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LCQ5: Nuclear energy

     Following is a question by the Hon Kam Nai-wai and a reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, at the Legislative Council meeting today (November 10):


     The Environment Bureau in its public consultation document on "Hong Kong's Climate Change Strategy and Action Agenda" released in September this year and the Chief Executive in his Policy Address delivered on 13 October this year have both proposed that the share of nuclear power in the fuel mix for power generation in Hong Kong be substantially increased from 23% in 2009 to 50% in 2020.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a)whether the authorities had, in the past two years, studied and assessed the risks and the safety hazards that nuclear power generation projects and an increase in the imported nuclear power will pose for Hong Kong; if they had, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; given that it was reported that the Central Government had identified a number of sites in Guangdong Province for developing nuclear power generation projects, and one of the seismic fracture zones in Shenzhen had extended to Hong Kong, whether they know if the mainland authorities have included extension of the seismic zone to Hong Kong as one of the factors for consideration in identifying sites for developing new nuclear power generation projects; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; of the seismic resistance of the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station and the selected sites for new nuclear power generation projects at present;

(b)whether the authorities have assessed the impact of the aforesaid increase in imported nuclear power to 50% in 2020 on the overall costs of power generation; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; whether the authorities have, given the technology currently available, assessed how long the supply of Uranium, which at present is essential for the production of nuclear power, will last; whether they have looked into the cost of imported nuclear power of power companies and its overall impact on electricity tariff; and

(c)whether the authorities have assessed the amount of nuclear wastes that will be produced as a result of the aforesaid increase in the share of nuclear power in the fuel mix for power generation in Hong Kong; whether they need to, in accordance with the prevailing standards for handling radioactive wastes in Hong Kong, formulate a plan for handling the nuclear wastes produced due to the increase in the imported nuclear power, and the costs involved; whether they have made reference to the approaches taken by various places in the world and their experiences in handling nuclear wastes; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; whether it knows the location for storing the nuclear wastes produced by Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station at present, and the conditions for handling these nuclear wastes in Daya Bay?



     To combat global climate change, we launched a public consultation on "Hong Kong's Climate Change Strategy and Action Agenda" in September 2010.  Power generation is the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Hong Kong.  It accounted for about 67% of our total emissions in 2008.  Reducing carbon emissions relating to power generation is, therefore, an indispensable element in our strategy for combating climate change.  Revamping the fuel mix of local power generation is the key to the reduction of GHG emissions of Hong Kong.  In seeking to improve the fuel mix, our policy target is to continue to uphold our energy policy objectives to ensure reliable, safe and efficient energy supplies at reasonable prices, while minimising the environmental impact caused by the production and use of energy.

     In 2009, coal accounted for about 54% of the fuel mix for power generation in Hong Kong, followed by natural gas which accounted for about 23%, and imported nuclear power which accounted for another 23%.  We propose to reduce the use of coal to account for no more than 10% of the fuel mix in 2020.  To make full use of the increase in supply of natural gas from the Mainland to Hong Kong under the Memorandum of Understanding on Energy Cooperation, we propose to increase the share of natural gas in the fuel mix to around 40%.  We also propose to substantially increase the share of non-fossil, low carbon fuel, such that renewable energy would make up about 3% to 4% of the fuel mix, and the balance of about 50% would be met by imported nuclear power.

     Nuclear power does not cause air pollution or emit GHG during the power generation process, and provides reliable and stable power supply over a long period of time.  With more nuclear power generation projects being developed in the Mainland, we may consider taking the opportunity to improve the fuel mix in Hong Kong and increase the import of nuclear power to replace coal-fired electricity.  Subject to views received in the consultation, we would closely liaise with the Central Authorities and power companies in Hong Kong and the Mainland to take forward related initiatives.

     As regards part (a) of the question, the nuclear fission technology adopted by the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station and other nuclear power stations in the Mainland was first developed in the 1940s and 1950s.  At present, nuclear power accounts for about 14% of global electricity supply.  Around 30 countries are now operating over 440 nuclear power generating units.  Nuclear power technology is relatively mature and widely used.

     In fact, the construction and operation of nuclear power stations in the Mainland are regulated by relevant national safety regulations for civilian nuclear facilities, and have to comply with national regulatory requirements before the plants could obtain the construction and safety operation approval.  The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) is responsible for the environmental monitoring of the nuclear power stations.  The National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) is a regulatory body under MEP responsible for the safety operation and inspection of the nuclear power plants.  The requirements for the construction and operation of nuclear power stations as well as handling of nuclear wastes are in line with the international standards.  The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also sends inspectors to inspect the operation of nuclear power stations.

     Under the Mainland's Regulation on Management of Seismic Safety Assessment, a seismic safety assessment (SSA) must be conducted for any nuclear power station and nuclear facilities construction project.  The report includes the technical requirements of the SSA and will be submitted to the relevant authority of the State Council in charge of seismicity for approval.  The authority will set the seismic resistance requirements of the construction works and the responsible construction works unit will carry out the seismic design based on those requirements.  

     As for the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station, one of the site selection criteria is that within 20 kilometres of the Power Station, there is no dividing boundary between plates of the earth's crust which has experienced significant seismic activities over a long period of time.  This notwithstanding, to protect the Power Station from impacts of earthquakes, its main building, structure, systems and facilities have been specially designed to withstand an earthquake of certain intensity.  

     As regards part (b) of the question, the impact of increased import of nuclear power on electricity tariff can only be assessed in detail upon finalisation of the construction proposal of the infrastructure and relevant details, subject to further studies and discussion.

     As a reference, the current unit price of nuclear electricity imported from the Mainland is about 50 cents/kWh, which covers the costs of handling spent fuel, insurance and the charges for future decommissioning of the nuclear power plants.  Comparatively, the power companies' current unit generation costs of coal-fired electricity are in the range of about 40-60 cents/kWh, and gas-fired electricity in the range of about 70-90 cents/kWh.  Fuel costs are subject to market fluctuation, and future imported nuclear power prices will be subject to commercial negotiation.  In fact, as the price of fossil fuels was very unstable over the past few years, it may not be viable to provide accurate projection now on the price of natural gas over the next 10 years.  However, comparatively, the unit price of nuclear power is expected to be more stable and lower than the unit generation cost of gas-fired electricity.

     According to the information from the IAEA, while nuclear power stations are more capital intensive than power generation by fossil fuels, yet the operating cost of the former after commissioning is lower than that of the latter.  Also, as the fuel costs for nuclear power generation are more stable, it is expected these factors would contribute to a lower average tariff for nuclear electricity.

     On the supply of uranium as fuel source for nuclear power, information from the IAEA indicates that at the nuclear power utilisation level in 2007, total identified uranium resources are sufficient for global use for about 100 years.  However, the utilisation period of the uranium resources can be extended significantly if more advanced technology is adopted.

     As regards part (c) of the question, currently the spent fuel and other nuclear wastes produced by the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station are handled in the Mainland.  NNSA is the monitoring body overseeing nuclear power stations and their handling of nuclear wastes.  It monitors and regulates the handling of radioactive wastes according to existing regulations.  It also vets, monitors and inspects related work, in particular radioactive waste handling activities in nuclear facilities. The national regulations on the construction of nuclear power plants, the licensing arrangement for their operation, as well as the handling of nuclear waste are in line with the international standards.

     Around 50 tonnes of spent fuel are produced in Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station every year and stored in a dedicated pool for cooling and radiation shielding.  They will be removed from the Power Station as their radioactivity and heat drops over time.

     According to the Mainland's policy, spent fuel is treated in compliance with national regulation and internationally recognised practises, and will be reprocessed to extract useful materials for further use.  The NNSA is responsible for overseeing relevant operation and safety issues, while the MEP monitors its environmental safety.

     In addition, the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station produces less than 200 cubic metres of radioactive waste every year, including packaging materials.  The sources of radioactive waste at the Power Station include radioactive substances extracted in the daily operation of the Power Station, radiological spare parts replaced during maintenance, and tools or protective clothing contaminated by radioactivity.  In line with international practise, the Power Station packs the waste in concrete drums or metal drums depending on the nature of the waste to prevent it from coming into contact with the environment.  The waste will be temporarily stored in the Power Station, and will eventually be transported to repositories for storage.

Ends/Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Issued at HKT 16:28


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