LCQ3: Installation of radio base stations at government properties
Following is a question by the Hon Chan Han-pan and a reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, in the Legislative Council meeting today (July 10):
Recently, quite a number of members of the public have complained to me that the Government has granted, without consulting those members of the public who will be affected, approval to telecommunications service operators (TSOs) for installing a large number of telecommunications transmitters (transmitters) at public pleasure grounds such as playgrounds (e.g. Tsuen King Circuit Recreation Ground) or parks. These members of the public feel that they have been kept in the dark. It is learnt that some of the transmitters have been installed at locations only 10 metres away from the areas where the elderly do exercises and the children play. These members of the public are worried that prolonged exposure to the radiation generated by such transmitters is harmful to health. In addition, the number of transmitters installed at government or private buildings has also increased continuously. On the other hand, some press reports have pointed out that the non-ionising radiation safety standards currently adopted by Hong Kong are outdated. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the criteria currently adopted by the authorities for vetting and approving applications by TSOs for installing transmitters at public pleasure grounds; whether consultation with members of the public is part of the vetting and approving process; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that, and whether they have reviewed the vetting and approving process to see if there is sufficient transparency; of the number of public pleasure grounds in which transmitters have been installed at present; whether the Government has taken measures to regulate the number of such transmitters; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(b) whether there is any restriction on the number of transmitters installed by TSOs at government or private buildings at present; whether the authorities concerned are required to consult those who will be affected and the public when vetting and approving such applications; if not, of the reasons for that; and
(c) how the non-ionising radiation safety standards currently adopted by Hong Kong compare with those adopted by the advanced countries in Europe and the United States, and whether the latter standards are more stringent; if so, why the authorities have not adopted the more stringent standards, and whether they will conduct a review in this regard?
As the question involves various policy areas, we have consulted relevant bureaux and departments and a consolidated reply to the three parts of the question is as follows:
(a) Mobile network operators (operators) intending to install radio base stations (base stations) at government properties are required to submit the details of the base stations to the government department responsible for the management of the premises concerned and other related departments (including the Lands Department, Planning Department, Architectural Services Department, Electrical and Mechanical Services Department, and Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA)) in accordance with stipulated procedures for consideration. Upon the agreement of all relevant departments on the installation of the base stations, the operators may sign a lease with the Government Property Agency and proceed with the installation.
At present, approval has been given for the installation of base stations at four parks managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. As the government departments concerned have already laid down the application procedures and requirements for the installation of base stations, the Government did not conduct any specific consultation when vetting and approving the applications.
After completing the installation procedure, in accordance with the telecommunications licence conditions, operators must first obtain approval from the Communications Authority (CA) before bringing the base stations into use. In vetting and approving the applications, the CA will consider if the base stations comply with the technical requirements on electromagnetic compatibility and radiation safety. To safeguard public health, apart from the radiation level of individual base stations, the CA will also take into account the total radiation level of all base stations at a single location to ensure that the total radiation level complies with the international safety standards.
Operators must ensure that the total level of radiation generated by all base stations is below the limits of international safety standards. They are also required to provide OFCA with measurement reports within one month from the commencement of operation of their base stations to demonstrate compliance of total radiation levels with the safety standards. OFCA will also carry out random checks and take field measurement of radiation level at base stations.
(b) To enhance and extend the mobile network coverage with a view to providing the public with continuous communications services, operators install base stations throughout the territory. This is to boost network coverage and increase network capacity so as to meet public demand for mobile communications services. Operators' applications for the installation of base stations must comply with the relevant legislation and guidelines as well as the requirements of the government departments concerned. As mentioned above, as the application procedures and requirements for the installation of base stations had already been laid down by the government departments concerned, the Government did not conduct any specific consultation when vetting and approving the applications. The CA will also take into account the total radiation level of all base stations at a single location in vetting and approving applications for putting base stations into operation so as to protect residents from excessive radiation exposure.
(c) Regarding the radiation safety standards, the CA, in consultation with the Department of Health (DH), has adopted the non-ionising radiation limits recommended by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) as the criteria for vetting and approving applications for putting the radio base stations into operation.
The ICNIRP is an independent scientific commission. The non-ionising radiation limits set out by the commission were endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO). The standards or similar radiation safety standards are widely adopted by the international community, including such countries as the United States, Canada, Germany, France, Korea, Australia and New Zealand. The WHO has also pointed out that there is no scientific evidence to show that base stations meeting the ICNIRP standards will pose a health hazard.
The OFCA will keep track of the latest development in radiation safety standards and from time to time seek the professional advice of the DH in order to safeguard public health.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013