China insists radiation levels are normal at Guangdong nuclear plant amid leak reports

Experts say a leak incident might be complicated if Taishan plant uses US technology that is covered by export restrictions

Stuti Mishra
Tuesday 15 June 2021 15:20
<p>A view of the joint Sino-French Taishan Nuclear Power Station outside the city of Taishan in Guangdong province</p>

A view of the joint Sino-French Taishan Nuclear Power Station outside the city of Taishan in Guangdong province

China has denied any safety concerns relating to the Taishan nuclear power plant stating that no abnormal radiation was detected in it, after the French operator reported a gas build-up.

A foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing, Zhao Lijian, responded to reporters’ questions by saying: “there is nothing abnormal detected in the radiation level surrounding the plant.” He gave no confirmation of a leak or other details.

Hong Kong, which is closer to Guangdong province, has also expressed concern after the reports on Tuesday, however, the data from the Hong Kong Observatory and other departments showed that as of Monday night the radiation levels in the city were normal.

The chief executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, said her government would ask authorities in Guangdong for information and tell the public about any developments.

Framatome, a French company that helps manage the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant, raised an alarm on Monday saying that the plant was dealing with a “performance issue”, but that it was operating within safety parameters. The company statement followed media reports that the plant could be experiencing a leak.

A CNN report quoting sources claimed that the US government was assessing the risk factors of the Taishan nuclear power plant, based in the populous region of Guangdong province. It said that Framatome told US authorities about a possible leak and also warned that the Chinese safety authority was raising the acceptable limits for radiation detection outside the plant to prevent it from being shut down.

However, the Biden administration reportedly concluded that the situation at the plant isn’t yet at “crisis level” and does not pose an immediate danger to the workers in the plant or the people around it. However, concerns regarding a potential leak are still worrying experts.

The statement from the French company said it was informed of the increase in the concentration of “certain rare gases” in one of the reactors at Taishan.

Luk Bing-lam, an expert on nuclear engineering at the City University of Hong Kong told the Associated Press, that this suggests the fuel rods are leaking noble gases, a byproduct of nuclear fission.

“If the leakage is more severe, then you will start seeing more radioactive material like caesium, rather than gas,” said Mr Luk, who is also the chairman of the Hong Kong Nuclear Society.

He also said such leaks “happen every so often” in China and plants “usually can handle it themselves” but he said this incident might be complicated if the Taishan plant uses US technology that is covered by export restrictions.

Previously, the Taishan facility leaked a “small amount” of radioactive gas on 9 April, the National Nuclear Safety Administration said on its website, AP reported. It said the event was “Level 0,” or “without safety significance.”

The Taishan plant became operational in 2018 and is jointly owned by China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group and Electricite de France (EDF), the majority owner of Framatome. The two reactors in the plant are the first of a new type called European Pressurized Reactors.

Additional reporting by agencies

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