The nuclear-powered poison pet food economy

Should a country that can't keep its food supply safe engage in the biggest nuclear power plant building spree of all time?

Published May 30, 2007 10:26PM (EDT)

Perhaps the only surprising news in the World Bank's quarterly report on the Chinese economy, released on Tuesday, is how little there is to be surprised about. China just keeps motoring relentlessly along -- its GDP growth continues to be greater than 10 percent a year, its export sector continues to surge forward, its stock market routinely breaks records. And even though some of the numbers are staggering -- exports grew by 30 percent, year-over-year, in the first four months of 2007, leading to the doubling of China's overall trade surplus to $63 billion -- the World Bank concludes that there are no immediate dangers of China's economy "overheating."

China's government might disagree, at least with respect to the stock market. One day after the report's release, China's Ministry of Finance announced that, in an effort to slow down the flow of capital into stocks, a transaction tax on share transfers would be tripled, inciting the second biggest market plunge in the last four years. (But in contrast to February's sharp decline, the rest of the world, so far, is shrugging its shoulders.)

But overheating or not, when a country with an economy already as big as China's continues to rack up annual growth of 10 percent, the pace of expansion is still mind-boggling, especially when one considers the raw energy necessary to keep the industrial machine running. Which leads us to a Washington Post article published Tuesday detailing China's plans to spend $50 billion on 32 new nuclear power plants by the year 2032 -- and possibly 300 more by 2050! -- which the Post estimates is "not much less than the generating power of all the nuclear plants in the world today."

And with that in mind, let's move on to a rant by a popular Chinese blogger and journalist, translated into English and published in the blog Danwei on Wednesday. In a tone of disgruntlement that one is unaccustomed to seeing in the Chinese press, Lian Yue bewails China's inability to monitor the safety of its food supply:

Based on the theory that everyone is equal, the Chinese food producers have poisoned everyone, whether Chinese or American. So Americans have been forced to pay attention the Chinese food safety issue. This makes many people have hope, thinking that the food safety problem will at last be solved. This is not good. Food products and coal mines are not going to be safe, this is the reality that Chinese people have learnt through bitter suffering. After accepting this reality, everyone is reconciled to it: they eat what they need to eat, the unlucky ones go down coal mines, there's no need to be tempted by the vain hope that this problem will be solved. In this place of ours, even Lei Gong (the Thunder God who punishes people who do bad things by striking them with lightning) neglects his duty and only goes after primary school students. So how can we expect officials to take any more responsibility aside from shedding a few crocodile tears and issuing token condemnations?

Or, one feels compelled to add, sentencing to death former drug industry regulators, convicted of having taken bribes from pharmaceutical companies.

Thirty-two new nuclear power plants in the next 25 years in a country where the government can't ensure that pet food is not poison. China's economy may not be overheated, but it looks pretty darn close to radioactive.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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China Globalization How The World Works Nuclear Power U.s. Economy