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Nuclear security law in the works: Lawmaker

2014-04-08 10:56 China Daily Web Editor: qindexing

China is expected to enact a nuclear security law by 2018 as it builds new nuclear plants while targeting a higher security standard, a senior lawmaker said.

Sun Qin, a member of the Environmental Protection and Resources Conservation Committee of the National People's Congress, told China Daily that a first draft of the law is expected to be released this year.

"The draft will go through the second and third readings in the coming years. We plan to enact it within this term of the NPC," Sun said. The top legislature's current term ends in 2018.

Nuclear security became a global focus after the meltdown at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant three years ago, following a massive earthquake and tsunami.

In China, the incident ended a long debate over whether to introduce third-generation nuclear technology, after the State Council in October 2012 approved the nuclear security plan and medium to long-term nuclear development plan, both of which end in 2020.

The two plans state new nuclear reactors in China must adopt the highest global standard - that is, third-generation technology. The government also imposed a moratorium on the approval of inland nuclear reactor projects.

Third-generation nuclear technology offers what the World Nuclear Association terms "passive safety features" that require no active controls or intervention to avoid accidents in the event of malfunctions. These features "may rely on gravity, natural convection or resistance to high temperatures", according to the WNA.

Most reactors now in use around the world rely on active safety features, which require specific action by operators.

But as severe air pollution has sparked a public outcry and posed a challenge to authority, calls for clean energy have reignited. Nuclear energy is often included in this category because it does not produce emissions.

Premier Li Keqiang said in this year's Government Work Report that China will start construction of some nuclear projects this year.

In January, the National Energy Administration said it would resume the approval procedure of some key nuclear projects. It said China will "push forward nuclear project construction in coastal areas steadily while preserving sites designated for inland nuclear projects".

Public doubts over the safety of nuclear plants persist, however. Sun Qin, who is also chairman of the State-owned China National Nuclear Corp, admitted the biggest obstacle to inland nuclear projects is public perception.

"Technically, there is no difference between coastal and inland nuclear plants in terms of safety. More than half of the world's nuclear plants are built in inland regions. The problem is public perception. We have to strengthen our communications work," he said.

Analysts said a national law covering nuclear safety may ease public concerns. At present, there are only some longstanding regulations, as well as the technical standards addressed in the two plans.

China, the world's largest energy user, has 20 operating nuclear reactors and 28 under construction, nearly half the total being built globally, according to the WNA.

Chai Guohan, chief engineer at the Ministry of Environmental Protection's nuclear and radiation safety center, said the law will be based on the two plans.

The plans outline security standards, procedures for handling radioactivity, emergency response and regulatory capability building. And instead of emphasizing accident prevention (the traditional thinking), the plans emphasize both prevention and alleviation of accidents.

Chai also stressed the importance of "top-level design" to ensure industry insiders' qualifications.

"Many developed countries have put nuclear safety in their top-level legislation," he said.

"China is also a large nuclear energy country. Nuclear facilities with high-level radioactive waste could pose the most serious risks to public safety if emergencies occur, so we need such regulations to promote the practitioners' professionalism and understanding of nuclear safety."

He said that the law will not involve the choice of specific technologies.

"China's current nuclear energy projects already meet the international standards for nuclear safety, but such laws are still needed to further stipulate the structure and responsibilities of China's nuclear emergency response system."

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