China’s southern Guangdong province is on a spree constructing nuclear power plants, with the latest addition to the province’s nuclear plant cluster in the city of Huizhou, 90 kilometers northeast of Hong Kong.

Six reactors there will generate 50 billion kilowatt-hours per year to quench the province’s thirst for electricity.

The 120 billion yuan (US$17.74 billion) megaproject, to be run by the state-owned China General Nuclear Power Corp (CGN), will bring the total number of nuclear reactors in Guangdong, a manufacturing powerhouse and China’s largest provincial economy, to 26.

CGN’s ultimate plan is to boost that number to 46, spanning 11 plants, to power Guangdong’s booming economy, whose gross domestic product in 2018 is tipped to hit the 10-trillion-yuan mark and surpass South Korea and Canada.

The new reactors in Huizhou, already given the go-ahead by China’s environmental watchdog, will be built around China’s indigenous, third generation Hualong (China Dragon) pressurized water nuclear reactor standards. The total power generation capacity will be equivalent to Hong Kong’s annual electricity consumption, according to CGN.

China’s Hualong reactors are modeled after France’s three cooling loop reactor design. In the event of an emergency, they are capable of automatically shutting down fission reactions and cooling down reactor cores to safe levels within 72 hours, to avoid reactor core meltdown. which triggered the devastating nuclear disaster and leakage at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant in March 2011.

Screenshot 2019-01-17 at 3.36.49 PM
The core of a pressurized water nuclear reactor. Photo: Handout
Screenshot 2019-01-17 at 3.37.45 PM
A model of the Hualong reactor inside its containment dome. Photo: Handout

The reactors to be installed in Huizhou also feature 4.5-meter thick metal and concrete containment domes as an extra layer of protection to minimize the risk of fallout.

A combination of both passive and active safety systems with a double containment dome underpins the safety standards and “infallible” operations of the Hualong reactors, according to CGN and Guangdong officials.

The first Hualong reactor went live in Fujian province in 2017.

Still, concerns are being raised about the safety of so many nuclear plants, including Daya Bay, Ling’ao, Taishan, Lufeng, Yangjiang and Huizhou, within a radius of about 100 km from Hong Kong and Macau.

Guangdong’s aggressive plans to harness nuclear energy have long stoked fears about safe operations and the disposal of spent fuel rods.

CGN has sought to allay misgivings by promising more transparent consultation, reactor management and notification of incidents, but the company has given scant information about the Huizhou plant, the built-in safety infrastructure and contingency plans.

The company told Xinhua that the National Nuclear Safety Administration would conduct a further assessment of the plant’s design and safety facilities and decide the start of its construction.

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