Despite fears of nuclear leakage in Japan, China vows to continue on the nuclear path. But others are warning Japan should be a lesson to the world.
Concern rises over damaged nuclear reactors in Japan
Tokyo is just two hours away from Shanghai by plane. And many Chinese have been glued to special reports covering the recent catastrophic events in Japan.
"China will surely be affected," says one Chinese spectator. "An atomic cloud doesn’t just stay in one place. It can’t possibly not have an effect on us. We are talking about radioactivity." He admits that he was shocked when he first heard the news, adding that even though technologically advanced alternatives like nuclear power are needed as coal is becoming scarce, "security is a very important question."
He holds the opinion that accidents such as the one happening in Japan will always happen, as technological advances bring dangers and humans cannot factor in all possible variables.
China’s nuclear power to increase
Chinese President Wen Jiabao did not mention Japan’s atomic situation in his annual press conference at the National People’s Congress. And just this past weekend, Vice Environment Secretary, Zhang Lijun, reiterated China’s wish to expand its nuclear power grid.
Zhang announced that 13 plants have passed security inspections and that 25 new plants are now being planned. "It is the largest project of its kind world-wide. We want to increase China’s nuclear power fourfold by the year 2020," he said.
China's reliance on nuclear energy is bound to grow
Shen Yuedong of the East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai stated that China’s nuclear capacities will surely grow, but there is still room for discussion as to where the new plants will be built and which technologies will be used.
"After the disaster in Japan, Chinese politicians have made uncompromising statements," said Shen. "But I don’t think we should really take that seriously; I don't think that this can be completely cut off from political discussion."
Challenges in security matters
The French syndicate made up of Areva and EDF is caught up in a bitter fight with the American concern Westinghouse over contracts in China. The French are constructing two third-generation pressurized water reactors in Taishan, off the southern Chinese coast. And they are crossing their fingers for further contracts.
But apparently the Chinese are adapting their own technologies, thus reducing their independence on European companies. A French expert estimates that the Chinese are nonetheless far behind when it comes to safety standards. He said, "there is a lack of transparence and experienced inspectors. China has concentrated too much attention on its coal industry for too long."
Japanese reactors were thought to be earthquake and tsunami resistant
Japanese expert, Gao Lan, of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences said that people should place more emphasis on security. "We have to learn from the situation in Japan." Gao added that all of China’s nuclear power plants are located off the south east coast, where a lot of people live. Gao is calling for a relocation further inland or towards the north and is certain that people in the southern coastal regions will start protesting if this is not done.
Gao said that problems relating to atomic energy can contaminate huge areas of land for very long periods of time and that atomic energy was never on top of China’s energy agenda. "And if you look at the risks involved, I think it is unlikely the Chinese will continue down the nuclear path," said Gao.
Gao Lan believes the disaster in Japan could have an impact on China's economy. China is Japan’s number one trading partner; in 2010, trade increased to 22 percent, allowing Japan to reap a profit of over 60 billion dollars. Gao Lan is sure that the earthquake and the problems with the nuclear reactors will create chaos for the financial markets.
China's economy is still booming
Gao thinks that the short term consequences will be that Japanese-Chinese competition will decrease, adding that there will be more cooperation between the two countries than there ever has been. But on the long-term, she thinks, rivalry between the two countries will be even worse.
"Japan is a country that does not have many natural resources, so Japanese politics will surely be more serious when it comes to Japan’s interests in the East China Sea, as Japan must secure its oil reserves."
China and Japan have had icy relations since a spat over natural gas last fall. The relief workers are the first step either has taken to thaw out relations.
Author: Astrid Freyeisen (sb)
Editor: Ziphora Robina