Monitoring of nuclear safety needs attention

08:24, June 22, 2010      

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China's standards for building and operating nuclear power plants are in full accordance with international safety standards, said analysts.

But due to the rapid development of the industry, China needs to invest more in monitoring nuclear safety at civilian nuclear power projects, they said.

China adopted its nuclear power industry standards from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said Yu Zusheng, a member of the experts committee with State Nuclear Power Technology Corp (SNPTC). "They are among China's first group of standards which are in line with international markets."

At present the country's safety standards for each nuclear project either under plan or operation are the same as those globally, said Lin Chengge, the former executive general director and chief engineer of the National Nuclear Safety Administration, China's nuclear regulatory commission.

At present, each nuclear reactor in China has three barrier layers , which are used to keep radioactivity contained. And the location of each nuclear power project has been chosen only after careful consideration, said Lin, who is also a former senior safety expert with the IAEA.

Commenting on reports of a small leak from a fuel rod at the Daya Bay nuclear power station in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, which was widely reported by the media last week, Lin said the event "cannot be called an accident and would do no harm to the external environment".

One nuclear power reactor has around 40,000 fuel rods. It is normal to see some damage to a small number of rods, said Lin, adding that the small leakage occurred within the barrier layers, and was fully contained.

He admitted it's necessary to improve communications between nuclear plant operators and the public to avoid unreasonable panic.

As the world's second-largest energy consumer, China now has 11 nuclear power plants in operation. These plants have a total capacity of 9.1 gigawatts (gW), accounting for around 1 percent of the country's total power capacity.

The country's nuclear power industry has seen accelerated growth in recent years. According to energy officials, China plans to increase its nuclear power capacity to 70 gW to 80 gW in 2020.

However, "the country needs to improve its monitoring of nuclear safety overseeing the industry to achieve better development", said the SNPTC's Yu.

For instance, Chinese expenditure on monitoring nuclear safety at the 11 operating nuclear power plants totals around 40 million yuan ($6 million) per year.

In comparison, in the United States, which has around 100 nuclear power plants, the country's total budget for monitoring nuclear safety is $700 million annually.

As for manpower, there are around 4,000 people in the US who are involved in the safe operating and monitoring of nuclear power projects. But in China, that figure is 300 people, said Yu.

"The country needs to make improvements both in investment plans and personnel development," he said.

Source: China Daily


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