‘Performance Issue’ Flagged at Chinese Nuclear Plant After Alleged Leak

A French co-owner of the Chinese nuclear plant reported an increase in the level of noble gases, but said the plant is operating safely.
June 15, 2021, 10:09am
Taishan nuclear power China french
The Taishan nuclear power plant is jointly owned by French company EDF and the Chinese government. PHOTO: Peter PARKS / AFP

A French power company said Monday it was working to solve a “performance issue” at a nuclear power plant in southern China, following reports that the United States was looking into a potential leak at the plant.

French power giant EDF said it had been informed of “the increase in the concentration of certain noble gases” in one reactor at the Taishan nuclear power plant, which is majority owned by the Chinese state. 

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The build-up of noble gases was made public after CNN reported that an EDF subsidiary, Framatome, warned the U.S. government of an “imminent radiological threat” at the plant in Taishan, a city in the densely populated Guangdong province 90 miles from Hong Kong.

The report said Framatome was requesting a waiver that would allow it to share American technical assistance in order to resolve the issue at the Chinese nuclear plant. The state-owned China General Nuclear Power Group, which operates the power plant, has been barred from buying American technology since 2019. 

The Biden administration believed the facility is not yet at a “crisis level,” after discussing the situation with the French government and U.S. Department of Energy experts, according to the report. 

On Monday, Framatome, which constructed the nuclear reactors at Taishan, confirmed it was supporting the resolution of “a performance issue,” while saying the plant “is operating within the safety parameters.”

Noble gases, or inert gases, are stable chemicals with low reactivity. AFP news agency reported the gases released were xenon and krypton, which are produced in nuclear fission.

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EDF said in a statement that the presence of certain noble gases in the reactor is a known phenomenon, but it had requested “an extraordinary boarding meeting” for the Chinese managers “to present all the data and the necessary decisions.”

With two reactors, the Taishan plant is capable of generating 24 TWh of carbon dioxide-free electricity a year, equivalent to the consumption of 5 million Chinese users, EDF said in 2019. 

Earlier on Monday, China General Nuclear Power Group said the plant’s operation readings had been meeting safety standards since its first reactor went into commercial operation in 2018. It said the environmental monitoring in nearby areas had shown no abnormalities. 

Hong Kong’s observatories have so far reported normal radiation levels. On Tuesday, the city’s governor Carrie Lam said the government paid great attention to the situation of the nuclear plant, and would contact mainland authorities to discuss the case. 

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