A Chinese nuclear power plant located near Hong Kong has five broken fuel rods in a reactor, This caused a buildup of radioactive gases, but no radioactive leakage occurred, the government said Wednesday in the first confirmation of an incident that raised concerns for the plant’s safety.
The American television channel CNN reported on Monday a possible “leak” in this plant located in southern China and which has the only state-of-the-art EPR reactors in operation in the world, a design that works with pressurized water. It was after the French company that built the plant, Framatome, sent a letter to the US State Department advising them of the situation, a highly unusual occurrence.
Despite the alarming notification from Framatome, Joe Biden’s administration said the facility is not yet at a “crisis level.” The White House’s concern over the incident was significant enough that the National Security Council held multiple meetings last week while monitoring the situation, two of them high-level.
This Wednesday, the Chinese Ministry of the Environment and the Nuclear Safety Authority gave the first technical explanations. In a joint statement, they admitted a increased radioactivity inside of one of the reactors caused “by about five damaged fuel rods.”
This phenomenon was classified as “common” by the authorities, due to “uncontrollable factors” during the manufacturing, transportation or installation processes at the plant. Fuel rods contain uranium pellets and provide the energy that powers a nuclear reactor.
The increase in radioactivity in the plant is located “in the regulatory parameter” and “There is no leak” in the environment, says the statement.
French Minister of Ecological Transition, Barbara Pompili, does not believe that China is playing with safety at the Taishan nuclear power plant, built with French technology, after reports of a gas leak.
In an interview with the station France InterPompili explained that the information available to it comes from the French power company EDF, which is a minority operator in Taishan, and that in turn received the details of the incident through the Chinese authorities.
According to that indirect communication, there is a gas leak from the primary circuit of the Taishan number one reactor, but at a level that is “below safe thresholds” set by China.
The government of Hong Kong said it was observing the plant and asked authorities in Guangdong for information after the French company EDF, which holds 30% of the Taishan plant’s share package together with the Chinese operator CGN, reported on Monday a increase in ‘noble gases’‘in the reactor.
According to experts, this suggests that the fuel rods broke and leaked radioactive gases produced during fission. Noble gases such as xenon and krypton are by-products of fission, as well as particles of cesium, strontium, and other radioactive elements.
The presence of these gases in the system “is a known, studied and predicted phenomenon in the operating processes of reactors,” EDF added.
The French group said, however, that it requested an extraordinary meeting of the entity that stops the plant to present “all the necessary data and decisions.”
Meanwhile, the French nuclear company Framatome announced on Monday that it is monitoring “the evolution of the operating parameters” of the plant. Plant “It is in its authorized operating and security domain”, he specified.
The Taishan facility began commercial operation in December 2018. A second reactor began operating in September 2019. Commissioning of next-generation EPR reactors was years delayed in similar European projects in the United Kingdom, France. and Finland.