LEGCO QUESTIONS

Safety of nuclear power plants near Hong Kong and related issues

25 May 2016
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LCQ22: Nuclear incident monitoring and notification arrangement between Guangdong and Hong Kong
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Following is a question by the Hon Kenneth Leung and a written reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, in the Legislative Council today (May 25):

Question:

It is learnt that the Taishan Nuclear Power Station (TNPS), which is under construction, employs the latest European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs), but so far no EPR vessel worldwide is formally in operation.  In addition, the completion dates of the EPR nuclear power plants under construction in France and Finland respectively have seen repeated delays as the plants have failed to comply with the respective nuclear safety standards of the two countries.  According to the information of the Nuclear Safety Authority in France (ASN), the metallic pressure vessels in the EPR nuclear power plant under construction in France have yet to pass the safety tests on withstanding high temperature and high pressure, and the manufacturer of these vessels is also the supplier of the pressure vessels for TNPS.  After the release of the aforesaid information by ASN, the Mainland authorities have announced that the construction of TNPS would be halted, but there are news that TNPS will be completed and commissioned in the first half of next year.  Given that TNPS is only 130 kilometres (km) from Hong Kong and its electricity generating capacity almost doubles that of the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station (DBNPS), the safety of Hong Kong people may be seriously threatened in the event that a nuclear incident occurs at TNPS.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) given that the safety of TNPS under construction has been called into question, whether the Government has approached the China General Nuclear Power Group, which is responsible for the construction of TNPS, and related Mainland agencies to see if the construction of TNPS has encountered technical and construction problems; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) given that TNPS has employed the novel design of EPR, whether the Government has requested the Mainland authorities to provide, on a regular basis, information on the construction progress and safety compliance of TNPS; whether it has considered discussing with the Mainland authorities the setting up of a notification mechanism applicable to nuclear power stations under construction so that the Government will get to know if any anomalies have occurred during the construction of nuclear power stations so as to enhance transparency; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(3) as it is stipulated under the DBNPS notification mechanism that the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Operations and Management Co. Ltd will notify the Hong Kong Nuclear Investment Company Limited (HKNIC) within two working days after the discovery of any Licensing Operational Event (LOE) not involving emergency response (including LOEs at Level 0 or 1 classified under the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES)), and HKNIC will immediately make public the event on its website, whereas emergency events at Level 2 or above under INES will, in accordance with the emergency response mechanism, be disclosed and followed up by the designated units related to emergency response of the Governments of Hong Kong and the Guangdong Province, whether the authorities have discussed with TNPS-related bodies the setting up of a similar notification mechanism; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(4) given that while the Government has formulated the Daya Bay Contingency Plan to respond to nuclear incidents at DBNPS, it has not formulated contingency measures to respond to the nuclear incidents that may occur at other nuclear power plants within the Guangdong Province for the reason that such nuclear power plants are situated more than 130 km from Hong Kong, whether the authorities will formulate a set of contingency plans to respond to nuclear incidents that may occur at TNPS in the light of TNPS’s huge electricity generating capacity and the employment of the novel design of EPR in TNPS; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(5) as the authorities conducted a large-scale exercise to test the Daya Bay Contingency Plan in 2012 and indicated that they expected to hold another large-scale exercise about three years later, whether the authorities have plans to hold a large-scale exercise for nuclear incidents in the near future; if they do, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(6) as the white paper on “China’s Nuclear Emergency Preparedness” published by the State Council in January this year states that the Guangdong Province and the Hong Kong SAR have been incessantly enriching the contents of their collaborative mechanism on nuclear emergency preparedness and refining the communication platform for nuclear emergency preparedness between Guangdong and Hong Kong, and that “[t]he relevant departments of the central government have held special training sessions focusing on various disciplines in conjunction with the departments concerned of Hong Kong and Macao SAR governments with a view to raising the professional level of the local public, therefore contributing positively to maintaining the prosperity and stability of both Hong Kong and Macao”, whether the Government knows the details of the “relevant departments” and the “training sessions” mentioned in the white paper?

Reply:

President,

My consolidated reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:

The construction and operation of nuclear power stations on the Mainland are governed by relevant national regulations for civilian nuclear facilities, which are established with reference to international standards.

According to the public information from the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA), it was notified by the Nuclear Safety Authority of France last year that AREVA, the parent company of Creusot Forge, which supplied pressure vessel forgings to the TNPS, had conducted tests on a reactor pressure vessel head similar to the one in Unit 3 of the Flamanville Nuclear Power Station in France.  The test results indicated that carbon segregation was found at the central area of the pressure vessel head and its toughness against impact was lower than expected.  The NNSA, together with its French counterpart and the TNPS, has been following up on the matter, and has stated that the First Fuel Loading Permit would only be issued to the TNPS for commencement of its operation after the issue had been thoroughly investigated and properly resolved.  We will continue to monitor the development of the issue and maintain contact with our Mainland counterpart.

In the mid-90s, Hong Kong and the Guangdong Province established an official contingency notification channel for the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station (DBNPS).  In case of an emergency incident or accident, the DBNPS will immediately notify the Prevention and Emergency Administrative Commission Office of Guangdong Province for Nuclear Accident of Civil Nuclear Facility (now called Nuclear Emergency Committee Office of the Guangdong Province or GDNECO) and other relevant Mainland organisations.  The GDNECO will then notify Hong Kong within the specified notification timeframe according to the level of the incident or accident, so as to facilitate Hong Kong’s assessing the situation and taking corresponding measures.  In recent years, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government and the GDNECO have drawn up an incident notification mechanism for new nuclear power stations in the Guangdong Province.  The new mechanism, which is based on that for the DBNPS, covers different levels of incidents at all operating nuclear power stations in Guangdong apart from the DBNPS, further improving the channels for information exchange and contingency notification between Hong Kong and Guangdong.

Furthermore, the HKSAR Government has put in place a comprehensive contingency plan – the Daya Bay Contingency Plan (DBCP), which sets out appropriate contingency measures to be adopted by government departments for public health and safety in case of a release of radioactive materials at any nuclear power station in or beyond Daya Bay.  The plan is applicable to all operating nuclear power stations beyond Daya Bay, including the TNPS upon commissioning.  At present, all newly constructed Mainland nuclear power stations, including the TNPS, are at least about 130 km from Hong Kong urban area.  Based on general assessments in accordance with international standards, the threat posed by these nuclear power stations beyond Daya Bay to Hong Kong is far smaller than that by the DBNPS.  We therefore believe that the risk of Hong Kong being impacted by radioactive plume arising from nuclear accidents at these nuclear power stations would be very low.

A large-scale inter-departmental exercise based on the DBCP and the overall Emergency Response System is conducted in a cycle of every three to five years.  After the last exercise conducted in April 2012, we plan to conduct the next exercise in the coming year.

There are regular co-operation and communication channels between the HKSAR Government and the Guangdong authorities for periodic exchange and review of issues like nuclear incident monitoring and notification arrangements.  Emergency response personnel of Hong Kong and Guangdong have conducted exchanges in relevant professional areas to enhance their knowledge and capabilities in nuclear emergency preparedness.  For example, officers from relevant Mainland authorities have attended workshops on nuclear emergency preparedness organised by the Hong Kong Observatory, and officers from the Hong Kong Observatory have also taken part in training programmes organised by Mainland authorities for mutual exchange and knowledge sharing.  Representatives of the HKSAR Government also attend meetings, workshops and other related activities of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as members of the People’s Republic of China’s delegations or with the support of the Central Authorities, to learn about the latest international standards and practices.