Nuclear power plant in China faces performance issues, gas leak

A French energy company is working to resolve a “performance issue” at a nuclear plant in China following claims of a potential leak.

EDF Energy said that gases that had built up in a component of the plant were deliberately released.

A spokesperson said this was because of a fuel rod problem.

“We are not in a scenario of an accident with a melting core,” an EDF spokesman told AFP news agency.

“We are not talking about contamination, we are talking about controlled emissions.”

This comes after media reported US government had been assessing reports of a leak at the Taishan plant.

The facility’s Chinese part-owner, China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group, refuted claims of a leak on Monday.

EDF said there was a build up of noble gases in part of the cooling system of the plant’s number one reactor. The gases were collected and treated before being released into the atmosphere in “accordance with regulations”.

The gas supposedly leaked after the coating on some of the fuel rods deteriorated. Fuel rods are sealed metal tubes which hold nuclear materials used to fuel the nuclear reactor.

Noble gases are a group of stable chemical elements which have very low reactivity. They are often used in situations where scientists do not want chemical reactions, for instance in nuclear reactors or lighting.

AFP news agency reports the gases released were xenon and krypton.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced it has “no indication that a radiological incident occurred”.

The agency, which is the UN’s nuclear watchdog, said it had contacted counterparts in China about the issue.

CNN reported that French engineering company Framatome, which is owned by EDF Energy and designed the reactor, had sent a letter to the US Department of Energy, warning them of the potential leak. It 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.

EDF Energy also announced on Monday that it had called a meeting of the plant’s board.

China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group told state outlet the Global Times that the nuclear plant has operated the reactors strictly in compliance with business licence documents and technical procedures.

All the two reactors’ operation indicators have been in line with nuclear safety regulations and the technical requirements of electricity plants, the company said.

The Taishan plant provides power for the Guangzhou and Shenzhen areas, both major manufacturing hubs.

The region has faced power shortages in recent weeks due to hot weather and lower than normal hydropower supplies from Yunnan province.