Electricite de France (EDF), the French company that co-owns China’s Taishan nuclear power plant, has indicated that it would shut down the plant if it was possible. A spokesperson from the company stated that though it was “not an emergency situation,” the threat from the nuclear plant is a “serious situation that is evolving.” The plant was earlier reported to possibly have suffered a leak.
If the reactor was located in France, it would have been shut down to adhere to the rules of operating nuclear power plants in the country. However, the spokesperson stopped short of demanding China halt operations since such a decision would have to be taken by the plant’s majority shareholder.
The reactor is owned by Guangdong Taishan Nuclear Power Joint Venture Company Limited (TNPC). While EDF carries a 30 percent stake in TNPC, the majority 70 percent share is held by the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group (CGNPC), a state-owned energy corporation.
“We’ve shared with them all the elements of EDF’s analysis and all the reasons why, in France, we would stop the reactor… so that they can take the decision that will be necessary as responsible operators,” the spokesperson said to CNN. He added that EDF would have shut down the plant to “avoid further degrading of the fuel rods, and carry out an investigation, and avoid further damage to the industrial facility.”
The Taishan nuclear power plant has two operational EPR reactors developed by EDF and Framatome and has a third-generation pressurized water reactor design. The first EPR unit, Taishan 1, became operational for commercial service in December 2018, while the second entered commercial service roughly a year later, in September 2019.
Framatome warning, EDF assessment
On June 14, 2021, CNN featured an article reporting that there had been a leak suspected at the Taishan nuclear plant. The news was based on a letter sent by Framatome to the U.S. Department of Energy on June 8 which warned of an “imminent radiological threat to the site and to the public.”
The report also accused the Chinese safety authorities of raising the acceptable limits for radiation detection outside the plant so as to prevent the reactor’s shutdown.
The Biden administration decided that the situation in China has not yet reached a “crisis level.” The National Security Council (NSC) did meet multiple times to discuss the issue and the government eventually discussed the situation with their experts at the Department of Energy as well as the French government. Washington also contacted the Chinese authorities. But the details of the discussion are unknown.
Framatome had reached out to the American government to obtain a waiver that would allow them to share U.S. technical assistance to resolve the issue at the Chinese reactor.
“It is not surprising that the French would reach out… In general, this sort of thing is not extraordinary, particularly if they think the country they are contacting has some special ability to help… But China likes to project that everything is just fine, all the time,” Cheryl Rofer, nuclear scientist who retired from Los Alamos National Laboratory in 2001, told CNN.
Taishan plant said in a statement that the environmental readings at the plant as well as the surroundings were “normal” and that one of the units had been overhauled and connected to the grid on June 10. It did not explain the nature of the overhaul.
China: ‘No abnormality’ at nuclear plant
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in a news briefing that “there is no abnormality in the radiation environment around the nuclear power plant. Its safety is guaranteed.”
Meanwhile, the EDF published a press release on July 22 in which it explained the situation of Taishan’s No. 1 reactor after analyzing the data supplied by the operator.
It states that unsealed assembly rods were detected in reactor No. 1. The EDF team checked the data related to the chemical composition of the primary circuit water, assessing its consequences.
“The radiochemical parameters of the primary circuit water remain below the regulatory thresholds in force at the Taishan plant, thresholds which are consistent with international practices… Analysis of the data available to EDF on fuel rod loss of sealing indicates that the situation is evolving; as such it is being continuously monitored by the operator,” per the press release.