A file photo shows a nuclear safety exercise participant in protective coveralls standing in front of a Greenpeace anti-nuclear protest in Hong Kong. Photo: Caixin
A file photo shows a nuclear safety exercise participant in protective coveralls standing in front of a Greenpeace anti-nuclear protest in Hong Kong. Photo: Caixin

A nuclear-emergency drill will be held by the Hong Kong government next week. City authorities are planning an interdepartmental exercise based on the Daya Bay Contingency Plan, to be held on December 20 and 21.

Some 30 bureaus, departments and organizations involved in the plan will participate in “Checkerboard II” to test Hong Kong’s preparedness when responding to a simulated nuclear accident.

A Hong Kong Security Bureau spokesman said on Tuesday that the Checkerboard II exercise would be based on the host of measures set out in the plan. These range from radiation monitoring and plume countermeasures (evacuation, sheltering and thyroid blocking) to treatment of contaminated persons, to deal with any emergency at or spillover from the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station across the border in Shenzhen or elsewhere in Guangdong province that might affect Hong Kong.

The last such exercise was held five years ago in 2012.

Inside view of one of the two reactors at the Daya Bay Nuclear Station. Photo: Xinhua

To heighten the professionalism of the exercise, Hong Kong has engaged experts from France’s Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety Institute (IRSN), one of the world’s leading specialists in nuclear-emergency response and radiation protection, as consultants for a drill in a real setting.

“For Checkerboard II, the IRSN is responsible for designing the main technical scenario, conducting technical training, workshops and warm-up exercises for bureaus and departments, assisting in evaluating the exercise, and providing advice on related matters,” the spokesman said.

Guangdong’s nuclear power stations in operation or being built.

Hong Kong, an Asian financial centre with a population of 7.3 million, now finds itself in a “nuclear siege” when mainland China, particularly its southern province of Guangdong that borders the city, is on a spree constructing a dozen nuclear stations that cluster around the affluent Pearl River Delta.

The closest nuclear-power base is in Shenzhen’s Daya Bay, about 60 kilometers north of Hong Kong’s Central. The Daya Bay Nuclear Station has two 944-megawatt pressurized-water reactors based on technologies from the French semi-state-owned nuclear conglomerate Areva.

The Daya Bay Nuclear Base in Shenzhen, 60km north of Hong Kong, consists of two plants and a total of four reactors. Photo: Google Maps

The station became fully operational in 1994, even though more than a million Hongkongers rallied and petitioned against having a nuclear station on their doorstep, fearing a repetition of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Another sizable station in close vicinity, Ling Ao, was built and synchronized to the electrical grid by the state-owned China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN), with a total of four pressurized-water reactors.

Other nuclear stations being built elsewhere in Guangdong are beset with suspected technical and construction flaws. For instance, the pressurized containers at the large-scale Taishan base, 130km west of Hong Kong, were drawn into question after a French Nuclear Safety Authority warning on possible quality shortfalls.

Hong Kong media reported this month that a boiler there had cracked during testing, and that welding on the component was “problematic.”

Three reactors of the planned total of six are up and running in Yangjiang, and there are another six being built in Lufeng.

Construction of more plants, in Guangdong’s Haifeng, Jieyang, Zhaoqing and Shaoguan, all within a 270km radius from Hong Kong, has been revved up by CGN.

A file photo shows residents on Hong Kong’s eastern outlying islands being evacuated in a nuclear safety drill in 2012. Photo: Hong Kong Government

The Hong Kong government has stressed that according to an assessment by the the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, the risk to the health of Hongkongers from a nuclear emergency at Daya Bay with off-site radiological consequences is very small – lower by a large margin than the analogous risk encountered by them in everyday life.