Located three-and-a-half hours west of Guangzhou, Yangjiang is known for its unspoiled white sand beach. Soon, though, the city may have another claim to fame, one that may destroy its prospects of creating a tourism industry.
One of China’s largest nuclear plants is set to be built just 48 kilometers from Yangjiang in Dongping county. Preliminary construction began last September and the plant is expected to go into commercial operation by 2013.
“They first talked about building a nuclear plant here in the 1980s, so the city has developed slowly in the 20 years. Rich people don’t stay here,” said a man named Luo, who runs a small restaurant in the city.
The US$8 billion facility will be the third and largest nuclear plant in Guangdong province. Its cost will be partly covered by revenues generated by the two other plants in Shenzhen, according to Shenzhen-listed China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group, which owns all three.
In total, China has four nuclear plants already in operation – the remaining two are in Zhejiang province and Jiangsu province, respectively – and they produce 1.6% of the nation’s electricity.
Seen by many as the only long-term solution to China’s energy shortages, nuclear power is expected to account for 4% of annual electricity output by 2020. The National Development and Reform Commission has committed US$60 billion toward achieving that goal.
Nuclear power is clean, efficient, reliable and increasingly safe – but few people want to have it on their doorstep.
Yangjiang has a population of about 2.5 million and is still best known in China for producing low-value knives and scissors. It looks nothing like other coastal cities in Guangdong. The majority of the buildings are two or three stories, with a two-room city center apartment of 60 square meters selling for US$10,500. Prices have changed little in recent years.
To create space for the new plant, 150 or so households from two villages had to be moved. The villagers – mainly fishermen and their families – were given some money to cover relocation costs but nothing in the way of compensation.
Like many other residents, Luo says that he isn’t concerned about radiation or other dangers associated with nuclear power because the government has promised the plant will be pollution-free. He does worry, however, about the new facility keeping away tourists.
Another local resident, a fisherman named Huang, sells shrimps at a local market and professed to be a little upset about the plant. He lives “not very far” from the site but is unlikely to go anywhere else because he – like his neighbors – has no skills beyond fishing.
In the years ahead, more villages are likely to find themselves in a similar situation to Yangjiang. Thirteen nuclear plant sites have been identified in the coastal provinces of Liaoning, Shandong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong.
Feasibility studies for more plants are being conducted in the central provinces of Hubei, Hunan and Jiangxi.
Beijing doesn’t appear on the list but many in the capital worry about property prices in the nearby tourist town of Weihai. In 2006, the Shandong government announced that a plant will be built just 11 kilometers from Weihai’s acclaimed White Beach. Construction is only waiting on final approval from the State Environmental Protection Administration.
Of the 13 coastal sites, Sanmen in Zhejiang will be the first to begin construction in March, followed by Haiyang in Shandong.
For these two plants, China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Company will buy four reactors from US-based firm Westinghouse. The reactor design has been approved by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but it has never been used in any operating plants.
Westinghouse’s main rival, French firm Areva, last November signed a US$11.9 billion agreement with Guangdong Nuclear for two reactors – the biggest deal in the industry’s history. The location of the reactors remains undecided.