China’s new draft law stresses nuclear safety

Global Times
Deng Xiaoci 
April 26, 2017
 
China is working on the details of its Nuclear Safety Law to better regulate the country’s fast growing nuclear facilities. 

In the latest draft, more weight is given to transparency of nuclear facility-related information, but lawmakers say China should also pay more attention to monitoring radioactive contamination from foreign sources.

The National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee on Monday deliberated on the second draft of the law at the start of its four-day bi-monthly session.

Nuclear facility operators must take full responsibility for safety, according to the draft law. China currently has more than 30 operational nuclear reactors and is building 20 more.

The draft law requires operators to monitor and regularly report the types and density of radioactive elements in their area to environment authorities, and also orders operators to document their radioactive waste disposal information.

A national emergency response coordination committee should be set up to organize the response in case of a nuclear accident, and provincial governments should also establish committees when necessary, reads the revised draft.

Transparency is a major part of the nuclear legislation. Wan Exiang, vice chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, said public hearings should be held when choosing the locations of nuclear facilities. Vice chairman Chen Changzhi suggested there should be a public poll before construction of any nuclear project.

It also calls for greater efforts to protect the health of staff at nuclear facilities. Regular and more frequent health examinations for nuclear facility operators must be provided, which should be supervised by labor rights authorities, said Yan Yixin, another member of the NPC Standing Committee.

The draft states that a sorting system must be established for radioactive waste disposal. Low- and medium-level radioactive waste should be disposed of in designated sites, while high-level waste should be stored underground by agencies appointed by the State Council. 

The amount of nuclear waste should be reduced and it must be reprocessed in the most harmless way and be documented, the draft says, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

The draft will likely go through a third reading before it is passed into law, as early as August. 

External monitoring

Amid uncertainties caused by nuclear threats from abroad, lawmakers said any impact from nuclear accidents outside China should also be taken into consideration.

As a next step, China should strengthen its monitoring of nuclear accidents and radioactive fallout in other countries to alert the Chinese public and prevent contamination, Peng Sen, an NPC Standing Committee member was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests and the international community is on the alert for a sixth test in the near future. North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site is only about 100 kilometers from the Chinese border.

Lao Zhou, who runs a small shop in Changbai county, Jilin Province, the closest Chinese county to Punggye-ri, told the Global Times that “many local pregnant women have already moved to other places for fear of being exposed to radiation.”

“Monitoring and information transparency on nuclear accidents in neighboring countries could help calm people and avoid chaos like the panic buying of salt in 2011 in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster,” said Wang Jin, a law professor at Peking University who participated in the first reading of the draft, referring to the Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan in 2011.

“The draft, which covers all aspects of nuclear facility operations, from planning to potential accidents – though there has never been one in China – sends an assuring message to the public,” Wang added.

Wang said the draft stresses the consent of the people before construction of any nuclear facility can begin, and while it is in operation, information on the nuclear materials and radiation density must be submitted to local environmental authorities. The newly added compensation part of the draft also signifies the country will be ready to cope with situations with established laws.