LCQ3: Development of nuclear power

     Following is a question by the Hon Audrey Eu Yuet-mee and a reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, at the Legislative Council meeting today (November 17):


     It has been learnt that the Guangdong Province is now planning its medium-to-long term development of nuclear power in accordance with the Medium-to-Long Term Development Plan of Nuclear Power (2005-2020) (the Development Plan) issued by the National Development and Reform Commission, and plans to build more nuclear power stations.  Further, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government is currently conducting public consultation on a plan to increase imported nuclear energy in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Yet, quite a number of members of the public have relayed to me that they are worried about the safety and risks of nuclear power, and they have criticised that the existing official contingency notification channel between Guangdong and Hong Kong as well as the standing monitoring mechanism lack transparency and public participation.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) since the issuance of the Development Plan, whether the HKSAR Government has ascertained from the Guangdong Province the latest progress of its plan for the medium-to-long term development of nuclear power, including the respective numbers of nuclear power stations and generating units which are under planning, the capacity of such units, as well as the assessment of the risk they pose for the safety of Hong Kong; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) whether the authorities had, in the past two years, drawn up plans to enhance the transparency of the official contingency notification channel between the Governments of Guangdong and Hong Kong; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(c) whether the authorities had, in the past two years, drawn up strategies to make use of the opportunity of increasing imported nuclear energy from the neighbouring places to reinforce public participation in the nuclear power safety monitoring system; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     According to the "Medium-to-Long Term Development Plan of Nuclear Power (2005-2020)" issued by the National Reform and Development Commission, the nuclear power projects in Guangdong, which have been approved or reviewed or commenced site selection work include Lingao Nuclear Power Station Phase 2, Yangjiang Nuclear Power Station, Yaogu Nuclear Power Station in Taishan and Tianwei Nuclear Power Station in Lufeng.  There would be about 14 generation units with a total installed capacity of about 14,000 MW.

     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 requirements on construction and operation meet the international standards.  The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) is responsible for the environmental monitoring of the nuclear power stations.  The National Nuclear Safety Administration is a regulatory body under MEP and is in charge of overseeing the safety operation of nuclear power stations, and carrying out inspection.  

     Nuclear power has been under progressive development in the Mainland.  Hong Kong Nuclear Investment Company Limited (HKNIC), a wholly-owned subsidiary of CLP Holdings Ltd (CLP), has been investing and taking part in the operation of the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station (Daya Bay), and nuclear electricity is imported for use in Hong Kong.  The nuclear technology adopted by Daya Bay and other nuclear power stations in the Mainland is relatively mature and widely used both locally and overseas.

     As regards emergency arrangement and risk assessment on nuclear incidents, it has been an international practice (and adopted by the Mainland) to develop contingency plan with regard to the distance from nuclear power stations.  According to practices commonly adopted internationally, in case of nuclear incidents, full countermeasures have to be considered for the area within 10 km to 16 km from the nuclear power station, to prevent direct exposure to radiation or inhalation of contaminated air.  Ingestion pathway countermeasures have to be considered for the area within 50 km to 80 km from the nuclear power station, to prevent the intake of contaminated food, water or milk by the public. Among the existing and planned nuclear power stations in the Guangdong province, Daya Bay is the closest to Hong Kong. It is about 20 km away from the nearest land base of Hong Kong and 50 km away from the city centre. Since the operation of the Daya Bay, the governments of Hong Kong and Guangdong have established contingency and notification mechanisms on emergency arrangements for the nuclear power station. Co-operation agreement and information exchange on emergency response at the Daya Bay and Lingao nuclear power stations have also been worked out. The above co-operation, emergency response and notification arrangements are set out in the Daya Bay Contingency Plan, which has been uploaded onto the website of the Security Bureau (SB) for public reference. Other nuclear power stations under construction or planning, including those in Yangjiang, Yaogu and Tianwei, are generally more than 100 km away from Hong Kong, ranging from 130 km to 200 km.

     According to the bilateral co-operation agreement, the SAR Government and the Guangdong authorities have established an official emergency notification channel. In simple terms, the Prevention and Emergency Administrative Commission Office of Guangdong Province for Nuclear Accident of Civil Nuclear Facility (PEACO, GD) is responsible for co-ordinating contingency actions to be taken by various Guangdong authorities in response to events at Daya Bay.  In case of a contingency event or accident at the station, the Daya Bay operator will inform the PEACO, GD and other relevant state organisations immediately. PEACO, GD will notify the HKSAR Government in accordance with the arrangements agreed between the two sides and the classification of the "emergency situation". The classification of "emergency situation" follows the four-category system of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for classifying nuclear emergencies according to its impact on safety.  The four categories are Emergency Standby, Plant Emergency, Site Emergency and Off-Site Emergency.

     In case of an "Off-Site Emergency", PEACO, GD will immediately inform the SAR Government via the Hong Kong Observatory (HKO). HKO will acknowledge receipt, inform the SB, and commence the assessment process. SB will determine the appropriate level of activation of the Daya Bay Contingency Plan. It will also direct and co-ordinate the Government's response to the nuclear incident.  PEACO, GD will provide updates on the situation no longer than every six hours. It will give further notification immediately on detecting significant changes.

     In respect of non off-site emergencies, PEACO, GD is also obliged to notify the SAR Government.  Depending on the situation, SB will determine the appropriate level of activation of the Daya Bay Contingency Plan.  Upon receiving a report of "Site Emergency" from Daya Bay, PEACO, GD will make a first notification to the Hong Kong authorities as soon as possible based on the circumstances at the time and at the latest two hours after being notified by Daya Bay. Thereafter, PEACO, GD will make follow-up notifications once every six hours.  If there are significant changes, the follow-up notifications will be made as soon as possible.  In case of nuclear emergencies at Daya Bay which fall into the categories of "Plant Emergency" or "Emergency Standby", the Guangdong authorities will inform the Hong Kong authorities at the same time when they report to IAEA.

     The Guangdong and Hong Kong authorities have established to meet annually for reviewing the bilateral co-operation arrangements, sharing experiences and identifying opportunities for enhancement of co-operation.  In order to improve the notification mechanism, SB has stepped up the discussion with PEACO, GD for a review of it.  PEACO, GD has acknowledged the need for enhancements to the existing co-operation arrangement and notification mechanism.  Both sides agreed to assign experts for further discussions.  The Administration will report the result of the discussions to the Panel on Security in future.

     For incidents without any impact on environmental or public safety, HKNIC at present provides information through its website on the number of Licensing Operational Events and general operation data of Daya Bay on a monthly basis.  Notwithstanding, the SAR Government is aware of the public concerns over similar events recently, and understand that transparency and timely disclosure of information is an important basis for maintaining public confidence in the safe operation of the nuclear power station.  To strengthen HKNIC's existing public communication mechanism, the Government has already asked CLP and HKNIC to timely disclose to the public any incidents related to radiation and the safe operation of Daya Bay, and to put in place proper arrangements for the release of relevant information to the public to enhance the transparency of the operation of the nuclear power station.  We believe that whilst ensuring safe operation, public confidence in nuclear power should also be strengthened with enhanced transparency of the operation of the nuclear power station.

     Hong Kong has also put in place its own monitoring and alert mechanism.  HKO has set up ten field stations to monitors the ambient gamma radiation level.  An alarm will immediately sound if the radiation level exceeds the preset level.  As new nuclear power stations will be established at locations in Guangdong to the west of Hong Kong, HKO plans to set up the eleventh radiation monitoring station in the western part of Hong Kong.  Moreover, HKO uploads daily on its website information on the radioactivity level of the previous day.  Its website also contains information on radiation monitoring, assessment and protection.  HKO organises various promotional activities on the knowledge of radioactivity to enhance public awareness on the monitoring of radioactivity.

Ends/Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Issued at HKT 14:32