(Inserts HONG KONG dateline)
By Greg Torode
HONG KONG, July 12 (Reuters) - Hundreds of protesters in a southern Chinese city forced authorities on Friday to extend public consultations over plans for a uranium processing plant, underlining officials' growing sensitivity to protest in the communist nation.
Officials of Jiangmen in the province of Guangdong pledged on an official website to lengthen the talks by 10 more days, within hours of a march on city offices by the protesters, who included entire families, Hong Kong television stations said.
"We want children, not atoms," read one banner stretched across city streets by the protesters, who chanted slogans.
More protests are being planned for Sunday in the city, home to a mixed population of poor migrant workers and wealthier overseas Chinese retirees and investors.
The planned 230-hectare plant in the heart of China's Pearl River delta industrial heartland has also sparked unease in neighboring Hong Kong and Macau. Authorities in the gambling enclave have formally raised the issue with their Guangdong counterparts, the South China Morning Post reported.
The Jiangmen authorities had already signed a pact with the China National Nuclear Corporation to build the complex, Government-funded Radio Television Hong Kong reported. Construction was scheduled to start by year-end and a 10-day public consultation was initially meant to end on Saturday.
Chinese state media, however, have also questioned the project. The project lacked full central government approval, state-owned China National Radio reported on Thursday.
"Such a big project involving the security of the people did not have an enviromental assessment ... and the announcement period is only ten days," it said.
In a comment published on Friday, Beijing News, another state-owned newspaper, asked "How can you act first and report to the people later?"
But the authorities would get their way in the end, said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political scientist at Hong Kong's Baptist University, even if they had to be sensitive to protests as well as concerns in Hong Kong.
"In Jiangmen, in southern Guangdong, it is very hard to hide anything ... You have to be much more transparent than, maybe, in the hinterland," Cabestan said.
Guangdong is already home to several nuclear power plants, including the vast Daya Bay complex near the former British territory. (Additional reporting by Lavinia Mo and Brian Yap; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Ron Popeski)