China blames minor fuel rod damage for nuclear plant issues

China said on Wednesday that there was no radiation leak at the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant and denied a media report that it had raised the allowed radiation level around the facility in order to avoid shutting it down.

A nuclear reactor and related factilities as part of the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant [File: Bobby Yip/Reuters]

China said on Wednesday that there was no radiation leak at the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in Guangdong province and denied a US media report that Beijing authorities had raised the allowed radiation level around the facility in order to avoid shutting it down.

United States news outlet CNN, citing US officials and documents it had reviewed, reported on Monday that the US government had spent the past week assessing a report of a leak at Taishan nuclear power plant after its French operator Framatome warned of an “imminent radiological threat”.

Framatome is a subsidiary of French energy giant EDF, which owns 30 percent of the joint venture that owns and operates the Taishan nuclear power plant.  State-owned China General Nuclear Power Corp owns the other 70 percent.

CNN also reported on Monday that a letter to the US Department of Energy from Framatome included allegations that China was raising the acceptable limit for radiation detection outside the nuclear facility so it could keep it running.

Guangdong province is China’s main manufacturing hub and has been beset by power shortages in recent weeks that have led to energy rationing.

China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment said on Wednesday an increase in radiation levels had been detected in the primary circuit at Taishan’s Unit 1 reactor, but they were within the parameters for safe operations.

“Due to the influence of uncontrollable factors in fuel manufacturing, transportation, loading and other links, a small amount of fuel rod damage is inevitable,” said a joint statement by the ministry and the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA), calling it a “common phenomenon”.

There are more than 60,000 fuel rods in the core unit, the statement said, and the proportion of damaged rods is “less than 0.01 percent”.

About five fuel rods at the Unit 1 reactor were estimated to have been damaged, or less than 0.01 percent, far below a projected allowance of 0.25 percent, the statement added.

The ministry said it will continue to closely monitor radioactivity levels at the Unit 1 reactor and would also maintain communications with the International Atomic Energy Agency as well as France’s nuclear safety watchdog.

Powered up in 2018, the Taishan plant was the first worldwide to operate a next-generation EPR nuclear reactor – a pressurised water design that has been subject to years of delays in similar European projects in the UK, France and Finland.

There are now two EPR power units at Taishan, which sits close to the coastline of Guangdong and financial hub Hong Kong.

China has dozens of nuclear plants – the world’s third-highest after the US and France – and has invested billions of dollars to develop its atomic energy sector.

Source: News Agencies

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