We recently reported that the United States will soon fire up its first nuclear reactor in 20 years, but that pales in comparison to the 400 nuclear reactors coming to China by 2050. And 300 of them will be built along the country’s seismically-active coast, notes Oliver Tickell, editor of the UK environmental news site the Ecologist. Forbes recently celebrated China’s capacity to build a lot of nuclear reactors quickly and cheaply, but Tickell warns the country’s safety and environmental record combined with an earthquake and tsunami would result in “a Fukushima on steroids”.
“By 2050 nuclear power should exceed 350 GW in that country, include about 400 new nuclear reactors, and have resulted in over a trillion dollars in nuclear investment,” Forbes reports. The paper goes on to say that like the 12 Five-Year Plans preceding it, this one outlined for the period of 2016 to 2020, is likely to come close to achieving its reported goals. For Tickell, this is a catastrophe of almost unparalleled scale.
“Experience to date shows that we should, on average, expect a major nuclear accident to take place for every 3,000 to 4,000 years of reactor operation. And with over 400 reactors running at once, it doesn’t take long to clock up those 3,000 years,” Tickell writes.
“In fact, you could reasonably expect a major Chernobyl or Fukushima level accident every seven to ten years – in China alone, if it pursues nuclear build on that scale.”
China’s past safety record is dodgy, according to Tickell, making it difficult to trust the safety of 400 new nuclear plants going up at such a rapid clip. “It seems as though 5 years and about $2 billion per reactor has become routine for China,” Forbes reports. “If that can be maintained, then China will be well-positioned as the world’s nuclear energy leader about the time their middle class swells to over one billion.”
Tickell reminds readers about the Port of Tianjin disaster that not only killed almost 200 people, but contaminated the environment with 7,000 tonnes of hazardous chemicals, including sodium cyanide, calcium carbide and ammonium and potassium nitrate that were stored there.
“If anything we should expect China’s nuclear industry to be rather less safe that the western average, especially given the cacophony of new reactor designs and variations thereof under construction simultaneously at multiple sites with absolutely no history of operation – safe or otherwise,” he said.
He has a point. Read the rest of Oliver Tickell’s Fukuzilla post here.