Anti-nuclear movement growing in Asia
Though nuclear power still has a strong foothold in Asia, anti-nuclear sentiment and protest are growing from Mongolia to South Korea to Taiwan and even - in modest ways - in China.
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“The nuclear industry is very positive about potential for growth in East Asia,” says Ian Hore-Lacy, a spokesman for the World Nuclear Association, an international industry group.Skip to next paragraph
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Despite that Lee says that in the past 10 months, religious groups, unions, co-ops, and professional associations have joined the South Korean anti-nuclear movement, which had previously been composed mainly of environmental groups. In December, protesters demonstrated in Seoul and other areas after the government announced it had picked sites for two new nuclear plants.
The anti-nuclear movement has grown in Taiwan as well, according to long-time activist Sun-han Hong. Protests in late April drew a record 15,000 participants, and in December President Ma announced the lifetime of three existing nuclear plants would not be extended – a policy reversal for his party. But Hong said the Taiwanese public still has not fully registered what happened in Fukushima, and attempts to block the budget for the new plants have failed.
Developments have been similarly mixed in Mongolia, which has no nuclear reactors but does have extensive uranium deposits. After news articles last spring revealed negotiations between US, Japanese, and Mongolian officials to dump spent nuclear fuel in Mongolia, the Mongolian Green Party spearheaded protests against the plans by holding press conferences, demonstrating when Vice President Biden visited the country, and delivering over 6,000 signatures to the National Security Council. President Tsakhia Elbegdorj eventually ordered a halt to the negotiations. Uranium exploration increased in 2011, however, according to domestic news reports.
And then there’s China, the country with the most ambitious plans to expand both nuclear and alternative forms of energy.
“After Fukushima there were some media reports but no real public debate. Nuclear power is not on the agenda of civil society [nationally],” said Tao Fu, a civil-society movement researcher and editor of the journal China Development Brief.
Shuling Cheng, a project officer at the environmental organization Blue Dalian in eastern China, said her group has begun to focus on the issue but faces difficulty. “There’s almost no information, human resources, or money. The government is very sensitive about the issue,” she says.
So far, activists across the region haven’t been able to make their biggest case effectively.
“For now, Asian governments can continue to ignore calls by anti-nuclear power activists because their size remains tolerable,” said Christopher Len, a research fellow at Stockholm-based Institute for Security and Development Policy. “Asian governments will only reduce their reliance on nuclear power if they can be convinced there are viable alternative energy sources that can be implemented at the industrial level and within reasonable costs.”
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