Chinese nuclear plant marks performance issue, French owner says

French electricity giant Électricité de France SA said it had requested an extraordinary board meeting with Chinese managers of a nuclear plant it co-owns in Southeast China to learn more about the accumulation of gases inside one of the reactors of plant.

EDF said it made the request on Saturday after receiving data from managers at the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant, located in Guangdong province 80 miles west of Hong Kong, showing an increase in the concentration of noble gases in one of the primary circuits of its reactors. , which is part of the reactor cooling system.

The accumulation of such gases, which have low chemical reactivity, is not considered dangerous in small amounts, EDF engineers told reporters. One of the engineers said EDF believes the coating on some of the fuel rods has degenerated.

EDF intervened in the state of the plant after CNN reported that US officials were evaluating a request from Framatome, an EDF subsidiary, to transfer technical data and assistance to the plant in China so that the French firm could deal with “an imminent radiological threat.”

Framatome said it was “supporting the resolution of a performance problem” with the Taishan nuclear power plant. He said the plant was operating within safe parameters based on available data. “Our team is working with relevant experts to assess the situation and propose solutions to address any potential problems,” the company said.

The Taishan plant is owned by Taishan Nuclear Power Joint Venture Co., a joint venture between state-owned China General Nuclear Power Group, which owns 51%, and EDF, which owns 30%. Guangdong Energy Group Co. owns 19%. The United States added China General Nuclear Power Group and three other Chinese entities to your export blacklist in 2019, saying they were among the entities that “participated in or permitted efforts to acquire advanced nuclear technology and material from the US for diversion to military uses in China.”

Taishan Nuclear Power said the plant was operating within safe parameters based on available data, and that environmental indicators at the plant and its surrounding areas were normal. Hong Kong or Macao, located 40 miles from the plant, have reported no abnormal radiation, according to observatories in the cities.

The joint venture said that it has always “controlled the operation of the units in strict accordance with the operating license documents and technical procedures. All the operational indicators of both units have met the requirements of the nuclear safety regulations and the technical specifications of the plant ”, he indicated.

EDF engineers said it was too early to say whether the plant would need to be shut down. The gases, xenon and krypton, dissolve in the water found in the primary circuit, according to one of EDF’s engineers, and their concentration is strictly controlled to guarantee the safety of the workers who carry out maintenance operations.

The presence of the gases in the primary circuit was a “phenomenon known, studied and foreseen in the operating procedures of the reactor”, said EDF.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Beijing declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the French President, Emmanuel Macron, also declined to comment.

The plant is the result of the first nuclear electricity generation agreement signed between China and a foreign investor, according to EDF. Construction at the plant started in November 2009 and the first unit started generating power in 2018.

In April 2020, Framatome called the plant’s two units “the most powerful reactors in the world currently in operation.” Nuclear power accounted for 5% of power generation in China in 2020, according to the China Nuclear Energy Association. The 49 nuclear reactors in operation today have a total capacity of 51 gigawatts.

Write to Nick Kostov at [email protected] and Chong Koh Ping at [email protected]

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