China Nuclear Plant Issue Prompts Call for Meeting From EDF
(Bloomberg) -- The French utility that partly owns a nuclear power plant near Hong Kong is seeking more information on a gas buildup in a reactor there, even as its Chinese partner insists the facility is operating safely.
Electricite de France SA, which has a 30% stake in the Taishan nuclear plant in southern China, has called for an extraordinary board meeting with majority owner China General Nuclear Power Corp., or CGN, to discuss the increased concentration of inert gases at the Unit 1 reactor in Guangdong.
Data from the joint company that operates the facility, TNPJVC, suggest the coating on “a few fuel rods” has deteriorated, leading to increased gas within the primary loop of the reactor, EDF said Monday. It’s premature to say whether the reactor will have to be halted, according to the utility.
CGN said Sunday that environmental indicators at and around the facility were normal. When asked to comment on EDF’s request for a meeting, the Shenzhen-based company referred Bloomberg back to Sunday’s statement.
Shares of the firm’s Hong Kong-listed unit fell as much as 3.5% on Tuesday and other uranium-related stocks also dropped.
The plant has systems to collect and treat gases before they’re released outside. The gas buildup and emissions have remained within Chinese regulatory limits, which are in line with international norms, EDF said.
The Taishan plant also reported an issue back in April. Its Unit 1 experienced a “minor” operational incident that was not of safety significance, China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration said at the time.
Fuel Rod Leaks
EDF, the world’s largest operator of nuclear power stations, has faced fuel-rod leaks at its French plants in the past. Such leaks don’t necessarily require a halt if gas emissions remain below permitted levels, the company said. In France, the deterioration of fuel rods has been caused either by a fault in the fuel assemblies, or by damage from a stray element in the reactor, it said.
The reason for the presumed leak at Taishan can’t be determined without halting the reactor to examine the assemblies, according to EDF. The utility was informed last December that the Chinese operator had started discussing maximum gas limits in the reactor’s primary loop after the issue was first detected in October, it said.
Regulatory caps on gas emissions are designed to protect workers during maintenance shutdowns, said Karine Herviou, deputy director of IRSN, an adviser to France’s atomic safety authority. “The concentration of these gases will have to be closely monitored and the reactor will have to be halted to understand what’s going on” if those limits are reached, she said, adding that “there’s no risk of explosion” based on the information available.
The Taishan plant, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) west of Hong Kong, has two units with a combined capacity of 3.3 gigawatts, making them the most powerful reactors in operation. They were designed by EDF subsidiary Framatome -- which also supplied their atomic fuel -- and came online in 2018 and 2019. Each reactor contains 241 fuel assemblies, consisting of 265 rods each, according to the French utility.
Framatome has warned the U.S. government of an “imminent radiological threat” at the plant, CNN reported Monday, citing unnamed U.S. officials and documents the news network said it had reviewed.
Framatome is “supporting resolution of a performance issue with the Taishan nuclear power plant,” the EDF unit said in an email, adding that “according to the data available, the plant is operating within the safety parameters.”
Several high-level meetings have taken place in Washington, as well as discussions between the U.S. and French governments and contact between the U.S. and Chinese administrations, as a result of Framatome’s concerns, CNN reported.
U.S. officials do not believe the situation poses a severe safety threat to the public or workers at the plant, CNN said.
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The Taishan issue is arising amid a power shortage in Guangdong, the country’s industrial hub, which has caused more than 20 cities to ration electricity to some companies and factories. Unit 1 was operating normally and Unit 2 was reconnected to the grid last week after an overhaul, CGN said.
Issues at the China facility are a fresh setback for EDF, which is facing construction delays and cost overruns at similar atomic projects in France and the U.K. It’s been showcasing the Taishan reactors to convince those two countries to build more such plants, and other nations to adopt the technology.
China is the world’s third-biggest nuclear power market, after the U.S. and France, and has the most new reactors under construction. It’s never had a serious atomic accident on domestic soil.
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