Mass protests in China put nuclear reprocessing plans on hold

Police in Lianyungang, China questioning Mr. Wei about “disrupting social order." SCMP Photo

Police in Lianyungang, China questioning Mr. Wei about “disrupting social order.” SCMP Photo

Compiled from reports in the South China Morning Post and

Thousands of residents of Lianyungang, a port city in China’s eastern Jiangsu province, took to the streets for four days of anti-nuclear protest, (coincidently?) from Hiroshima Day, Saturday, August 6 through Nagasaki Day, August 9.

The mass assemblies began just days after it was revealed that the city was favored on a short-list of potential sites for a joint French-Chinese uranium reprocessing facility that is integral to China’s expansive nuclear power plans.

By Wednesday, August 10, the local authority reacted to the protests with a single post to its Weibo social media account: “The preliminary work of the nuclear fuel recycling project’s site is suspended.”

While state-run media ignored the protests, social media facilitated their organization and spread news and images from the demonstrations around the world. As a result, at least one man has now been detained by police on a charge of disrupting social order, accused of encouraging support for city workers preparing to go on strike over the issue.  He is presumed to be in custody, but no more details are available.

A recent series of industrial tragedies across the country, coupled with the lack of transparency and local participation in government pursuit of major projects, continues to drive grassroots environmental activism in China.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) in Hong Kong reported that police warned the public that organizers did not have a permit to demonstrate on that first night, yet thousands filled a central square, some chanting “boycott nuclear waste” while facing off with hundreds of police.

SCMP Photo

SCMP Photo

Demonstrators filled the square again the next evening. Reports of scuffles with police and police in riot gear began to appear online. Photos showed demonstrators with handmade signs and banners featuring such slogans as, “For the next generation, refuse construction of the nuclear waste plant.”

“The government only highlights the mass investment in the project and its economic benefit, but never mentions a word about safety or health concerns,” a local resident told the SCMP by phone. “We need to voice our concerns, that’s why we went on our protests,” he said.

By Monday, day three of the protests, video posted online showed police assembled to protect city government offices from protesters, and about a dozen people were reportedly detained for throwing stones. Officials who would comment dismissed the protests as parochial, “Not In My Backyard” affairs. On Tuesday, Nagasaki Day, at least 10,000 people defied a police ban on unauthorized gatherings while police told the public to disregard rumors of police violence against demonstrators, and that one had been killed.

Exactly three years ago, similar demonstrations against a uranium fuel processing facility in southern Guangdong province also led local authorities in the city of Jiangmen to back out of the siting process. With another Guangdong city, Zhanjiang, now also on the same short list for the reprocessing facility, authorities there have reportedly joined those in Lianyungong to say the reprocessing plant would not be built in their city.