep ¬review” after the incident and initiated a “safety culture re-education” campaign among all staff.

It said the incident was discovered during “self-assessment” in February and it reported it to the ministry’s nuclear safety bureau “in a timely manner” for sake of “credibility and transparency”.

But some experts warned the incident exposed human weaknesses in nuclear safety in China.

China has embarked on a ¬nuclear power spree, aiming to develop 58 million kWh of nuclear power capacity by 2020 to ¬account for 5 per cent of overall energy supplies.

It is also promoting its nuclear technology overseas.

Revealing further details about the incident, a former National Nuclear Safety Administration employee said that as soon as the pump stopped working due to the crew’s operational error, an alert popped up in the central control room. Controllers immediately contacted the maintenance crew, asking what happened. Meanwhile, backup pumps started to avoid dangerous overheating.

Wei, the crew leader who received the heaviest punishment, had worked more than a decade to earn his senior operator’s licence, a qualification that can cost millions of yuan to obtain. His experience should have prevented him or his subordinates from carrying out the “suicidal” operation which would almost guarantee the shutdown of the main pump, the expert said.

“Why did they do this, that’s the question asked by many people in the industry. Even a cadet would have known it could lead to severe consequences,” the expert said.

“Like captains in airlines, operators in nuclear power plants also receive regular mental health checks. If they are unhappy at work or at home, they must report it. None of them filed any reports.”

The ministry imposed the penalties on July 26 and posted a notice on its website on Tuesday.

Kai Ji-jung, chair professor of nuclear engineering at City University, said a residual heat ¬removal pump was mainly used to cool the system as a backup in the case of an accident or power failure, so a six-minute stoppage under normal operations was not too big a technical safety issue.

“The bigger safety issue is the breaching of regulations as an operator is required to report this to the regulatory body within a given time frame,” he said.

“This reporting is required to ensure the quality of operations. A lot of small things being allowed to happen may indicate that there are problems with the operators.”

Greenpeace senior campaigner Frances Yeung Hoi-shan questioned why Hong Kong was not informed under the notification mechanism it has with Guangdong over nuclear accidents or events in the province.

“The fact that it was covered up is frightening. No one knew about this until a year later,” Yeung said.

“You cannot have ¬effective regulatory oversight without transparency.”

The Security Bureau said it was aware of the event but would not say if the plant informed the Hong Kong government.

Dr Raymond Ho Chung-tai, chairman of Guangdong Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station and Lingao Nuclear Power Station Nuclear Safety Consultative Committee, said such human errors needed to be rectified but his was a learning experience for the plant’s operators.

Xu Yuming, deputy secretary general of the China Nuclear Energy Association in Beijing, said the public reporting of the incident showed improved transparency on the government’s side.

“I think it is a good thing that the ministry reported the incident in a high-profile manner … It shows the government is serious about strengthening management of nuclear plants to improve safety standards.”

The notice about the punishment was among a series of administrative orders and notices published on its website. The ministry did not reply to requests for comment and information on Thursday.

Hu Xinmin, senior manager at Hong Kong-based electricity industry consultancy The Lantau Group, said: “Lessons should be learned from the Fukushima disaster, where post-accident investigations found that small procedural non-compliance incidents were not property reported to the national authority, contributing to a culture of complacency.”

Wang Biao, dean of the Sino-French Institute of Nuclear Engineering and Technology in Zhuhai, said: “It is normal that non-compliance incidences and their consequences are reported to the public this way, since safety is paramount from the government’s point of view. It must be noted that in every nuclear plant, there are multiple backup cooling pump systems, so even if one fails, the other systems will kick in to prevent any major problems.”

The Yangjiang nuclear power station went into commercial operation in March 2014. It was based on the CPR-1000 design found in most Chinese nuclear reactors commissioned since 2010.

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Fossil Fuels May Not Dwindle Anytime Soon

The U. S. Energy Information Administration foresees continued dominance for coal, gas and oil

Based on its latest projections, EIA said global carbon dioxide emissions from energy activities will rise from 36 billion metric tons in 2012, the baseline year used for the 2016 outlook, to 43 billion metric tons in 2040.

Rapid economic growth in China, India, Indonesia, Brazil and other emerging countries will drive global energy consumption to nearly double by 2040, according to new projections released yesterday by the Department of Energy.

But the associated rise in carbon emissions will not keep pace with overall energy consumption, thanks to a shifting global energy portfolio that relies less on coal for power generation and more on natural gas and renewable energy resources, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in its 2016 International Energy Outlook.

Based on its latest projections, EIA said global carbon dioxide emissions from energy activities will rise from 36 billion metric tons in 2012, the baseline year used for the 2016 outlook, to 43 billion metric tons in 2040.
That’s a 34 percent increase in energy-related CO2, compared to a 48 percent increase in overall energy consumption from 2010 to 2040, when EIA says the world will consume a record 815 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of energy.

But some critics of EIA’s methodology say the projections on global energy use and CO2 emissions failed to adequately account for major international policy initiatives, including last year’s pledge by nearly 190 U.N.-member countries to make sharp reductions in energy-sector greenhouse gas emissions.

In a public rollout of the data at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski said that the agency used more sophisticated modeling tools for the 2016 report than previously available, especially in the transportation sector, and that the world’s demand for fossil fuels will continue to grow.

“Even in the aftermath of Paris, I think that our numbers suggest that growth and need for petroleum in transportation and industry is still going to be pretty strong,” he said. “Those numbers could come down over time, but it’s still really hard to compete with the energy density that’s in oil.”

Don’t count out fossil fuels

Among other things, the new report portends continued rising demand for natural gas, along with sustained growth in wind, solar and nuclear energy production. Renewables, led by wind and hydro power, are projected to be the fastest-growing energy resource over the next two decades, according to EIA, expanding by 2.6 percent annually through 2040.

Nuclear will also see solid growth, at 2.3 percent annually, underscored by China’s commitment to add 139 gigawatts of nuclear capacity to its grid by 2040. Natural gas, long the No. 3 source of global energy behind oil and coal, will by 2030 become the world’s No. 2 resource as coal consumption plateaus with the onset of new international carbon regulations.

Consumption of oil and other forms of liquid petroleum will fall modestly over the next 24 years, from 33 percent of total marketed energy consumption in 2012 to 30 percent in 2040. Oil will continue to be a primary fuel for the transport sector, as well as a key fuel for industrial uses in emerging countries.

But experts cautioned against the idea that fossil fuels will become 20th-century energy anachronisms by the middle of the 21st century. In fact, fossil fuels will still account for 78 percent of global energy use in 2040, even as the growth in non-fossil fuels exceeds that of oil, coal and gas.

“Abundant natural gas resources and robust production—including rising supplies of tight gas, shale gas, and coalbed methane—contribute to the strong competitive position of natural gas,” EIA said in the outlook.
While considerably diminished from a decade ago, coal-fired power generation is expected to grow by 0.6 percent annually over the coming years and will account for between 28 and 29 percent of global power generation by 2040, compared to 40 percent in 2012.

Natural gas and renewables, including hydropower, are also expected to claim between 28 and 29 percent of total global power generation by 2040, with the remainder coming from existing and new nuclear plants.
“This is going to happen in many places around the world, and it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by a significant amount,” Sieminski told energy policy experts and journalists gathered at CSIS’s granite-and-glass headquarters on Rhode Island Avenue.

In one of the first high-level analyses of how U.S. carbon regulation will affect global energy markets, EIA projects that U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan would further shave coal consumption by roughly 1 percent after 2020 while driving a comparable increase in renewable energy deployment.

“It changes the global numbers a little bit, it changes the U.S. numbers more, and it particularly changes coal in the U.S. by more,” Sieminski said. “You can see coal plateauing.”

Critics slam projections

Among the world’s three largest coal users—the United States, China and India—only India is projected to see an overall increase in coal consumption by 2040. China is expected to begin reducing its use of coal after 2025, while the United States is already seeing a downward trajectory in coal use, one that could grow steeper if the Clean Power Plan is upheld in court.

While U.S. markets and policy will continue to be critical benchmarks for global energy, the United States will not be among the fastest-growing energy markets going forward, EIA found.

In fact, by 2040, nearly two-thirds of all of the world’s energy use will be in developing countries outside the 34-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Among non-OECD members, Asian countries like China, India and Indonesia will account for 55 percent of all new energy use through 2040, the analysis found.

Increasing oil and liquid fuels consumption for industry and transportation will be particularly strong in countries like China and India, Sieminski said, where rising incomes and a proliferation of privately owned cars and trucks has led to significant increases in vehicles miles traveled (VMT).

But critics like David Turnbull of the climate-focused nonprofit group Oil Change International said EIA should have given stronger consideration to shifting national and international climate policies, especially over the last several years.

“We all know that we’re moving in a different direction now,” Turnbull said. “The Paris Agreement was a clear indication that the fossil fuel era was ending. To make a projection that ignores some of these major shifts in public opinion, in energy markets, in renewable energy policy, is leaving out a big piece of the picture.”

A spokesman for EIA stressed in an email that the agency did not ignore the Paris accord or other international agreements in its analysis.

In fact, the report makes clear that EIA “has tried to incorporate some of the specific details,” such as renewable energy goals put forward in the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, in its 2016 IEO reference case. “However, a great deal of uncertainty remains with regard to the implementation of policies to meet stated goals.”

In his comments at CSIS, Sieminski acknowledged that long-term projections like those in the IEO are imperfect and that policy and technology changes can lead to radically different outcomes than the best analysis can predict.

“There’s probably a lot of flex in these numbers,” Sieminski said. “Does that mean that we are wasting taxpayer dollars doing it? The answer is no. It’s hugely valuable to policymakers, it’s hugely valuable to the public.”

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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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”.


“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.)


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”.


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. [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.


“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”.


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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UK guarantees £2bn nuclear plant deal as China investment announced

Chancellor George Osborne has announced that the UK will guarantee a £2bn deal under which China will invest in the Hinkley Point nuclear power station.

Mr Osborne, who is in China, said the deal would pave the way for a final investment decision on the delayed project by French energy company EDF.

He said it would also enable greater collaboration between Britain and China on the construction of nuclear plants.

Reports suggest one such reactor could be built at Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex.

Energy Secretary Amber Rudd told the Financial Times she wanted Beijing to take the lead in developing new nuclear plants in Britain.

She said China was expected to lead the construction of a Beijing-designed nuclear station at the Essex site.

Hinkley in numbers

£25bn Cost of new Hinkley plant
£5.2bn Cost overrun of EDF’s Flamenville plant in France
£89.5 Price per MW/hr guaranteed to EDF by government
£44 Current price per MW/hr of wholesale electricity in UK

World Nuclear News, Ofgem

EDF welcomed news of the government guarantee, but did not say if it put the project back on track.

Earlier this month, EDF admitted the Hinkley project in Somerset, which was intended to allow the plant to generate power by 2023, would be delayed.

In February, the firm announced that it had pushed back its decision on whether to invest in the plant.

It cannot afford the estimated £24.5bn cost of the plant on its own, so has been looking for financial partners to invest, particularly in China. This has proved difficult, which is why the government has had to step in to guarantee part of the cost.

The new power station would be Britain’s first new nuclear plant for 20 years and is expected to provide power for about 60 years.

Speaking in Beijing at a joint news conference with China’s Vice-Premier Ma Kai, Mr Osborne said: “We want the UK to be China’s best partner in the West. [This guarantee] paves the way for Chinese investment in UK nuclear [to help provide] secure, reliable, low carbon electricity for decades to come.”

He also announced a new £50m joint research centre for nuclear energy.

The difficult economics of nuclear power

By Richard Anderson, BBC business reporter

Nuclear power plants are mind-bogglingly expensive to build.

In China, relatively cheap labour means they typically cost between £6bn-£10bn, with the state-controlled economy providing the necessary regulatory and financial support.

But in the free markets of the West, they cost many times more. No private company can afford this amount of money, particularly given it will be almost 10 years before the plant is operational and can begin generating a cash return.

This is why governments have to get involved, providing subsidies of one sort or another.

Hence George Osborne’s announcement. The government has already guaranteed EDF a price – many would argue a very high price – for the electricity it generates at Hinkley, and now it is enticing the Chinese with investment guarantees.

Nuclear power: Energy for the future or relic of the past?

Q&A: Nuclear strike price

Mr Osborne said Chinese companies would receive a substantial stake in the project, with the UK government acting as guarantor for the investment.

The guarantee will be provided by the government’s Infrastructure UK Scheme, which provides finance for projects that have had difficulties raising money from private investors.

Ms Rudd told the BBC that nuclear power played an important part in Britain’s energy security.

“We want low-carbon electricity and if we’re going to hit our ambitious [emissions reduction] targets then we have to have nuclear,” she added.


By Robert Peston, BBC economics editor

What is most striking about George Osborne’s Chinese tour is he is doubling his political and economic bet on the world’s number two economy at a time when that economy is looking its most fragile for 30 years.

Today’s manifestation of the China bet is confirmation of a long-trailed loan guarantee – initially worth £2bn but likely to rise substantially – to bind in Chinese and French nuclear giants to their promised massive £24.5bn investment in the Hinkley Point C new nuclear plant.

This is certainly long-term strategic planning for more power security by Osborne and the government (well they would say). With oil fluctuating at between $40 and $50 a barrel, Hinkley’s prospective electricity looks scarily expensive.

China’s huge economic changes

The government has said Hinkley will provide up to 7% of Britain’s electricity needs from 2023.

EDF, which will continue to control the venture, has agreed to provide electricity from Hinkley at a guaranteed minimum price of £89.50 per MW/hr for 35 years. Renewable energy technologies have been given a guaranteed price for 15 years._85687811_energy_strike_prices_v3

Ms Rudd rejected criticisms that this was too expensive, saying nuclear power was “reasonably priced” compared with other low carbon sources of power.Vincent de Rivaz, chief executive of EDF Energy, said the chancellor’s announcement was “further progress towards a final investment decision” on the plant.

He said: “The chancellor’s approval of the infrastructure guarantee is a clear sign of the government’s commitment to Hinkley Point C. The government’s determination to bring about a renewal of infrastructure and to attract inward investment to the UK are demonstrated by this good news.


But Greenpeace’s chief scientist Dr Doug Parr described the £2bn guarantee from George Osborne as “signing up the country for the ultimate rip-off deal”.

He added: “Instead of locking two generations of UK consumers into paying billions to foreign state-owned firms, Osborne should invest in the flexible, smart, and truly clean energy system that can power a 21st Century Britain without leaving a pile of radioactive waste as legacy.”

Other critics have raised concerns about the design of the new reactor, which will use new so-called EPR technology. Similar reactors being built in France and Finland are both late and way over budget.

The union Unite welcomed the government’s commitment to non-carbon nuclear power, but it said it should not allow China to build a plant in the UK, describing its nuclear technology as “unproven”.

GE Hitachi’s ESBWR Nuclear Reactor Gains Some Industry Support

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) and DTE Energy announced plans to explore advancing the detailed design of the Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR).

According to GEH, the ESBWR is the world’s safest approved nuclear reactor design based on core damage frequency. The reactor has advanced passive safety systems, and is designed to cool itself for more than a week with no onsite or offsite AC power, or operator action.

GEH applied for a Standard Design Certification with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on August 24, 2005. The NRC certified the ESBWR design on Sept. 16, 2014.

On May 1, 2015, the NRC issued DTE Energy the first-ever ESBWR-based combined construction and operating license. Although DTE has not committed to building a new nuclear unit, it is keeping the option open, for long-term planning purposes. The proposed reactor would be added to its Fermi site near Newport City in Monroe County, Michigan.

“DTE and GEH will further expand our cooperation by determining resource requirements and developing plans to advance the ESBWR design, enabling DTE Energy to be in a position to more readily begin work should the utility decide at a later date to add more carbon-free, base load power to its energy mix,” GEH’s COO Jay Wileman said. “We view this as a very positive and important step in the continued commercialization of the world’s safest reactor.”

The ESBWR program started in the early 1990s with GE’s Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (SBWR) design rated at 670 MW, which was augmented with features taken from the NRC-certified Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR). GE submitted the SBWR application for final design approval and design certification in August 1992, but withdrew the application in March 1996 because the power output of the SBWR was too small to produce acceptable economics for a new-build project.

Instead, it shifted its focus from the SBWR program to plants of 1,000 MW or larger, such as the ABWR and ESBWR (Figure 1). The ABWR was beginning to take hold in Japan, with the completion of four units and a couple more units under construction when the Fukushima disaster occurred, putting the brakes on the entire industry.

1. An evolved design. Building upon proven technology, the ESBWR is a 1,520-MW Generation III+ boiling water reactor. Source: GEH

1. An evolved design. Building upon proven technology, the ESBWR is a 1,520-MW Generation III+ boiling water reactor. Source: GEH

The ESBWR is said to use about 25% fewer pumps and mechanical drives than reactors with active safety systems, and to offer the lowest projected operating, maintenance, and staffing costs in the nuclear industry on a per-kW basis. In addition to DTE, Dominion Virginia Power has selected the ESBWR as their technology of choice for a potential third reactor at its North Anna site. GEH said it expects the NRC to license that project in 2016.

—Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)

The true costs of our electricity

Way Kuo says our calculation of the least costly way to generate electricity will be skewed, as long as the environmental harm of the use of fossil fuels is not properly accounted for

Smog is a major problem facing Beijing and many other places on earth today. It is also a reminder that environmental pollution has reached a critical point in human history.

The recent documentary Under the Dome, an in-depth report on environmental problems in China by Chai Jing , has triggered a heated debate over the credibility of its sources. But the debate has sidestepped one of the critical issues facing humanity: greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on the environment and the sustainability of earth.

Energy is a necessity in modern life. Our dependence on electricity has left noticeable carbon footprints on nature. Of the broad spectrum of energies, fossil fuels (coal, natural gas and oil) are still the major energy sources for electricity generation, accounting for 67 per cent of world electricity production as of 2012, in spite of pledges by governments around the world to increase the use of renewable green energies. The rest comes from cleaner energies like hydroelectric (17 per cent) and nuclear (11 per cent).

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, approximately 37 per cent of total carbon dioxide emissions are from electricity production, especially from burning coal. The level of atmospheric carbon dioxide is building up and that build-up is accelerating as electricity demand is expected to increase by 43 per cent over the next 20 years.

Nuclear energy, in comparison, ranks among the lowest of any electricity generation methods in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and is comparable, on a life cycle basis, to wind, hydropower and biomass energy. It emits one-fifteenth and one-thirtieth as much greenhouse gas as natural gas and coal respectively.

And yet, nuclear energy has been a controversial topic ever since its adoption for commercial use. There are as many opinions about this problem as there are experts. While it is praised as one of the possible solutions to the energy shortage, it is condemned by others as “an unbearable inheritance” for future generations. The nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in 2011 brought the safety concerns sharply into the public eye again.

People are haunted by the fear of nuclear disasters when, in reality, nuclear energy has a strong safety record. Nuclear power plants achieve a high degree of safety by using what is called the “defence-in-depth” approach with multiple physical barriers built into their operation. These physical barriers prevent operational disturbances or human failures and errors, which have been found to be the cause of 80 to 90 per cent of mishaps. Even the Fukushima nuclear accident, triggered by a magnitude 9 earthquake and catastrophic 14-metre-high tsunami, has been defined as “a profoundly man-made disaster”.

According to a report published in the March 2013 issue of Environment Science & Technology by scientists from Nasa, nuclear power has made greater contributions to the welfare of humankind than all other energies in use. The report pointed out that, even taking into account the serious consequences of the three biggest nuclear disasters in history, the benefits derived from the use of nuclear power between 1971 and 2009 have helped to prevent 1.8 million deaths resulting from causes related to the use of fossil fuels, especially coal.

Also, according to a December 2013 Lancet article by Chen Zhu, China’s former minister of health, and his colleagues, air pollution causes 350,000 to 500,000 premature deaths on the mainland each year. The main polluters are industry, coal and vehicles. This is believed to be a conservative estimate, and provides further evidence that carbon dioxide reduction is a necessity.

At present, nuclear power plays a significant part in a spectrum of energies in producing base-load power (a dependable source that can meet minimum demand) and this will continue for the foreseeable future. The other energy sources used for base-load power are fossil fuels.

In the past, increased use of nuclear energy to replace fossil fuels has contributed to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore, it will be devastating to continue the use of fossil fuels for base-load power instead of cleaner energies.

People demand nuclear safety, and yet tend to turn a blind eye to the adverse environmental impact of fossil fuels and the millions of deaths caused by coal mining. With modern technology and increases in oil prices, non-traditional fossil fuels such as oil sands in Canada, pre-salt deposits in Brazil and shale oil in the US have been discovered in abundance since the beginning of this century. Yet the development of this new generation of fossil fuels will do nothing to reduce water and air pollution but in fact will create more severe pollution than traditional oil because of the extraction methods.

There is no free electricity. Given that different energies involve different levels of risk and environmental pollution, we should adopt a rational and scientific approach to policymaking. The cost of using electricity must take into account the economy, the costs of electricity generation, transmission and transformation, the sustainable well-being of the environment, safety, reliability, and other social and psychological factors.

Consumers could choose what combination of various sources of electricity they are willing to accept and then be charged in accordance with the declared percentage, the amount of the electricity consumed, the production cost and the cost of the risk.

We cannot afford to continue to overlook the phenomenon of global warming. The true cost of electricity should be shared by everyone.

Professor Way Kuo is president of City University of Hong Kong and a member of the US National Academy of Engineering. This article is based on a recent talk delivered by the author at Peking University

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RSN: US Nuclear Waste Dirty-Bombs New Mexico With Plutonium

by William Boardman, Reader Supported News:

It was Valentine’s Day when the nation’s only radioactive nuclear waste facility first released radioactive particles including Plutonium and Americium into the atmosphere of New Mexico and beyond, including into Texas, Oklahoma, and Mexico. Earlier that same day, the New Mexico Environment Department opened the public comment period on an application to modify and expand that nuclear waste facility, which the department said it planned to allow.

The first thing the U.S. government and the government contractor charged with running the supposedly secure radioactive waste project immediately did, when faced with the first-time-ever release of radioactivity from the underground site, was not tell anyone anything. They told no one the truth for four days, even though the truth didn’t seem all that bad, as such things go. Unless contradictory data emerged, this would seem to be a brief release of a relatively small amount of very dangerous isotopes from nuclear weapons waste stored half a mile underground in a salt deposit. While the full scope of the release remains unknown weeks later, it seems clear that this was no Fukushima, except for the operators’ default to instant deceit.

The next day, February 15, 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy, which is responsible for the project, issued “Event News Release No. 1,” a reassuring press release about “a radiological event” (not further defined), misleadingly stating that “a continuous air monitor detected airborne radiation in the underground” (NOT a release into the air). [emphasis added]

The press release expanded on its false reassurance by saying: “Multiple perimeter monitors at the [facility’s] boundary have confirmed there is no danger to human health or the environment. No contamination has been found on any equipment, personnel, or facilities.” No one was exposed, the press release implied, and added further details to reinforce the “no danger to human health or the environment” claim that is so often the first thing the nuclear industry says about any “event,” regardless of what people may or may not know to be true. Other press releases maintained this official story for several days.

Nuclear industry lies are rational in terms of protecting interests


SCMP: Energy Policy will be transparent, says CLP chief Richard Lancaster

Hong Kong’s energy policymakers like CLP chief Richard Lancaster defends their continued reliance on unsustainable energy, going about different ‘mixes’ of such sources as coal, nuclear and natural gas to make it seem like they have done much thinking through ‘consultations’.

by Cheung Chi-fai, SCMP:

Chief of largest power firm says consumers will be told implications of each mix of sources

Hong Kong’s energy future will rely on an “open and transparent” public consultation that will tell people the implications of their choices in favouring a particular energy mix, says the chief of the city’s largest power firm.

Richard Lancaster, chief executive officer of CLP Holdings, said all relevant information, from energy security and environmental performance to costs, would be made available.

“All implications should be made as open and transparent as possible so that the community has all the information needed to make a judgment,” he said at the World Energy Congress in Daegu, South Korea, last week.

Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing, also speaking last week, said the consultation aimed to find out the most acceptable energy mix in terms of the proportion of coal, gas, renewable and nuclear in electricity generation by the power firms.

Any decision on the future mix will have significant bearing not just on cost, but also the environment and reliability.

While the mix was a matter for policymakers, Lancaster said it should be “flexible” enough to meet challenges, including the volatility of international fuel prices. “It is important we don’t lose our flexibility and close all options,” he said.

In 2010, the Environment Bureau consulted on a climate-change strategy that proposed a plan for half of electricity demand to be met by nuclear fuel, 40 per cent by gas and 10 per cent by coal by 2020. But it decided to reconsider it last year after the 2011Fukushima nuclear disaster. The mix is now 54 per cent coal, 23 per cent from nuclear and 23 per cent from natural gas.

Lancaster said to ensure supply diversity, he opposed closing all coal-fired plants. “Coal is something we can reduce. But to go to the extreme of closing down coal-fired plants, it would be a bad thing for us,” he said.

Lancaster also wanted to diversify local gas supply by building a liquefied natural gas terminal in eastern Shenzhen which could bring in cheaper gas from around the world when international prices dropped.

On nuclear energy imports, Lancaster acknowledged there were “genuine concerns” that needed to be addressed. But he said one way of tackling these concerns was to have a Hong Kong firm involved in developing mainland nuclear stations.

“We have higher transparency, modern Hong Kong management style, Hong Kong standards of governance to apply for nuclear power stations,” he said.

Christine Loh Kung-wai, the environment undersecretary who also attended the congress, said that while “some people” in society hated nuclear, she had heard of no one who wanted to completely drop imports from the Daya Bay nuclear station.

“Instead of just telling us nuclear should not be allowed, there needs to be an objective discussion on how we look at coal and gas,” she said.

Loh, however, said it would be difficult for the government to tell the public exactly what future prices would be for different fuel mixes as even the most authoritative agency in the United Nations could only provide a loose range of prices.

21 Oct 2013