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French nuclear firm investigates possible leak at China's Taishan EPR plant

·2-min read

The French nuclear firm Framatome said Monday it was working to resolve a "performance issue" at an EPR plant it part-owns in southern China following the US media CNN report of a potential radioactive leak there.

What exactly is going on at the Taishan nuclear power plant in China's southern Guangdong province?

CNN reported earlier that the US government is assessing a report of a leak at the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant after the French company, Framatome, warned of an "imminent radiological threat".

Framatome said in a statement to French news agency AFP that it is "supporting resolution of a performance issue" at the plant.

"According to the data available, the plant is operating within the safety parameters," the company said.

"Our team is working with relevant experts to assess the situation and propose solutions to address any potential issue."

Citing a letter from Framatome to the US energy department, CNN said the warning included an accusation that the Chinese safety authority was raising the acceptable limits for radiation outside the facility in order to avoid having to shut it down.

The operator of the power station, state-owned China General Nuclear Power Group, said in a statement on Sunday evening that "the environmental indicators of Taishan Nuclear Power Plant and its surroundings are normal".

It did not reference any leak or incident at the power station, which it said meets "the requirements of nuclear safety regulations and power plant technical specifications."

The French energy company EDF, which holds a 30 percent stake in the operator of this plant, added that it had requested an extraordinary board meeting of the plant operator "so that management can present all the necessary data and decisions".

EDF confirmed on Monday morning that it had been "informed of the increase in the concentration of certain rare gases in the primary circuit of reactor No.1 of the Taishan nuclear power plant in China".

Next generation reactors

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 Britain, France and Finland.

EPR reactors have been touted as promising advances in safety and efficiency over conventional reactors while producing less waste.

Nuclear plants supplied less than five percent of China's annual electricity needs in 2019, according to the National Energy Administration, but this share is expected to grow as Beijing attempts to become carbon neutral by 2060.

China has 47 nuclear plants with a total generation capacity of 48.75 million kilowatts -- the world's third highest after the United States and France -- and has invested billions of dollars to develop its nuclear energy sector.

Last month Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping hailed close ties between their countries as they launched work on Russian-built nuclear power plants in China.

(with AFP, newswires)

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