More experienced nuclear workers necessary

By Xie Yu (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-03-09 07:53
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More experienced nuclear workers necessary

BEIJING: A shortage of experienced technicians is posing a grave challenge to China's nuclear safety as the country is rapidly expanding nuclear power plants, a former nuclear safety administrator has said.

"Experienced senior technicians currently comprise less than one-third of operating staff, while the rest of the positions are filled by new hands," said Wang Yuqing, former director of the National Nuclear Safety Administration.

Stressing that there has been a drop in the proportion of experienced technicians across all operating staff at nuclear plants, he attributed the disparity in the proportion of experienced technicians to operating staff to the rapid growth in the nuclear power industry.

Wang, a member of the CPPCC national committee, said nuclear power is a unique industry, in which specialized skills and experience are required for an aptitude in safety that cannot be acquired from text books alone.

For example, a nuclear power plant used to have 500 to 600 operating staff, with 80 percent of them having four to five years of experience. Now, however, five to six new units are started at one time, which means the 80 percent of experienced staff are spread across the new units, he said.

In order to meet the energy shortage and combat climate change, China has actively expanded its nuclear industry in recent years.

Ye Qizhen, deputy director of the science and technology committee of the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), said China's installed capacity of nuclear power is expected to reach 70 million kW by 2020, 200 million kW by 2030 and 400 million kW by 2050.

"It means nuclear power will account for 7 percent of China's overall power capacity in 2020, 15 percent in 2030 and 22 percent in 2050," Ye added.

China has approved the construction of 28 more units capable of producing nuclear power, of which 24 are under construction, and another 11 units are already in operation.

In addition to the lack of experienced operators, there is also a shortage of supervisors, according to Wang.

There are currently about 300 official supervisors for nuclear power safety in China. In other countries, such as the US, France, and Japan, there are usually 35 to 40 people who supervise a single unit.

"We already have 11 units under operation, which need about 400 people. For those under construction, we need even more," he said.

Along with skilled manpower shortages, Wang highlighted the need for security controls at nuclear plants.

"The general situation for nuclear security is good," he said, adding that the central government has been giving greater attention to the issue.

As the industry continues to expand at a rapid rate, he called for corporate culture and the awareness of nuclear safety issues to remain in tandem with these developments.

Wang also noted that since China is using more equipment designed and produced in China, rather than importing it from abroad, it is "of the utmost importance to guarantee the quality of this equipment to minimize any potential risks".

According to statistics from the National Energy Administration, China's nuclear power plants experienced 13 operating incidents in the first nine months of 2008, but they had no effect on nuclear safety.