07/08/2008, 00.00
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Radioactive waste in earthquake zone, Chinese censorship suppresses the news

The earthquake last May 12 in Sichuan damaged the most important Chinese nuclear dump, but the authorities continue to conceal the true extent of the incident. Local sources affirm that the site is still contained, but there are fears of risks to the environment.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Two months after the earthquake that shook Sichuan, the most important radioactive dump in southwest China is still closed, while government authorities refuse to provide details on the true damage to the site and on possible leaks of hazardous material.

Li Ganjie, deputy minister for environmental protection, does not conceal the possible risks connected to the leak of radioactive material, but the authorities continue to maintain absolute silence over the event. Like all Chinese military units, factory 821 in Sandui, a city in the prefecture of Guangyuan, is identified by a numeric code. The plant suffered serious damage in the earthquake; witnesses recount the frantic operations in the surrounding area, and even the deputy general manager of the China National Nuclear Corporation (which controls the civilian nuclear development programme in the country) travelled from Beijing to Sichuan to review the situation in person.

A spokesman for the company continues to repeat that "everything is under control, and there is no danger", but some witnesses involved in the emergency operations tell a completely different story. "The factory is still paralysed. Many buildings have collapsed. Some people have died. Beyond that, I am not allowed to reveal anything because it involves national military secrets".

Li Ganjie stresses that careful controls for the nuclear sites in the areas struck by the earthquake have been provided, but he does not conceal "worries" over "the safety of the facilities and the disposal of radioactive waste". Many of the facilities were built before 1980, and do not comply with the current antiseismic standards. The plant in Sandui was built in the late 1960's, and employs more than 600 engineers and 4,000 workers. Since 2005, it has been the most important nuclear waste dump in the country, and one of the main centres for the waste from Chinese nuclear experiments.

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