China on March 16 suspended approval of new projects and ordered safety inspections of the country's nuclear plants. The State Council, or cabinet, issued the order as Chinese authorities stepped up radiation monitoring of passengers and goods from neighboring Japan as fears mounted about harmful nuclear contamination from the stricken country.
Beijing has begun helping its nationals leave areas in Japan devastated by Friday's 9.0-magnitude quake and ensuing tsunami that have left more than 11,000 dead or missing and triggered great concern about the Fukushima plant.
The State Council said government experts believe radioactive material from the damaged plant on Japan's east coast "will not impact public health in China" and stressed "safety is the number-one priority in developing nuclear power."
China's ministry of environmental protection has said so far no abnormal radiation levels had been detected from Fukushima, which is 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) from the nearest part of northeastern China. But border inspection authorities in Shanghai released a statement Wednesday saying they were checking all incoming travelers, luggage and imports of food and other goods from Japan that enter the city's airport or port. Air passengers arriving in Beijing were being monitored for radiation but officials said this was routine for all passengers even before Japan's disasters and they had not stepped up vigilance.
"The meeting decided to immediately organize a comprehensive safety inspection of nuclear facilities in China," the Council said after a meeting chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao. It also suspended approval for new nuclear projects pending the release of new safety rules, as Internet users expressed deep concern about contamination from Japan.
China currently operates 13 nuclear plants and is building more than two dozen others -- estimated at 40% of all plants being built worldwide. Another 50 more are on the drawing board as China struggles to meet soaring energy demand to feed its booming economy. Despite the Japan calamity, Beijing has insisted that atomic energy will remain a key part of its energy mix.
Meteorological authorities say any radioactive particles released by the Japanese plant should have no impact on China for at least the next two days, citing current weather patterns.
State media said so far more than 3,000 Chinese nationals have been evacuated to Niigata on the west coast and about 600 have returned home. There are an estimated 33,000 Chinese expatriates in five disaster-hit Japanese prefectures.
China Southern and China Eastern airlines said they have increased flights to Japan while state flag carrier Air China said it would deploy larger jets on Japanese routes to accommodate demand. The state-run China National Radio also reported that two ships able to transport a total of 4,000 people planned to sail Wednesday from the eastern city of Yantai to Japan to bring back Chinese citizens.
Internet users expressed worries over the safety of food imported from Japan, prompting Japanese restaurants to issue online reassurances that their ingredients had been imported from Australia and Europe. Postings on Twitter-like microblogging sites advised mothers to "be careful" if buying baby formula from Japan while others suggested many people would "give up eating Japanese food" for fear it was contaminated by radiation.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011
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