The US government is analyzing a reported leak at a China’s Taishan Nuclear Power Plant, after a French company that co-owns and helps operate it warned of an “imminent radiological threat,” according to CNN, citing US officials and documents reviewed by the outlet.
According to AFP, “EDF reported earlier a build-up of noble gases in one of the two reactors’ primary circuits, which is part of the cooling system,” adding “Noble gases are elements which have low chemical reactivity — in this case it was xenon and krypton.”
“The gas was released after the coating on some fuel rods had deteriorated, said the spokesman, who asked not to be named.”
After assessing the reported leak over the past week, US officials say the situation at the Guangdong plant does not “pose a severe safety threat to workers at the plant or Chinese public,” and is not yet at “crisis level,” per one of the sources.
That said, CNN notes that “it is unusual that a foreign company would unilaterally reach out to the American government for help when its Chinese state-owned partner is yet to acknowledge a problem exists,” adding “The scenario could put the US in a complicated situation should the leak continue or become more severe without being fixed.”
According to AFP, officials have deliberately released gas from the plant into the atmosphere within authorized limits to attempt to remedy the problem.
#UPDATE A Chinese nuclear company has deliberately released gas from a power plant into the atmosphere within authorised limits, as it seeks to fix an issue at the facility, its French partner EDF said Monday https://t.co/hFaZCnjXaO #Taishan pic.twitter.com/2H8wXvmzt3
— AFP News Agency (@AFP) June 14, 2021
“We are not in a scenario of an accident with a melting core,” said a spokesman for EDF at a press conference, adding “We are not talking about contamination, we are talking about controlled emissions.”
More via National Post:
China General Nuclear Power Corp., the majority owner of the plant, said Sunday on its website that environmental indicators at and around its Taishan plant in Guangdong are normal, and that Unit 1 is operating normally and Unit 2 was reconnected to the grid last week after an overhaul.
“Recently there have been some agencies and media organizations paying attention to and inquiring into the situation at the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant,” CGN, the operator of the plant, said in a statement on its website Sunday evening, before the CNN report was published.
“All operating indicators of the two units have met the requirements of nuclear safety regulations and technical requirements for power plants,” it said. CGN said it had not detected unusual amounts of radiation inside or outside the plant, adding “environmental indicators at present are within their normal range for both the Taishan plant and its surrounding environment.”
The plant, located roughly 80 miles from Hong Kong, has two units that produce a combined 3.3 gigawatts of power. The units came online in 2018 and 2019.
Going deeper on the plant is David Fishman (@pretentiouswhat):
A few thoughts:
Taishan is a Chinese plant built with French technology with a large French equity stake and Framatome is a French MNC offering technical services everywhere around the world (including the USA). https://t.co/dM1iWDTxAk
— David Fishman (@pretentiouswhat) June 14, 2021
2) Taishan is owned by CGN, which is on the US Entity List. Thus it would normally be forbidden to transfer US-derived technical information or data to CGN. A waiver may be obtained, however, for reasons of “operational safety”, which is what Framatome is applying for.
3) They’re likely applying because either A. the information they are preparing to transfer originated in the US, or B. they don’t want to impact their business in the US by doing work with CGN without full transparency. Probably both actually.
4) So doesn’t sound like Framatome reached out for *help* per se. Rather, they reached out for approval to conduct work to fix/mitigate the problem.
If there’s no safety threat, as this paragraph starts, then the rest is just silly, superfluous, and alarmist:
5) IMO, the technocratically-inclined nuclear specialists in the US DOE and NRC are way unlikely to take concern troll political cheap shots (unlike, e.g. the State Dept).
If they say that it’s not an issue, then CNN et al. are left scrambling for innuendo to gin up concern…
6) As for why ambient dose around the plant is exceeding the approved levels, that could be due to any number of things. One or several cracked fuel rods in the core might do it. Cracked fuel rods are pretty common, usually due to manufacturing defects.
7) You wouldn’t normally shut down a reactor and refuel for cracked fuel rods though. You keep operating, and do a bunch of physics calculations to restribute power in the core, and also redo environmental dose calculations. This work is *possibly* what Framatome is applying for.
8) The article doesn’t cite any figures for the original allowable dose level or the doubled dose level. So it’s pretty hard to tell if its anything to be concerned about. These allowable limits are usually set super low by several orders of magnitude, though.
9) To illustrate that point: Compare normal plant worker dose per annum versus the dose level likely to cause an increase in cancer risk:
Update: AFP has a quote from EDF (the 30% owner of the plant) saying there is an issue with noble gas buildup, which supports the theory of failed (cracked) fuel rods IMO.
Detection of radiation from Xe-133 or Xe-135 is one of the main methods for detecting this.
FYI about fuel failure for the curious.
Yep, it’s a undesirable but fairly common phenomenon. It’s also called “fuel failure”.
Here’s an older, but very authoritative summary if you’re feeling nerdy: https://t.co/TpaNfRJ0QG
— David Fishman (@pretentiouswhat) June 14, 2021
Related stocks are lower on the news:
ThinkCivics researches, examines, and reports on issues that matter most. We deliver explanative, fearless, and insightful analysis for public consumption.