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EDF seeks US aid over incident at Chinese nuclear reactor

Image credit: Ch-info.ch

The US government has been investigating a Chinese nuclear power plant in Taishan, Guangdong Province, after the French power company EDF raised warnings of an “imminent radiological threat”.

EDF, which is largely state owned, said it had been warned of a build-up of inert noble gases at a nuclear power station in Taishan.

According to a CNN report, the EDF unit that designed the nuclear reactor (Framatome) had raised warnings of an “imminent radiological threat” at the site. The build-up of gases had affected the primary circuit of the Taishan 1 reactor, EDF said. It added that it is a “known phenomenon, studied and provided for in the reactor operating procedures”.

China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) stated that operations at the station meet safety rules and that the surrounding environment is safe: “Two reactors have since the start of commercial operations been operating according to nuclear safety rules and regulations. Currently, regular monitoring data shows the Taishan station and its surrounding environment meet normal parameters”.

Framatome said: “According to the data available, the plant is operating within the safety parameters”. It added that it is supporting efforts to assess and resolve the situation.

EDF has called for a meeting with the station’s board of directors to “present all the data and the necessary decisions”. The power station is a joint venture 70 per cent owned by CGN (wholly state owned) and 30 per cent by EDF (largely state owned).

Framatome’s warning included the accusation that the Chinese safety authority was raising the acceptable limits for radioactivity surrounding the power station in order to avoid an expensive shutdown, according to a letter from the company to the US Department of Energy, obtained by CNN, which requested technical assistance to help resolve the issue. It is unusual for a non-US company to reach out to the US government for assistance when its partner – another non-US company – has not acknowledged a problem.

The US government has been investigating the leak for the past week and held multiple National Security Council meetings, as well as discussing the situation with the French government and contacting the Chinese government. It concluded that the facility is not at a “crisis level”. The CNN report said that there is no “severe safety threat to workers at the plant or Chinese public”.

The Taishan power station serves the heavily populated Guanzhou and Shenzhen areas. It features the French-designed third-generation 'Evolutionary Power Reactor' (EPR). This is a type of pressurised water reactor; it uses water as both coolant and moderator. The Tianshan 1 reactor was the first EPR to enter commercial operations in December 2018. EPRs will be deployed at the much-delayed Hinkley C project in Somerset, UK.

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