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SEPA denies blocking nuclear plant in Shandong
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China's environment watchdog Friday denied local media reports that it oppose the building of a controversial nuclear plant project in east China's Shandong Province.

"We are not holding back the project but waiting to assess its environmental impact," said Wu Xiaoqing, deputy director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), Friday.

The SEPA issued a statement on its website Thursday saying that it has not received any application to assess the project's environmental impact. However, it said that if it did receive one, it would check the project carefully.

The Rushan nuclear plant, set to be built at the coastal Weihai city, triggered protests from local residents who claim it is too near to the beach, which is regarded as one of the most beautiful beaches in China.

On the same day, the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), the major stakeholder in the project, announced that the project is still at a very early stage and CNNC is carrying out research into its environmental impact.

The company has not picked up the procedure to apply for the SEPA assessment, the CNNC said in the press release.

The construction of the plant cannot begin until it passes assessment by the SEPA, according to relevant rules.

"The assessment on nuclear plants is much tighter than other ordinary projects. Even though the SEPA passes it, it has to wait for the nod from the State Council," Wu said.

The SEPA said in its Thursday's statement that the CNNC should hold a hearing with local residents and the SEPA welcomes the public to voice their opinions through proper channels.

"I believe that the CNNC and local government are fully aware of the process," Wu said.

A senior official with the project, Wang Yongxiao, said it was soliciting public opinion about the plant among local residents.

"If the authoritative evaluation report shows the location is not appropriate, the project will be cancelled," said Wang.

"The nuclear power plant is not that horrible and the residents must have some understanding of the project."

Residents said the project officials hastened to solicit public opinion in order to precede a SEPA draft regulation scheduled to be finished around December 15. It may possibly stipulate that the newly-planned nuclear power plant should not be too close to the tourist resort.

"Obviously they have chosen the winter to solicit opinions when the number of residents is at a minimum," a local resident said.

On Nov. 1, the CNNC signed an investment agreement with three other companies on the project. It has a 51 percent stake in the nuclear plant.

Residents have voiced concern over the planned nuclear power plant since 2005 when the Shandong Provincial Government unveiled the plan.

"It's very ridiculous for the government to have decided to build a nuclear power plant in such a densely-populated area with such beautiful seascape," said netizen "Monica" on the on-line forum, which attracts more than 1,000 local visitors regularly.

According to the initiator of the forum, a local resident and law professor surnamed Wu, the Rushan Nuclear Power Plant is "only five kilometers from Yintan and zero kilometers from the sea".

What has made local residents even more worried is that there are three planned nuclear power plants along the province's 120-kilometer coastline.

(Xinhua News Agency December 8, 2007)

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