A new report says a leak at a Chinese nuclear power plant has been deemed an “imminent radiological threat,” but the plant’s operators say all is fine.
The report from CNN said Framatome, a French company that is a part-owner of the plant and helps operate it, reached out to the United States, reflecting its concern over the issue. CNN based its report on U.S. officials it mostly did not name and documents it said it had reviewed.
“The situation is an imminent radiological threat to the site and to the public and Framatome urgently requests permission to transfer technical data and assistance as may be necessary to return the plant to normal operation,” Framatome wrote Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Energy, according to CNN.
Framatome’s warning accused China of increasing the allowable levels of radiation around the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in Guangdong province in order to avoid having to close it.
Framatome wrote to the United States that the initial limit was set by the French safety authority, but “due to the increasing number of failures,” China’s safety authority doubled the limit, “which in turn increases off-site risk to the public and on-site workers.”
The Taishan reactor was at 90 percent of the higher limit, Framatome wrote the U.S., saying the plant’s operators might seek to “further increase the shutdown limit on an exigent basis in an effort to keep running which in turn would continue to increase the risk to the off-site population and the workers at the plant site.”
CNN reported its Biden administration sources said the incident is not yet at “crisis level,” but also said the National Security Council is monitoring the situation.
CNN reported it was told that if an imminent risk to the Chinese public existed, treaty obligations would require the United States to disclose it.
“It is not surprising that the French would reach out,” Cheryl Rofer, a retired nuclear scientist, told CNN. “In general, this sort of thing is not extraordinary, particularly if they think the country they are contacting has some special ability to help. But China likes to project that everything is just fine, all the time.”
Although the U.S. could approve assistance, the decision about what takes place ultimately is China’s.
Rofer said reports of a gas leak at the facility could mean bigger problems.
“If they do have a gas leak, that indicates some of their containment is broken,” Rofer told CNN. “It also argues that maybe some of the fuel elements could be broken, which would be a more serious problem.
“That would be a reason for shutting down the reactor and would then require the reactor to be refueled.”
The state-owned China General Nuclear Power Group, which co-operates the plant, said one reactor was operating normally, and the second one has just had repairs completed and was reconnected to the power grid on Thursday, according to The Washington Post.
The overhaul had met all targets in “safety, security, quality and project time,” the company said.
“All operating indicators of the two units have met the requirements of nuclear safety regulations and technical requirements for power plants,” CGN said.
The company said it had not detected unusual amounts of radiation inside or outside the plant, adding that “environmental indicators at present are within their normal range for both the Taishan plant and its surrounding environment.”
Construction of the nuclear plant began in 2009, and the two units started generating electricity in 2018 and 2019, respectively, according to CNN.
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