Japan nuclear crisis prompts China to halt plans for new plants

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 16, 2011 

BEIJING — Responding to the unfolding nuclear crisis in Japan, the Chinese government announced Wednesday that it's suspending plans for new nuclear power plants so that safety standards could be revised and has ordered inspections of all existing facilities.

While there is no indication of trouble at the Chinese plants, the move reflects the global unease generated by the possible meltdown of four reactors in Japan. Earlier this week, both Germany and Switzerland announced plans to scale back their nuclear programs, with Germany ordering the closure for three months of seven plants built before 1980 and freezing plans to modernize another 10. Switzerland said it had put on hold plans for three new reactors.

China's decision came during a meeting of China's State Council, presided over by Premier Wen Jiabao.

A news release afterwards assured citizens that China's facilities are safe, but that the inspections and freeze on new construction was needed.

"Safety is our top priority in developing nuclear power plants," the council said in its release.

Last year, China announced plans to build 28 new nuclear reactors by 2020, at a cost of as much as $2.1 billion each. Twenty of those were reportedly already under construction as part of a large-scale campaign by Beijing to diversify its energy sources beyond coal and oil.

Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, reported Wednesday that China currently has six nuclear power plants in use, though it didn't say how many individual reactors those plants contain. The World Nuclear Association lists 14 reactors operating in mainland China.

The State Council's statement said that radioactive material released thus far by the Fukushima Daiichi plant in northeastern Japan has been diluted by air and sea and poses no risk to China, according to Xinhua.

China's nuclear safety administration has been conducting nationwide radiation monitoring since Saturday, and the northeast Chinese province of Heilongjiang now has four mobile emergency stations set up _ none of which has detected abnormal radiation levels, according to Xinhua.

State media reported Wednesday that more than 3,000 Chinese nationals have so far been evacuated from Japan's most badly-damaged areas, with about 600 leaving for China.

The day before, the Chinese embassy in Tokyo said that "due to the seriousness of and uncertainty surrounding the accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant," it would begin sending buses to move its citizens to safer locations.

"The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the Chinese government attaches great importance to the safety of Chinese nationals in Japan," Xinhua said.

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