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Residents of Chinese City Protest Possible Nuclear Plans

  • Associated Press

Lianyungang, China, map

Lianyungang, China, map

Residents of a city in eastern China have protested for a third day against possible plans to build a nuclear fuel reprocessing center, a protester and a city employee said Tuesday, as police announced a ban on public gatherings.

The protests in Lianyungang, north of Shanghai, reflect public unease about the safety of China's state-owned nuclear industry and growing willingness to oppose nuclear, chemical and other industrial projects.

The city government responded to the weekend demonstrations in a downtown square with an announcement that plans for the nuclear project were in early stages and no location had been confirmed.

Despite that, protesters gathered again Monday, according to a city hall employee who would give only his surname, Zhang, and man who gave his surname as Wang. Wang said he took part in one weekend protest and witnessed others.

About a dozen people who threw stones on Monday were detained by police, according to Wang. He said local residents were discussing plans for possible additional protests.

“We don't want this project,” said Wang by telephone. “We worry about whether there will be a leak and whether the technology is good enough to protect people's health.”

Also Tuesday, police announced a ban on unauthorized public gatherings and issued a statement calling on the public to disregard rumors.

There were no reports about the protests in Chinese media, suggesting censors ordered publications to suppress information about them.

China is the most active builder of nuclear power plants, with 32 reactors in operation, 22 under construction and more planned. The government has spent heavily to build up its ability to produce fuel and process waste.

The official Xinhua News Agency said in September that the state-owned China National Nuclear Corp. would build a nuclear fuel reprocessing center with French partner Areva starting in 2020, but no location has been announced.

Thousands of people took to the streets on Saturday when rumors spread that Lianyungang had been picked as the site for the facility.

Photos circulated on social media showed crowds in a central square. Some carried banners saying, “For the next generation, refuse construction of the nuclear waste plant.”

A unit of CNNC and its French partner have looked at more than 10 potential locations for the reprocessing center, according to the official China News Service. It said the two did preliminary research last year on Lianyungang.

In 2013, similar plans to build a nuclear fuel reprocessing facility in the southern city of Heshan, near Hong Kong, were scrapped following protests by residents over possible safety risks.

Chinese authorities also have scrapped or postponed other petrochemical and other industrial projects elsewhere following protests, but in some cases works goes ahead after tensions die down.