China’s nuclear power expansion “insane”, says prominent scientist

China’s plans for a rapid expansion of nuclear power have been called "insane" by a prominent Chinese scientist who is worried that the country is not investing enough in safety controls.

Proposals to build plants inland are too risky because an accident could contaminate rivers relied upon by hundreds of millions of people, said physicist He Zuoxiu, a member of Chinese Academy of Sciences, in an interview published in newspaper The Guardian.

Despite a moratorium on new reactor approvals after the Fukushima disaster in Japan, China has been rapidly expanding its reactor fleet since 2005, with at least 30 now under construction.

They want to build 58GW by 2020 and eventually 120 to 200GW. This is insane.– He Zuoxiu, Chinese Academy of Sciences

He Zuoxiu (pictured), 88, who worked on China’s nuclear weapons programme, said the planned rollout was going too fast to ensure it had the safety and monitoring expertise needed to avert an accident.

Flagging up risks including "corruption, poor management abilities and decision-making capabilities".

"They want to build 58 (gigawatts of nuclear generating capacity) by 2020 and eventually 120 to 200. This is insane," he said.

He said he would like to see China stop its expansion once the plants that have been approved or are now under construction are finished, and then gain a few decades experience of running them safely before expanding again. Almost all the country’s working reactors started up after 2000.

"China currently does not have enough experience to make sound judgments on whether there could be accidents," he said.

"The number of reactors and the amount of time they have been operating safely both matter. "The safety reviews after Fukushima found some problems, but only minor ones, and the final conclusion is that China’s nuclear power is safe. But the safety checks were carried out under the old standards and the standards themselves clearly need big improvements."

He added: "To be honest, as I’m already 88, it won’t affect me much whether or not nuclear plants are safe. But I am concerned about the welfare of our children and think we shouldn’t just evaluate the profitability of new projects."

The physicist made a similar argument in 2013. 

Photograph: Physicist He Zuoxiu speaking at Tsinghua University in 2005 (

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