A French nuclear company has told the US government that a power plant in China could be an "imminent radiological threat” following reports of a radioactive gas leak, according to US officials and documents reviewed by CNN.
The scale of the problem isn’t clear, but the situation is currently not said to be at “crisis level.” Furthermore, the situation does not currently pose a threat to the safety of plant workers or the public.
The issue appears to relate to the build-up of noble gases in reactor n°1 of the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in China's southern Guangdong province. Électricité de France (EDF), the French company that owns 30 percent of the plant, issued a statement saying that it was aware of an increase of certain noble gases in the primary circuit of reactor n°1. However, they added that the presence of the gases in the primary circuit is “a known phenomenon, studied, and provided for in the reactor operating procedures.” EDF has called for a meeting with its Chinese partner to review data on the plant.
While the power plant is permitted to release a restricted amount of gas into the surrounding environment, some suspect that too much is being leaked, indicating there may be a problem afoot. Framatome, a subsidiary of EDF that provides nuclear equipment and services, reportedly reached out to the US Department of Energy due to their concerns, saying that Chinese safety authorities were raising the acceptable limits for radiation detection outside the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant to prevent it from shutting down.
"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," according to a June 8 memo seen by CNN from an expert at Framatome to the US Energy Department
Framatome has since publicly said it’s working to resolve a “performance issue” at the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant, but was otherwise thin on details.
"Framatome is supporting resolution of a performance issue with the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in Guangdong Province, China. According to the data available, the plant is operating within the safety parameters," the company said in a statement on June 14. "Our team is working with relevant experts to assess the situation and propose solutions to address any potential issue."
Meanwhile, the Chinese owners of the plant have suggested that nothing is wrong. The China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group, the state-run company that owns the majority share of the power plant, said in a statement on Sunday evening that “the environmental indicators of Taishan Nuclear Power Plant and its surroundings are normal.”
Taishan Nuclear Power Plant appears to have released the gas before. Back in early April 2021, the Security Bureau of Hong Kong, which is relatively close to Taishan, said the power plant carried out a “special operation of the exhaust gas treatment system” that saw the release of a “very small amount of gas.” However, the Hong Kong Observatory, which monitors radiation around the city, shows that radiation levels in the city were normal on Monday June 14.