Nu­clear safety re­lies on more than just high-tech

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

With proper safety guar­an­tees, nu­clear en­ergy is a clean, ef­fi­cient source of en­ergy. That is why Three­Mile Is­land, Ch­er­nobyl, or, more re­cently, Fukushima have not pre­vented coun­tries from purs­ing nu­clear power gen­er­at­ing ca­pac­i­ties. That is why it makes good eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal sense for China to sub­stan­tially boost its cor­re­spond­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

On one hand, it is a con­stant, and grow­ing, power un­der­sup­ply to deal with. On the other hand, its de­pen­dence on coal-burn­ing power gen­er­a­tion is a known cause of air pol­lu­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial doc­u­ments, last year alone, nu­clear power plants saved the coun­try 53.74 mil­lion tons of stan­dard coal, re­duc­ing car­bon diox­ide re­lease by al­most 141 mil­lion tons. That’s a lot. And that was when nu­clear power ac­counted for a mea­ger 1.8 per­cent of our na­tional power sup­ply, com­pared to around 20 per­cent in the United States and Great Bri­tain.

From the per­spec­tive of pol­lu­tants re­duc­tion alone, nu­clear power de­serves a much more prom­i­nent role in China. But the cru­cial premise is safety.

The Chi­nese nu­clear in­dus­try has made im­pres­sive head­way tech­nol­ogy-wise, and main­tained a by-and-large sat­is­fac­tory safety record for decades.

But that safety record was achieved when nu­clear power was ap­proached with ex­treme pru­dence. No mat­ter how tech­no­log­i­cally com­pe­tent we be­come, that same de­gree of pru­dence re­mains in­dis­pens­able to­day and in the fu­ture. Nu­clear safety is never just about tech­nol­ogy.

And, pride-wor­thy as it is, the do­mes­tic nu­clear in­dus­try’s safety record is not per­fect.

None of our nu­clear power gen­er­at­ing units has suf­fered events or ac­ci­dents rated above Level 2 un­der the In­ter­na­tional Nu­clear and Ra­di­o­log­i­cal Event Scale, ac­cord­ing to the white pa­per. But that does not ex­clude there be­ing events below or at Level 2.

That jus­ti­fies re­dou­bled cau­tion in the fu­ture, in the plan­ning, build­ing, and op­er­at­ing of nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties.

And as the num­ber of nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties in­crease, it will high­light an­other risk, for which we re­main rel­a­tively in­ex­pe­ri­enced, namely the safe dis­posal of nu­clear waste.

That is why pru­dence must re­main the watch­word.

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