Performance issue’ at Chinese nuclear plant prompts reassurances and radiation monitoring

Authorities in China, France and the US are monitoring the operation of the Taishan nuclear power station in southeast China after French reactor engineer Framatome reportedly warned of an "imminent radiological threat" there.

Framatome sent the warning to the US Department of Energy last week, according to CNN, which said it had seen relevant documents. 

Yesterday, Framatome published a statement on its website saying that it was "supporting the resolution of a performance issue" at Taishan. 

"According to the data available the plant is operating within the safety parameters," its statement said. "Our team is working with relevant experts to assess the situation and propose solutions to address any potential issue."

Today, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said her government was monitoring radiation levels in the city, but that everything was normal, AFP reports. 

The Taishan plant is a 70:30 joint venture between, respectively, China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) and Électricité de France (EDF), the parent of Framatome, which helps to operate the two reactors there.

EDF said yesterday that it had requested an extraordinary meeting of the joint venture’s board of directors for the plant’s management "to present all the data and the necessary decisions". 

The company said it had been informed of "an increase in the concentration of certain noble gases in the primary circuit" of reactor one of the plant. This, EDF said, was "a known phenomenon, studied and provided for in the reactor operating procedures".

CGN said in a statement that operations met safety rules, and the China Nuclear Safety Administration reported yesterday that radiation levels in the vicinity were normal.

Li Ning, a Chinese nuclear scientist based in the US, told the Reuters news agency that CNN was "making a mountain out of a molehill" and that it was unrealistic to expect "zero failure" in the fuel cladding of nuclear projects anywhere in the world.

Li said the media were "often unwilling to put risks into proper perspective", which he said had effectively killed off the nuclear industry in the west.

EDF was the first to successfully install a European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), a third-generation design produced by Framatome and EDF. Two EPRs began producing electricity in Taishan in 2018 and 2019.

Earlier attempts to build an EPR, at Olkiluoto in Finland and Flamanville in France, were both dogged by technical difficulties, and neither has entered service after construction periods that have now lasted, respectively, 16 and 14 years.

Image: The Taishan nuclear power plant (EDF Energy/Public domain)

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