We must learn our lessons from Japan meltdown fears

We must learn our lessons from Japan meltdown fears

Mainland should be prepared for nuclear disasters

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The Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station in Shenzhen stands about 50km from Hong Kong.
The Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station in Shenzhen stands about 50km from Hong Kong.
Photo: Bloomberg
It may be prime time for green activists to focus on the multiple nuclear meltdowns and explosions, following the powerful earthquake in Japan last week.

Yet we should avoid impulsive finger-pointing at nuclear power generation itself. Instead, we should keep a cool head as we consider the place of nuclear power for Hong Kong and the mainland in coming years and decades.

The partial meltdown of reactor cores in the nuclear power plants in Fukushima was a result of emergency power system failures after the massive earthquake. More than 300,000 people living near the power plants have been evacuated.

Nuclear power plant operators in China have played down fears that a similar accident might happen on the mainland. The Daya Bay Nuclear Power Plant in Shenzhen is the closest nuclear power station to Hong Kong. It has thick cement walls and a mechanical reserve cooling system that can withstand a massive earthquake similar to the one that struck Japan.

Does that mean we are completely safe from any potential disaster? Also, are we prepared to act quickly and effectively in case of an earthquake or nuclear accident on a similar scale?

There is no guarantee that a similar accident will not happen on the mainland. Geologists point to the fault lines running through the densely populated Pearl River Delta, which carry a heightened risk of earthquakes. That certainly gives us some reason for concern.

Beijing has just reaffirmed its commitment to develop nuclear power. It sees nuclear power as a vital part of plans to meet the country's soaring energy needs.

Yet Beijing needs to learn from previous nuclear accidents, such as the one in Chernobyl in the Soviet Union in 1986 and the Three Mile Island incident in the US in 1979.

The general emergency response of the Japanese earthquake has been praiseworthy. An effective response boils down to little details: emergency stockpile of daily necessities, free public telephone services, distribution of food and blankets, hastily set-up shelters in shopping malls and elsewhere. It is also essential that people behave civilly without scrambling over one another or looting.

A high level of emergency preparedness requires civic education, which should go hand in hand with Beijing's ambitious nuclear plans.

We must not be complacent. We must be ready for worst-case scenarios. There is a lot at stake when it comes to nuclear power.

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