Thousands of people started demonstrating Friday in the Chinese city of Lianyungang, in the eastern province of Jiangsu, about the health risks surrounding a planned nuclear waste processing plant. The city's government heard the protestors, and suspended “preliminary work” on the project. The facility is planned by the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), a state-run company, in partnership with the French company Areva.

Commercial negotiations are still underway, but construction could start in 2020 if the two sides reach a definitive agreement. Chinese authorities, however, have not yet determined an exact location for the facility.

Although the demonstrations in Lianyungang have been largely ignored by Chinese media, the "Lianyungang Municipal People’s Government has decided to suspend site selection" according to their website.

If the facility is built, it would process about 800 tons of nuclear waste per year, which would come from different Chinesenuclear plants, a representative from the Areva group told FRANCE 24. It would be the first Chinese facility to do this type of work. It would be similar to an Areva site in La Hague, in the north-east of France, where used nuclear fuel from different countries has been treated for over 50 years.

“I think the facility’s activities could be extremely harmful to the environment”

But the Chinese project has sparked real concerns. Cheng (not his real name), who lives in Nanjing, a city about 300 kilometres south of Lianyungang, told us about participating in the demonstration against the nuclear facility on Monday.

There were demonstrations on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Each one took place in the evening, in the city center, notably in front of the local government headquarters. On Monday, I saw protestors of all ages yelling ‘Protect our land’ or ‘No to nuclear waste’. There were also many armed police officers.

I came to Lianyungang for work, but I felt like I had to participate in a demonstration because I think the facility’s activities could be extremely harmful to the environment and could affect the whole province, not just Lianyungang. In Nanjing, we breathe the same air and drink the same water, so it worries me…

Video taken on August 8 in Lianyungang. Copyright: Storyful.

Video taken on August 8 in Lianyungang, published on Twitter by Twitter par @zxwhite92.

Although our Observer didn’t see them, there were several clashes between protesters and police on Sunday, August 7. Largely ignored in Chinese media, images of the clashes were distributed on social media. Furthermore, aproximately a dozen people were arrested on Monday.

Video taken in Lianyungang and published August 7 on YouTube

Video taken in Lianyungang and published August 7 on YouTube YouTube.


“This is the first time China has seen protests of this scale against nuclear power”

Liu (not his real name), another of our Observers in China, explains the Chinese government’s nuclear power campaign:

The authorities would like to increase the percentage of nuclear energy in China’s energy mix, in order to reduce our dependence on coal. [Editor’s note: According to the French embassy in Beijing, coal is the primary source of energy in China (accounting for 71 percent in 2014), followed by oil (18 percent), natural gas (5 percent), hydroelectric (3 percent), and nuclear (0.3 percent).]

They would like to construct more nuclear plants, because they think that it’s a safe technology and that it’s good for the economy and for jobs. [Editor’s note: Currently China has 34 operating nuclear plants, 20 more are under construction, and others are planned, according to the World Nuclear Association, an organisation that promotes nuclear power.]

In principle, I think a lot of people agree, but they’re afraid of nuclear accidents and they never want these facilities built near their homes.

I think it’s the first time that China has seen protests of this scale against nuclear power. In the past, people mobilised more against projects to build incinerators or petrochemical plants. [Editor’s note: Public distrust about energy projects has been on the rise in recent years in China, especially after some major accidents, like the one that took place a year ago in an industrial complex in Tianjin.] In my opinion, anti-nuclear protests are going to increase in the future.

An Areva representative told FRANCE 24 that the city’s decision would not affect the success of the project, and that in any case Areva was not involved in choosing the site. “Commercial negotiations are proceeding normally with CNNC,” the Areva representative said.