Fukushima Effect: China’s “Emergency” Moves after the North Korean Nuclear Test

By | February 16, 2016 | No Comments

Guo Chengzhan, in camouflage, reads for North Korean radiation at the foot of the Chinese side of Mt. Baekdu, in Erdaobaihe. | Image: PRC Ministry of Environmental Protection

How much, if at all, did the fourth North Korean nuclear test result in tangible changes to Chinese policy toward its isolated neighbor? While this question is impossible to answer in the near term and there is strong evidence for a status quo answer, there can be little doubt that Beijing’s domestic response to North Korean nuclear tests has taken a tangible turn. The following dispatch indicates that North Korean radiation is now seen publicly as a standard (if not an imminent) threat to the security and stability of the border region along the Yalu and Tumen rivers, and that the Chinese Communist Party is eager to show the population on the Chinese side of the border that every precaution is being taken to protect them from nuclear accidents or accidental fallout from the DPRK side of the border.

Ministry of Environmental Protection set up emergency headquarters at Changbaishan to ensure safety from radiation after North Korean nuclear test” [环保部在长白山成立朝核应急指挥部确保辐射环境安全 ], People’s Daily, via Yanbian News, January 12, 2016. 

According to the website of the PRC Ministry of Environmental Protection, after North Korea announced it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb on 6 January, the Ministry of Environmental Protection launched for the first time into emergency contingency plans [应急预案] for dealing with radiation from North Korea’s nuclear test. Emergency instructions were issued to all national environmental radiation monitoring work units, as well as the launching of emergency radiation monitoring units across the whole of Northeast China and [North Korean] border areas to carry out comprehensive environmental emergency radiation monitoring.

On the morning of January 7, the Changbaishan [Mt. Baekdu] Administrative Committee established a forward headquarters in Erdaobaihe village, led by Guo Chengzhan (郭承站), the head of the Office of Safety Supervision of Nuclear Facilities and vice-director of National Nuclear Safety Administration, and Wang Xiangmin (王相民), deputy director of the Jilin Province Environmental Protection Bureau. In Erdaobaihe, they engaged in overall coordination of the border line emergency monitoring and technical judgment work, ensuring the safety of our country’s northeastern border and border areas from environmental radiation.

Including the Nuclear Radiation Environment Monitoring Technology Center, more than 500 personnel were engaged in emergency monitoring of environmental radiation (of whom more than 350 people moved to frontline monitoring points) in about 100 emergency monitoring vehicles in Jilin, Liaoning, Heilongjiang, and Shandong provinces and Beijing. At the same time, Jiangsu province, and Shanghai municipality radiation environmental monitoring agencies were in a state of preparedness to move forward as emergency support and reinforcement.

Chinese scientists patrol near the North Korean border, January 2016. Image via PRC Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Chinese scientists patrol near the North Korean border, January 2016. | Image: PRC Ministry of Environmental Protection

The Ministry of Environmental Protection has developed a meticulous plan for emergency response, improving the emergency monitoring program using a combination of on-site automatic radiation monitoring, monitoring patrols and laboratory analysis, and data from the 37 automatic stations which provide 24 hours of continuous uninterrupted monitoring. According to the geographical location of the recent nuclear test [根据本次核试验的地理位置] and weather conditions in the following days, [we have] set up four patrol routes, sending 14 mobile monitoring vehicles to carry out patrol surveillance. According to the densely populated areas in the border regions, these patrols collected strictly encrypted data including atmosphere, soil, surface snow and other sampling of aerosols, iodine gas, tritium gas, an inert gas, dry and wet deposition, and radionuclide analysis. As at 8:00 am, on January 11, the monitoring data were normal and within the scope of local norms, meaning that the possibility of radiation impact from this North Korean nuclear test could be ruled out.

Chinese technicians monitoring radiation along the North Korean border. Image via PRC Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Chinese technicians monitoring radiation along the North Korean border. Image via PRC Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Guo Chengzhan, the commander at the forward monitoring post in Erdaobaihe, said the following: “According to the forecasted wind direction of the next few days and atmospheric point of view, we cannot discern a prima facie impact of North Korea’s nuclear test on China’s radiation environment. However, due to the release of radioactive material with a certain periodicity, the Department will also continue to protect the radiation environment of all-round monitoring of the border areas; specialists will meet each day to expand analysis and determine when to terminate the state of emergency [决定何时终止应急状态] based on the daily update of the monitoring data. After the termination of the state of emergency, the Ministry of Environmental Protection will also continue to carry out environmental radiation monitoring and atmospheric sampling to ensure border security and the surrounding area radiation environment.”

Source:”Ministry of Environmental Protection set up emergency headquarters at Changbaishan to ensure safety from radiation after North Korean nuclear test” [环保部在长白山成立朝核应急指挥部确保辐射环境安全 ], People’s Daily, via Yanbian News, January 12, 2016.  Translation by Adam Cathcart