”Taking a walk” against nuclear power

Every day hundreds of protests occur all around China, often with regard to land disputes, unpaid wages, pollution or corruption. The last few days have seen a protest of slightly different kind take place in Jiangmen (江门) in Guangdong province. At least it had a different motive. The form was the usual in recent years, namely ”taking a walk” (散步), which in reality is a demonstration, but named so to avoid the prohibitions on unauthorized gatherings. Even official Chinese media used this term for the protests in Jiangmen.

Protesters in Jiangmen hold up signs saying ”against nuclear [power]”反核
What they protested against? A nuclear fuel processing plant (核燃料加工厂). Some Western media have called it NIMBY protests (Not In My BackYard), and maybe that is some of the truth. From some available reports it seems that the protests were mostly against the location of the plant, not totally against nuclear power as such. It is still very unusual, especially since they managed to get the government of Jiangmen to reverse their decision and not give permission for the plant. There were also some protests against plans for a plant in Pengze (彭泽), Jiangxi province, in 2012, however centred in the nearby town Wangjiang (望江), in Anhui province across the Yangzi River (扬子江).

China first started planning for civilian nuclear power plants in the 1970s, but not until 1991 was the first plant finished and connected to the grid, Qinshan in Haiyan County, Zhejiang (浙江省海盐县秦山), undoubtedly delayed by the Chernobyl disaster. The Daya Bay plant near Shenzhen started production in 1993 and provides around 20% of the power for Hong Kong. There are altogether 17 reactors working in China, at four sites, with another 28 under construction. Most of them are along the coast, with Xianning (咸宁) in inland Hubei province (湖北) (under construction) being one of the exceptions.

Chinese officials have claimed that there will not be a ”great leap forward” (大跃进) in building nuclear power in China. That may sound reassuring, but just a few days before the Jiangmen protests the IAEA director general, Yukiya Amano (天野之弥), said that ”China is at the center of the nuclear energy expansion in Asia”. What if protests grow stronger? What if no Chinese want nuclear power in their ”backyard”? And where to put the nuclear waste?

China is also ”at the center” for solar energy and wind power technology, and has plans for addition of 10 GW of solar power capacity to the grid annually in the coming three years, as well as 100 GW of connected wind power to 2015. What if China would take the lead in alternative energy and stop developing nuclear power? That would indeed be a great leap forward.

Disney, disaster – and what would Nasreddin ependi say?

After the bloody incident near Turpan a few days ago things have escalated. The death toll has risen, and other violence has been reported from Hotan (和田). The response from the authorities have been to show strength, most obviously by arranging ”pledge meetings to fight terrorism and keep stability” (反恐维稳誓师大会) of the People’s Armed Police force (人民武装警察部队) in Urumqi, Kashgar, Ghulja (固勒扎, also known as Ili 伊犁 or Yining 伊宁), Hotan and Aksu (video here). These forces now also patrol Urumqi and other cities. Some reports also tell of disturbances in Internet traffic.

"Pledge meeting" in Urumqi. It is notable that many vehicles are European Ivecos or American Fords. How does that go along with the arms embargo?
”Pledge meeting” in Urumqi. It is notable that many vehicles are European Ivecos or American Fords. How does that go along with the arms embargo?

Yu Zhengsheng (俞正声) came to Urumqi 29 June to hold a ”meeting for party and state cadres” of the whole region (全区党政干部大会), transmitting directives from Xi Jinping and the special meeting held by the politbureau standing committee in Beijing the day before. Meng Jianzhu (孟建柱), secretary of the Central Politics and Law Commission (中央政法委员会) arrived in Urumqi to speak at the ”pledge meeting”, and the MInister of Public Security, Guo Shengkun (郭声琨) also took part.

Besides this not so subtle show of force and determination, other simultaneous events provide unintentional (?) irony to the whole situation. On 29 June Urumqi was also the place for the 10th International Symposium on Disaster History (第十届中国灾害史国际学术会议), with the theme ”Disaster and Frontier Society” (灾害与边疆社会). The symposium apparently mostly dealt with natural disasters as floods, earthquakes and draughts, but it is impossible not to think of political and social disasters, killings and ”the 5 July incident” (七五事件) 2009.

To further add to the confusion a top news item on the Kashgar Prefecture government website these days is the upcoming completion at the end of 2013 of the ”Disney of Xinjiang” (新疆迪斯尼) in Shufu county (疏附县 Kona Sheher, meaning ”old city”), Kashgar, namely the Ependi Amusement Park (阿凡提乐园). With a total investment of 200 million yuan (c. 25 million Euro) this theme park will hold an ”Ependi grand bazaar” (阿凡提大巴扎), a culture square (文化广场), ”Ependi ethnic village” (阿凡提民俗村), a great Ependi sculpture (阿凡提大型雕塑), reliefs (浮雕), a culture wall (文化墙) and ”Adil dawaz performance centre” (阿迪力达瓦孜演艺中心). Adil Hoshur (阿迪力·吾休尔, b. 1971) is a world renowned tightrope walker. Basically more ”singing and dancing”

Image of Ependi from the 1980 film
Image of Ependi from the 1980 film

But who was Nasreddin ependi? He might have been a Seljuq sufi from Konya in present-day Turkey, living in the 13th century. He might also just be made up. There are thousands of stories about him, sometimes with him as a witty or wise man, sometimes as a fool. Nasreddin is claimed by many Turkic peoples, and among Uyghurs he is known mostly by his courtesy title, Ependi (阿凡提). In the 1980s an very popular animated film was made in China, titled ”The Story of Ependi” (阿凡提的故事). Despite being appropriated and modulated into an ethnic sterotype, and despite calls to make him a ”image ambassador” (形象大使) for Xinjiang, Ependi’s wit is of the kind that could function as a safety valve and also bring hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.