Protests against copper plant construction in Shifang, China : Industry and the Environment

The proposed construction of a new molybdenum copper plant in Shifang China, 50km from Chengdu in Sichuan Province: another incident that has caused thousands of protestors to flood into the streets in an attempt to safeguard their community from potential environmental disaster. These protests seem to signal a reawakened global concern for public health and environmental safety. These events appear to echo protests against Japan’s recent decision to restart its nuclear reactors, after a nuclear black-out of more than a year in the wake of the Fukushima disaster and also widespread protests against a chemical plant in Dalian earlier this year.

Protestors in Shifang were concerned that, in the case of an accident at the plant, the effects of the molybdenum copper being released into the environment would pose an immediate threat to the town’s community.  While the mayor of Shifang was reported in The Guardian to have said that if the plant does not meet the standards of environmental assessment, local government will not allow construction to go ahead, this clearly did little to ease the fears of those on the streets. According to the online coverage by the BBC, the protests in Shifang began on Sunday 01.07.2012 (dd/mm/yyyy) and by Monday evening 02.07.2012 (dd/mm/yyyy), the construction of the plant was halted. The vast number of people protesting was said to enter into the thousands, although exact figures are unclear.

Molybdenum copper is used in many different metal alloys owing to its very high melting point, making it resistant to high temperatures and therefore very useful in industry. However, as with many other heavy metals, such as mercury, there are also several health risks associated with the metal, ranging from skin and eye irritation to more serious neurological effects. After a disaster such as Fukushima less than two years ago, the fear of widespread contamination in the event of an  accident  is a little too close to home. On suspension of the plant construction work, the BBC reported that officials would now consult the town’s residents before proceeding further.

Perhaps it is possible that the protests in Shifang indicate the beginning of a new era of environmental awareness. The development of chemical, nuclear and, in the case of Shifang, heavy metal plants is becoming an increasingly hot topic as environmental issues become more and more prominent in the media. This coverage, coupled with the widespread crackdown on reducing greenhouse emissions is making the consequences of our needs and lifestyles on the planet increasingly evident to us. In cases such as the protests in Shifang, it is clear that there is now an obvious tension between what our lifestyle and social infrastructure demands and the potential repercussions on the natural world and its inhabitants. Molybdenum copper is a high demand product in industry, yet if no-one is willing to let the plants be established, suppliers will struggle to fulfil their industrial clients’ needs. On a larger scale, as large industries now have to take the environmental factor into greater consideration, it seems likely that the nature of business and industry will begin to change, as environmentally damaging projects are met with greater resistance by the public and the cost of heightened security and safety measures rockets.

News sources include: The Guardian online, coverage of the Shifang protests on the BBC website, China Economic review online. …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….If If you need translation or interpreting services in and around Oxford and worldwide, TJC offers a wide range of services in more than 100 languages and dialects, covering a variety of areas regarding  environment  and engineering. For more information, visit our website or contact us directly by email. If you would like to know more about China, please also visit our country profile page. TJC also offer technical Chinese interpreting and translation in the field of environment and engineering. TJC also has a network of translators and interpreters specialising in industry- related work.

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