China halts nuclear plant programme

CHINA slapped a moratorium on all nuclear plant development yesterday, announcing a full-scale safety review of the world’s biggest nuclear programme.

“We will temporarily suspend approval of nuclear power projects, including those in the preliminary stages of development, before nuclear safety regulations are approved,” said the state council, or cabinet, in a statement.

The suspension will pause the construction of 28 nuclear plants, 40 per cent of those currently being built globally.

Observers said the move would swing the balance of power towards regulators, who are sometimes left scrambling to catch up when building begins before official approval has been given.

“Any hazards must be thoroughly dealt with,” said the Chinese cabinet, “and those that do not conform to safety standards must immediately cease construction.”

The Chinese decision follows safety reviews initiated in France, the UK, the US, Spain and Switzerland. Germany also suspended its nuclear programme.

“Lessons will have to be drawn from the accident in Fukushima through a total review of the security systems of our nuclear plants,” said French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

But Sarkozy did not signal any drawback from France’s nuclear energy policy. France generates 80 per cent of its power from 58 nuclear plants, making it Europe’s most nuclear-dependent state.