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February 26, 2011

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Home » Metro » Environment

Radiation watchdog warns of threats

RADIATION safeguards in Shanghai face growing challenges as nuclear power stations spring up around the city and increasing urbanization sees residents living closer to laboratories using radioactive materials, officials said yesterday.

In response, the city government will expand monitoring facilities and hire more inspectors, said Su Guodong, general engineer with the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau.

Su recounted how on May 28 last year, at the Shanghai World Expo site, two peacock stone carvings - exhibits from the Democratic Republic of Congo - were found to contain dangerous level of radioactive substances. They were immediately removed by the watchdog and placed in a safe storage facility.

Despite the timely response in that case, the city faces shortages of workers and facilities to deal with radiation threats, said the bureau.

There are nine nuclear power stations currently being build in provinces near Shanghai, including Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. Jiangxi, Hunan and Hubei provinces are also planning to launch similar projects.

"In the light of so many nuclear power projects around the city, it's vital for Shanghai to increase its local radiation inspection and risk alert abilities," Su said.

An increase in residential areas near labs using radioactive technology has brought other concerns, warned Su. "Growing urbanization has seen new houses built close to existing radioactive labs downtown, posing a major threat," he said.

There are now nine operations in Shanghai which use the first-degree radioactive isotopes - the most risky group of radiation substances.

The watchdog said the risk is particularly high in Zhabei and Putuo districts, as housing is located close by. Other operations using these radioactive substances are located in Xuhui, Yangpu, Minhang, Jiading and Qingpu districts.

Booming industry is also increasing pressure on inspectors. More than 4,000 companies and factories in Shanghai create dangerous solid waste on a daily basis.

Over a year, they produce 500,000 tons of dangerous waste, including radioactive materials.

The city has more than 1,300 scientific and commercial labs using radioactive materials, and the number is estimated to rise to 2,000 within five years.

Authorities should ensure effective monitoring, not only of the processing stage, but also of how waste substances are treated and disposed of, local scientists urged.

However, the watchdog admitted that these inspections are not rigorous enough, mainly due to staff shortages.

"It's likely that a small percentage of the city's daily dangerous solid waste can still be secretly disposed of without professional treatment," Su said.

The watchdog has also discovered that the transport of such dangerous waste is sometimes handled by unlicensed carriers who offer lower fees.

However, it aims to ensure that companies only use regulated carriers.

The bureau also said that more automatic radiation detectors will be installed across the city.


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