China’s Nuclear Reactor Drama May Be Less Worrying Than Politics | Nuclear Energy News
Perhaps more worrying than a problem discovered at China General Nuclear Power Corp’s Taishan reactor is the apparent lack of communication between the company and Electricité de France SA, the designer and minority owner of the plant.
Problems with a Chinese nuclear power plant near Hong Kong are probably not of concern, experts said. Some of the politics behind the situation may well be.
A problem discovered inside the Taishan Unit 1 reactor of China General Nuclear Power Corp. threat, ”said Jeff Merrifield, former US nuclear regulatory commissioner.
Perhaps more worrying is the apparent lack of communication between the state-owned CGN and Electricité de France SA, the designer and minority owner of the plant. An EDF unit alerted the US government to the issue, and the parent company on Monday asked CGN to provide more information and to meet to discuss the stakes of the operation.
“The fact that EDF has contacted an American agency suggests some concern about their access to such critical information,” said MV Ramana, nuclear specialist and professor at the University of British Columbia.
A CGN spokesperson declined to comment on Tuesday, referring to a statement on Sunday that the plant is operating safely and that environmental indicators in and around it are normal. EDF did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the flow of information between the partners.
The Taishan plant, located about 130 kilometers (80 miles) west of Hong Kong, is 30% owned by EDF, with CGN holding the majority stake.
In September, the Chinese National Administration of Nuclear Safety inspected and authorized refueling of Unit 1. Problems with gas accumulation in the reactor were first detected in October, EDF said Monday.
EDF indicates that it appears that the coating of certain fuel rods has deteriorated, leading to an increased concentration of certain rare gases. China’s NNSA said in April that Unit 1 at the plant experienced an operational incident classified as minor and not important to safety.
During a refueling, it is possible that a stray object, something as small as a wire filament from a brush, could be left in the reactor, said Merrifield, NRC commissioner from 1998 to 2007 , who is now a lawyer at Pillsbury Winthrop in Washington DC Shaw Pittman LLP.
This filament could then be picked up by the water flowing through the closed loop of the reactor and rub against the outer coating of the uranium fuel rods, potentially releasing radiation and gases. If the concentrations remain low enough, the plant can continue to operate safely as long as it carefully monitors radiation to keep workers safe, he said.
“It’s not common, but it’s something that has happened a sufficient number of times that it is a phenomenon that is well understood and relatively easy to manage,” said Merrifield.
Nuclear experts said they hoped for more transparency in the future. They see the carbon-free energy source as the key to the global fight against climate change, but are worried about public opinion after a handful of high-profile accidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima.
“A lack of openly available information on this issue can make people needlessly concerned about what is going on,” Merrifield said.
To further complicate the issue, CGN is one of 59 Chinese companies blacklisted by the administration of US President Joe Biden for alleged links to Chinese military or surveillance industries. EDF said its subsidiary Framatome has contacted and shared information with US authorities because some of its nuclear fuel experts are in the United States.
The flow of information between businesses can also be hampered due to their competition in certain regions. While CGN is a partner of EDF, the world’s largest operator of nuclear power plants, in projects such as Hinkley Point C in the United Kingdom, it is also increasingly a rival. CGN and China National Nuclear Corp. market the Chinese-designed Hualong One reactor and have just completed the first overseas unit in Pakistan.
“To understand the dynamic between China and France, you have to understand that the Chinese want to sell the Hualong One and the French want to continue selling French reactors,” said Chris Gadomski, nuclear analyst at BloombergNEF in New York.