【明報專訊】A NUCLEAR POWER PLANT is under construction at Taishan, about 130 kilometres away from Hong Kong. However, a component of the pressurised water reactor (PWR), to be supplied by France, has been found to be of doubtful quality, and further tests are being carried out. The matter has caused much concern since it has to do with the safety of the reactor.
Construction of the power plant, which is to install a Generation III PWR developed in France, began in 2009. As the Generation III PWR is a new design and has never been in actual operation, the plant is, in a sense, a guinea pig experiment. France has the largest worldwide percentage of its electricity from nuclear power, and its nuclear technology is first-rate. The new design should therefore be safe and should not be the cause of too much alarm. However, last year, the French nuclear safety authorities carried out tests on the Generation III PWR, and found the production process of the metallic reactor pressure vessel defective. The results of further tests are pending. In view of this, nuclear plant construction projects using the same reactor design and the same kind of pressure vessel have been put on hold in both the United Kingdom and France.
When our reporters visited the construction site of the Taishan plant, which is to install a Generation III PWR, the workers said construction work was still in progress. Our reporters have made enquires with the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group, a joint venture with French capital, but have got no reply.
The French nuclear safety authorities are understood to have found the pressure vessel of a Generation III PWR at a local nuclear power plant not up to standard: the vessel may burst under pressure. A pressure vessel is a metallic container for the storage of intensely radioactive nuclear fuel, and must be able to withstand extremely high temperatures, pressures, and radiation levels. It is a crucial part of the reactor and, if it bursts, the results can be disastrous. According to documents published by the French authorities, the production process of the Taishan pressure vessel may also be defective, and so further tests are needed. If the vessel is found to be unsafe, the authorities will surely not authorise the start-up of the reactor. Therefore, while the Taishan project is still in progress, there are no safety problems since construction works not directly related to the reactor may in the meantime be carried out. However, we cannot but question the advisability of the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group's refusal to answer media questions.
The Daya Bay nuclear plant has been in operation for about 30 years, and because of its excellent design and strict management regime there have been no major accidents. A notification mechanism, by which the Hong Kong government is kept informed of all kinds of emergency situations, ensures the transparency of the plant's operation, and has greatly helped establish Hong Kong people's confidence in the safety of the plant.
For Hong Kong and Macao, as well as Guangdong, nuclear plant safety is an important issue. Should there be an accident, these densely populated areas will suffer the most appalling consequences. Therefore the Guangdong authorities should attach the utmost importance to monitoring all the nuclear power plants in the province. What the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group should do is to enhance its transparency and inform the public of the problems of the reactor pressure vessel for the Taishan plant. It is through attention to details like this that the Guangdong authorities may show their commitment to the strict regulation of the power plants. And this commitment will help dispel suspicions and boost public confidence in nuclear power safety.