Rumors are spreading through Chinese Internet sites and on Twitter accounts that an accidental radiation leak occurred on Friday at a Chinese nuclear submarine moored in Dalian port in Liaoning Province, in the northeastern part of China. The leak reportedly happened as technicians were installing new electronics equipment on the vessel. Chinese authorities have apparently sealed off the area following the accident, but the Chinese media and government have so far refrained from commenting on the veracity of the rumors.
In China, major news stories are often revealed through Internet sites due to the government's strict control over the media. The oil leaks in Bohai Bay on June 4 and 17 only filtered down to the public via posts on Twitter days or weeks later on June 21, and Chinese media finally began reporting on the accident on July 1.
Media outlets in the censorship-heavy country initially reported that only 10 tons of oil had spilled into the sea, affecting an area of just 200 sq. m. But on July 5, China's maritime authorities admitted that 840 sq. km of sea waters had been polluted. This is equivalent to 1.4 times the size of Seoul.
When a high-speed train crashed in Wenzhou city on July 23 killing around 40 people, Chinese authorities responded to the disaster in ways that are difficult to fathom. The day after the accident, clean-up crews tore up and buried a huge chunk of the train that had fallen off a bridge before the cause of the crash had even been revealed. Meanwhile, authorities ordered local media to focus their coverage on "moving stories" of heroism and survival, rather than digging into the reasons behind the crash.
China possesses at least six nuclear submarines, five of which are believed to be stationed in two naval bases in Qingdao and Dalian on the West Sea. The Jin-class nuclear submarine that was photographed by a commercial U.S. satellite in 2007 is powered by a 160 Mw reactor, which is a sixth of the size of a standard nuclear power plant.
A serious radiation leak on a Chinese nuclear submarine is a sensitive issue for Korea, as the country shares the West Sea with China. Water in the northern part of the sea follows the currents along China's east coast and flows into Korea's South Sea after reaching the Yangtze River delta. Radiation is absorbed by plankton, shellfish and other marine life, meaning that it quickly travels up the food chain as these are ingested by bigger fish.
Following the tsunami-triggered accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan several months ago, fears have risen over the safety of 13 reactors currently in operation along China's east coast. Chinese authorities must waste no more time in providing Korea with credible information regarding rumors of the radiation leak on the nuclear submarine. As China moves to claim the title of a major global power, so it must accept the strong sense of responsibility that befits that image in this deeply interlinked, globalized age.