Following safety fears in Japan's nuclear facilities, Chinese officials have said they will strengthen safety and risk assessment in the fast-expanding nuclear sector.
“In China's case too, if it is a very serious earthquake, it may cause any kind of problem,” Zhai Dequan, Deputy Secretary-General of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, told The Hindu.
On Sunday, Xie Zhenhua, Vice-Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), was also quoted as saying China would strengthen the evaluation of nuclear safety and the monitoring of plants.
Officials have, however, stressed that China would continue with its rapid expansion of its nuclear sector. China is in the process of building 27 reactors — more than any other country — and already has 13 functioning reactors.
“China will continue expanding this sector, particularly after recent progress has been made for reactor control research,” said Mr. Zhai.
“Technology has been upgraded, and China will rely more and more on nuclear energy. So far, the safety record has been excellent.”
He said seismic activity was a consideration in assessing a site's suitability to host a nuclear plant. Regions known to have a history of high seismic activity, such as Sichuan or Yunnan in the west, would be less preferred, he noted.
“Even in these areas, we do not expect an earthquake of such a high magnitude [as seen in Japan],” he said. “We think such a situation is very rare and unexpected, and is something that is out of your control.” On Saturday, Zhang Lijun, Vice Minister of Environmental Protection, said China would learn from Japan's experience, but would not change its plans.
In the next five years, China is launching nuclear energy projects with a combined capacity of 40 million kw, part of its plan to increase the contribution of non-fossil fuels to 15 per cent of its total energy needs by 2020.
In recent days, Chinese leaders, including Premier Wen Jiabao, have pledged their support to Japan in strong terms, even as the two neighbours have grappled with strained diplomatic ties.
On Sunday, a 15-member rescue team from China arrived in Japan, while the Chinese Red Cross pledged a one million yuan ($152,000) donation. Last week, China was itself engaged in disaster relief, in the wake of Thursday's 5.8-magnitude earthquake in Yunnan, which left 25 people dead. The 8-magnitude earthquake that struck Wenchuan, in Sichuan province, in 2008 left at least 80,000 people dead. More than 7,000 schools, many newly built, collapsed killing at least 5,300 children. The shoddy construction triggered heated debate.
Comparisons between Sichuan and Japan have become the focus of many online discussions. “Tens of thousands of people died in Wenchuan, while 1,800 people have died in a bigger 8.9 earthquake in Japan,” wrote a blogger Meng Yi Jiang on Tianya, a popular portal. “We Chinese need to reflect on ourselves.”