Plans to build a uranium-processing facility in China’s southern Guangdong province were scrapped by the local government after more than a thousand people protested against the 37 billion yuan ($6 billion) project last week.
The proposed Longwan Industrial Park project won’t be approved “in order to fully respect the opinion of the masses,” the Heshan government said in a statement on its website yesterday. A “social-stability risk assessment” of the proposal that was released for public awareness generated “much opposition,” it said.
Heshan is the latest local authority to back down in the face of pressure from a public increasingly empowered by its ability to sway officials who fear the prospect of social unrest. Governments in cities across the country have scrapped plans for industrial projects over the past year after confrontations with residents concerned about safety and pollution.
“Chinese civil society is getting stronger,” said Willy Wo-Lap Lam, an adjunct professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “People now realize if their numbers are big enough, if they are united and stand their ground, the government will back down,” he said.
Demonstrators rallied outside government offices in Jiangmen city, which administers Heshan, to protest against the uranium-processing facility, Hong Kong-based Cable TV reported on July 12. China National Nuclear Corp. and China General Nuclear Power Group had planned to build the 229-hectare (566 acre) plant to enrich uranium and fabricate fuel, according to an earlier statement on the Jiangmen government website.
Telephone calls to the media offices of state-owned China National Nuclear and China General Nuclear weren’t answered today outside normal business hours. Questions faxed to the companies on July 12 seeking comment weren’t answered and three calls to the Jiangmen government that day went unanswered.
Local authorities in the eastern city of Ningbo said in October they halted plans by China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. (386), also known as Sinopec, to produce the toxic chemical paraxylene at its plant in Zhenhai district after demonstrations against the project clashed with police.
In July last year, authorities in eastern Nantong city scrapped plans for a pipeline to discharge waste from a paper mill into the sea after a protest by thousands of residents in nearby Qidong, a coastal city under its administration, turned violent. The same month, thousands of people in the southwestern city of Shifang protested over the construction of a molybdenum copper plant, according to reports by state media.
“The leadership of China decided a while ago that they would distinguish two kinds of protests,” Lam said. They will crush those perceived as anti-government or anti-Communist Party, while telling local governments to compromise on demands that are environmental or economic in nature, he said.
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