French nuclear operator EDF said it would have shut down a reactor in southern China being investigated for a potential fuel rod issue if the facility were in France but that the decision to continue operating the joint venture was beyond its control.
The Taishan nuclear power plant, which is majority controlled and operated by China General Nuclear Power Corp, with EDF holding a 30 per cent stake, held an extraordinary board meeting on Thursday to review the latest data following reports of problems last month.
“On the basis of the analyses carried out, EDF’s operating procedures for the French nuclear fleet would lead EDF, in France, to shut down the reactor in order to accurately assess the situation in progress and stop its development,” EDF said in a statement following the meeting
“In Taishan, the corresponding decisions belong to TNPJVC [Taishan Nuclear Power Joint Venture Co].”
EDF said last month that a build-up of noble, or inert, gases in Taishan seemed to have occurred because of issues with the casing around some fuel rods, the first of three containment barriers at the reactor.
The company said it had been allowed to analyse data related to the “detection of unsealed assembly rods in reactor No 1 of the Taishan power plant”.
EDF said the data made available by CGN suggested the “radiochemical parameters” were still below regulatory thresholds in China, which it said were “consistent with international practices”. However, it added that the situation is “evolving”.
The French company has sought to play down the problem after a CNN report in June suggested the risk of a radiation leak. The company has said a leak outside the facility is not a danger and the build-up of noble gases had been contained.
A spokesperson for EDF told the FT on Thursday that the primary concern was to begin maintenance to resolve the issue.
“We want to prevent the fuel rods from deteriorating further, carry out investigations to figure out why the fuel rods lost their sealings, and we want the necessary maintenance to be as simple as possible,” the spokesperson said.
“This is not an emergency or an incident. It is a situation, that is covered by operating procedures, that is known and understood.”
Taishan is the first nuclear plant in the world to operate a European Pressurised Reactor, a Franco-German technology that for two decades was bedevilled by delays and cost overruns.
The Taishan plant’s first reactor began commercial operations in December 2018, and its second reactor came on stream in September 2019.
CGN and EDF are also collaborating on an EPR nuclear plant in the UK, under construction at Hinkley Point in Somerset.
Citing unidentified sources and documents, CNN reported last month that Framatome, an EDF unit, had informed the US government of a potential “imminent radiological threat to the [Taishan] site and to the public”.
The news network said that Joe Biden’s National Security Council was monitoring the situation but did not think that a “crisis level” had been reached.
Nuclear power in China is central to President Xi Jinping’s ambitious environmental goals, which include achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2060. About 50 nuclear reactors operate in China, accounting for about 5 per cent of total power generation.
CGN did not respond to requests for comment outside normal business hours on Thursday.
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