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What Japan's nuclear crisis has taught us

13:45, March 16, 2011

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By Li Hong

The small battalion of 50 nuclear workers are staying put at the heavily damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Complex, keeping alive a hope to prevent a nuclear catastrophe by cooling down three sets of overheated nuclear reactors, and spilling water into cooling pools storing spent uranium fuel rods at another three reactors there.

The world stands on edge, weary of a worst- scenario full meltdown of the nuclear rods will spew thousands of tons of radioactive dust into the open air, endangering millions of lives in Japan and beyond.

We hope the best luck for the 50 brave men and for Japan! And if any of China's expertise or other help is needed, we should be ready to provide, as we are close neighbors, and it is a grave challenge facing our human beings. We are already saddened by the stunning loss of human loss inflicted on Japan by the magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami surge last week. Nothing is more precious than life.

What I want to write here is for China to learn lessons from the Fukushima debacle. The unfolding Japanese tragedy has led to officials in Europe and the United States to think twice about nuclear expansion. The European Union has decided to test all 143 nuclear power plants in 27 member countries, and Germany has already shut down seven aged plants.

If the developed and technologically- advanced countries are suspecting nuclear power's viability, amid rising public demands to stop and eliminate all their nuclear plants, it is unwise for China to maintain oblivious to what happened in Japan and keep deaf to varying opinion that oppose atomic energy. Beijing needs to take a time to think, seriously, whether the energy continues to be a valuable tool, or, China needs to study and develop alternatives of clean and renewable energy.

Our country has been vehement in investing nuclear power plants since early this century, as more than a dozen of new reactors are being built, or planned, along the long coastline. It is a fact that China's demand for electricity will keep growing, as we have a sprawling line of factories and urban buildings and homes to power and heat.

However, when all the evidence is in from Fukushima now, China needs to cool down on its nuclear power building frenzy, and ask itself whether the power is a safe one. When the nuclear scientists and politicians in Tokyo were driven to the precipice while clueless in face of the smoking "reactor bombs", this moment of powerlessness must be shared by all the governments that have long fallen in love with nuclear power, including Beijing.

In the wake of what has happened in Japan, we are required to reassess all of our nuclear plants' safety measures, to make sure that our backup tools are adequate and strong enough to cool reactors if electricity is lost, in the case of a flooding or a tsunami caused by earthquake. If any of China's plants use technology similar to those affected in Japan, known as boiling-water reactors, they need to draw particular attention from our nuclear engineers.

Some of China's reactors are situated or are being built near seismically unstable coastal areas, like the power plant in northeastern Liaoning Province, considering nearby powerful tremblers like Haicheng and Tanshan earthquakes stroke around 1970s. The nuclear safety regulator needs to evaluate how well operators there would cope if they lost both primary power supply and backup diesel generators in a case of a magnitude-9 or even more powerful quake.

And, China needs to contemplate how to cope with economic aftershocks of Japan's quake and nuclear crisis. If Tokyo cannot prevent the radiation from extending, the crisis' toll on Japan's economy is likely to be considerable and lasting. With Japan's gross domestic product is almost certain to contract this year, China needs to develop other alleys to make up for the sudden loss of both exports and imports traditionally done with Japan.

Also, I strongly advocate China's central bank to raise interest rates and lenders' reserve requirement ratios. As Japan's stock market has plummeted, the Bank of Japan has thrown into the financial market 29.5 trillion Japanese yen ($365 billion) as of today to prevent a financial meltdown. Tokyo is certain to invest an astronomical number later on after-quake reconstruction. The unprecedented injection of funds, exactly like the two rounds of "quantitative easing" taken by the US Federal Reserve in 2009 and 2010, will cause another crest of global liquidity.

Some of the funds will inevitably spill into China. As this country's inflation has hovered around 5 percent for five months and the government is deepening measures to control a stubborn rise of housing prices, any large inflows of foreign capital will accelerate domestic equity bubbles, making Beijing's efforts to rein in inflation more difficult.

In addition to rate rises, at the same time, China's foreign currency overseeing authorities should ram up their checks to prevent inflows of overseas funds from disturbing China's market.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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About this column

Li Hong has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.

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http://english.people.com.cn/90002/96743/7321699.pdf