China blames minor fuel rod damage for nuclear plant issues

There was no radiation leak at the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant and radiation levels around the plant did not rise beyond acceptable limits, China said.

A media report on Monday said the US government was assessing a report of a leak at the Taishan plant in China’s southern Guangdong province, and that the station’s French operator Framatome had reported a “performance issue”.

China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment said on Wednesday an increase in radiation levels had been detected in the primary circuit at Taishan’s Unit 1 reactor, but they were within the parameters for safe operations.

“Due to the influence of uncontrollable factors in fuel manufacturing, transportation, loading and other links, a small amount of fuel rod damage is inevitable,” said a joint statement by the ministry and the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA), calling it a “common phenomenon”.

There are more than 60,000 fuel rods in the core unit, the statement said, and the proportion of damaged rods is “less than 0.01 percent”.

About five fuel rods at the Unit 1 reactor were estimated to have been damaged, or less than 0.01 percent, far below a projected allowance of 0.25 percent, the statement added.

The ministry said it will continue to closely monitor radioactivity levels at the Unit 1 reactor and would also maintain communications with the International Atomic Energy Agency as well as France’s nuclear safety watchdog.

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 the UK, France and Finland.

There are now two EPR power units at Taishan, which sits close to the coastline of Guangdong and the financial hub Hong Kong.

China has dozens of nuclear plants – the world’s third-highest after the US and France – and has invested billions of dollars to develop its atomic energy sector.

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