PENGZE, China--The accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has been a wake-up call to Chinese farmer Wang Guang on the dangers of atomic energy.
“Once an accident occurs, our village will be the first to be affected,” Wang said of a nuclear power plant under construction across the Yangtze River. “We will not be able to grow rice any longer.”
The concerns of Wang and other residents of Wangjiang county, Anhui province, have led to rare public opposition in China to a nuclear power plant, a state project.
Last autumn, four retired senior village officials filed a petition with the local government, seeking suspension of the plant construction.
Construction began in Pengze county, Jiangxi province, about two years ago. Plans call for four reactors, each with a capacity of about 1 gigawatt.
An expressway, the first in the region, has been laid nearby, with a tollgate named “Hedian,” or a nuclear power plant.
For land expropriation, the local government promised to pay 300 yuan (3,900 yen, or $48) a month to people who give up their landholdings.
It is no small amount. The average income of village farmers is 5,000 yuan a year, only one-sixth the levels of residents of major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.
The situation is different in Wang’s village.
“We have not received any subsidy, and we will not see any new road being built,” Wang said. “Electric power will go to cities. The concerns about contamination are the only thing that remains with us.”
A general store owner said: “In the past, someone came and told us that they would give presents if we sign a letter of consent (for the nuclear power plant) but never explained about the bad things.
“We did not know the risks involved until we watched the accident in Japan on TV. Now, we do not want to have a nuclear power plant even if we receive money.”
Opponents in Wangjiang county have been encouraged by Premier Wen Jiabao’s decision a year ago to suspend screening and approval for new nuclear power plant projects.
The decision was made at an emergency meeting Wen called on March 16, five days after the Great East Japan Earthquake damaged the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
The nuclear power plant in Pengze county is among the projects that have not received final approval from the central government, according to sources.
“Wen has been sensitive to negative problems that the fast economic growth has produced,” said He Zuoxiu at the government-affiliated Chinese Academy of Sciences, who has given advice to opponents in Wangjiang county.
“I do not expect he will ignore opposition and give the go-ahead for the project.”
He said the National People’s Congress, which opens on March 5, will address the project in Pengze county.
Nuclear power plants used to be easily implemented public works projects in China.
“We prepare sites in two years and plants start commercial operations five years after construction begins,” said a senior official at a state-owned nuclear power company.
It is generally said four reactors will bring in 3 billion yuan a year in taxes. The figure is six times more than tax revenues for the Wangjiang county government.
More than 10 candidate sites are located in the provinces of Jiangxi and Anhui, which are eager to attract nuclear power plants to promote regional development.
In Pengze county, outside Jiujiang, a white building of the nuclear power plant stands amid mostly agricultural land, an area immune from the real-estate investment boom in China’s urban areas.
Poor quality farmland, where rice and cotton are grown on a small scale, brings in a scant 100 yuan in annual rent per 666 square meters if it finds tenants. But landowners received about 20,000 yuan when they sold their plots for the nuclear power plant.
“We know about the accident in Fukushima, but no one is opposed to the nuclear power plant,” said He Zhongping, owner of a general store about 1 kilometer from the construction site. “It is because we do not have places to work other than government offices (unless we migrate to cities).”
A school next to He’s store has no plans to relocate.
At past meetings of the National People’s Congress, Wen has emphasized that the government must hold fast to its goal of giving top priority to the interests of the public.
But it remains to be seen whether the premier can answer the public's expectations.
“I hope (Wen) will take action, instead of just extending sympathy,” a farmer in Wangjiang county said.
A researcher at a government-affiliated think tank said Wen, without making his own judgment on the project in the county, could just pass the issue on to the next leadership.
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