Thousands take to the streets in coal power protest in Heyaun, China

coal power protest

Air pollution in Henan Province, China. Creative Commons: 2013

Amid growing public awareness of the dangers of pollution from power plants, thousands of residents of Heyaun, China have taken to the streets to protest against a coal-fired power station in the area.

Heyaun, a city in China’s northeastern Guangdong province, has been home to a coal plant since 2008, and smog has been on the rise ever since the plant began operations.

Now with expectations that coal will be expanded in the region, local residents have had enough.

Last Sunday (12 April), 10,000 protestors gathered outside Heyaun’s government offices wearing surgical masks and stickers denouncing the plant.

The demonstrations went late into the day with more protesters spilling out into the streets as the crowd marched into the downtown area.

The protesters carried signs and chanted slogans such as “Give me back my blue sky” and “Go away power plant”.

One female protester said:

This is not just a small fraction of people with an ulterior motive but a concrete outpouring of public opinion from the entire Heyuan public. From babies to the elderly, everyone is appealing to our government to stop polluting our sky.

The protest had a strong police presence, but remained largely peaceful, except for a few small clashes.

There have been conflicting reports over an expansion of coal in Heyaun.

Xinhua news agency has reported on a planned extension of the existing plant, while South China Morning Post has reported that a new plant will be built by Shenzhen Energy.

The new plant is projected to produce 11 billion kWh annually.

A deputy party secretary of Heyaun, Huang Jianzhong, said that the new project was only in a preliminary study stage.

In March, residents of Heyaun collected more than 10,000 signatures for a petition against the extension of the existing power plant.

The local government responded with meetings with resident representatives in order to alleviate the community’s fears.

However the assurances from the government have failed to convince the residents of the safety of an extension.

The Chinese public has become increasingly aware of the harmful effects of pollution from coal fired power plants.

Early this year, a documentary – entitled “Under the Dome” – which examined China’s over reliance on fossil fuels and the detrimental health impacts, went viral.

Over 200 million people watched the film.

Presented in a similar fashion to a TED talk, the film was narrated by reporter Chai Jing who shared her personal concerns over the effects of the pollution on her own pregnancy.

Despite some initial support from the Chinese government, including praise from the minister of environmental protection, Chen Jining, the government of China took the film off of the internet.

Mentions of the film were also scrubbed from major news sources across China.

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