CHINA TO RESUME WORK ON DAYA BAY NUCLEAR PLANT

CHINA TO RESUME WORK ON DAYA BAY NUCLEAR PLANT

Work will resume in about a week on the flawed Daya Bay nuclear power plant being built by China just across the Hong Kong border, Chinese officials say.

It was disclosed last Friday that work had been halted for two weeks after the discovery that some 300 steel reinforcing bars were missing from the structure that will serve as the reactor platform.This caused a renewed outcry in Hong Kong, where the plant has been a source of controversy since China announced it.

The 1,800-megawatt, twin pressurized-water plant uses French nuclear equipment and British turbines. It is estimated to cost US$3.7 billion and should be in service by 1992-93.

When news of the missing rods surfaced in local pro-Chinese papers, a number of environmental groups and legislators demanded an inquiry and establishment of an independent monitoring group.

Hong Kong's government - delicately treading a path between looking after its own interests and upsetting Beijing - rejected any official body, saying the matter is "best left to technicians."

China Light & Power Co., one of Hong Kong's two electric utilities, has a 25 percent stake in the project through a partnership in the joint venture building it, and will take 70 percent of the output.

The joint venture, Guangdong (province) Nuclear Project Joint Venture Co., is the plant's owner and operator.

Company officials explain the problem as a "wrong perception" of architectural drawings, discovered when the concrete foundation didn't match specifications. Remedial work suggested by one of the French companies has been accepted, according to the company.

Pro-Beijing newspapers here say the second level of concrete will be given more reinforcement to make up for the shortfall on the first of the five layers.

An engineer-member of the Hong Kong legislature's monitoring group dismissed suggestions that the missing rods were only 2 percent of a total of more than 8,000.

Jackie Chan said the "mathematics of civil engineering doesn't go like that because steel bars at different locations bear different loads."

"The significance of the 316 missing bars cannot be compared to the total of 8,080 bars. It is 55 percent of the 576 starter bars," he said. "It is a serious error in the proportion of bars missing in that part of the foundation."

Last summer, San Francisco-based Bechtel Group said it signed a consulting contract to support Daya Bay's management in quality and safety. Bechtel North American Power Corp. and Bechtel China Inc. will base bilingual workers at the site.

China has announced plans to build six more nuclear plants in the 1990s, which would make them the main supplier of energy by the 21st Century. Many Western experts, however, discount this as being the top end of estimates.