Fears over radiation threat at EDF nuclear plant in China

·3 min read
Taishan nuclear power station under construction in 2013
Taishan nuclear power station under construction in 2013

French energy giant EDF is racing to understand issues at a nuclear power plant it part owns in China amid reports of an "imminent radiological threat”.

The Telegraph understands that radioactivity has been detected in cooling liquid around the fuel rod at the plant in Taishan, about 80 miles west of Hong Kong. This is within a sealed part of the plant and operators have said the plant is running safely.

EDF has called for an extraordinary board meeting of the company that runs the plant, a joint venture between EDF, which owns 30pc, and its Chinese partner CGN, which owns 70pc.

The pair are also building the Hinkley Point C plant in Somerset, which uses the same reactor design as the plant in Taishan, known as EPR, while EDF is in negotiations with Government about building a second new plant in Suffolk. CGN is a junior partner on the Hinkley plant.

The issues were made public after a CNN report that said Framatome, the part-EDF owned company which helps run the plant, had written to US officials on June 8 asking for permission to share American technical assistance on the plant.

According to a memo obtained by CNN, Framotome said: "The situation is an imminent radiological threat to the site and to the public and Framatome urgently requests permission to transfer technical data and assistance as may be necessary to return the plant to normal operation."

The radioactivity in the water is likely to have been caused by a minute crack that could be caused, for example, by a speck of material colliding with the fuel rod, rather than deterioration.

David Fishman, manager at energy-focused consulting group the Lantau Group, said that cracked fuel rods could potentially cause a small release of fission materials into the cooling loop, "where it wouldn't normally be".

"Failed fuel or cracked fuel is a fairly normal and common - undesirably certainly - but not uncommon phenomenon in the nuclear fuel industry," he said.

The radioactivity is believed to have been found by routine monitoring.

EDF said on Monday it had been informed of a build-up of "certain noble gases in the primary circuit" of one reactor, adding this was a "known phenomenon, studied and provided for in the reactor operating procedures."

It added: "EDF has requested the holding of an extraordinary [joint venture] board of directors meeting for management to present all the data and the necessary decisions."

Taishan has been running since 2018 and is the first and as yet only nuclear power plant operating worldwide using the new EPR reactor, and is watched closely in the industry for its performance.

Dr Paul Dorfman, of the UCL Energy Institute and founder of the Nuclear Consulting Group, a non-profit supported by the Greenpeace Environmental Trust, said: "If there is such a thing as evidence-based energy policymaking in the UK, this new EPR debacle should have important consequences for any further plans for new EPR build."

State-run CGN said operations at the Taishan nuclear power station met safety rules and the surrounding environment was safe.

"Regular monitoring data shows the Taishan station and its surrounding environment meet normal parameters," CGN said.

Framatome said: "[We are] supporting resolution of a performance issue with the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in Guangdong Province, China. According to the data available, the plant is operating within the safety parameters.

"Our team is working with relevant experts to assess the situation and propose solutions to address any potential issue."

US officials do not believe the situation posed a severe safety threat to workers at the plant or Chinese public, according to CNN.

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