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Nuke fuel safety urged after breach
By Li Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-08-21 07:18

Heightened supervision to ensure the safety of nuclear waste was strongly urged by officials and experts after the country's largest nuclear power plants operator breached regulations when it transported spent fuel.

Everclean, a subsidiary of China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC), changed vehicles and its transportation route without approval when it delivered nuclear waste from Guangdong-based Daya Bay Nuclear Power Plant on July 5, according to the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) on its website.

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The call for strengthened safety comes amid rapid expansion of the country's nuclear power industry. Li Ganjie, vice-minister of environmental protection and director of NNSA, has said that China's monitoring and management capacity of nuclear fuel and waste is lagging behind the nuclear power industry's rapid growth.

The company used a Scheuerle trailer instead of the approved Nicolas platform trailer. It also traveled through the Shanghai-Shaanxi expressway from Xinyang of Henan province to Xi'an, Shannxi province. The required route goes through the Lianyungang-Horgos expressway.

Though no radioactive leak occurred during the delivery, NNSA criticized Everclean's misbehavior and urged the company to strictly follow regulations.

Spent nuclear fuel still contains a low percentage of radioactive plutonium, according to a senior researcher surnamed Pan with the Chinese Nuclear Society.

"Transporting spent fuel is already relatively safe in China, but altering routes without informing local environmental bureaus or public security department still poses potential dangers," Pan told China Daily yesterday.

China's nuclear power industry has seen accelerated development in recent years. In 2005, the country had planned to increase its nuclear power capacity to 40 gigawatts by 2020, when it would account for 4 percent of the nation's total energy consumption, according to the National Development and Reform Commission. But NDRC has increased the earlier goal to some 5 percent of the total power capacity in 2020.

China is now adding more than 24 reactors, which includes five plants scheduled to start construction this year.

Tian Shujia, director of China Nuclear and Radiation Safety Center, said the risks of the nuclear industry are different from traditional industrial sectors. Compared with other pollution incidents, nuclear accidents are difficult to discover and the damages are often long-lasting.

"Once an accident happens, there would be a public panic," said Tian, adding that the country has to ward off any possibilities of a radiation accident.