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Chinese nuclear plant likely leaking near 126 million people; disaster possible; US investigating reports say

Taishan Nuclear Power Plant, Units 1 & 2, Guangdong, China. (Photo by EDF Energy, Wikimedia Commons/Released)
June 14, 2021

On Monday a French nuclear company, Framatome, announced it is supporting efforts to resolve a “performance issue” with its Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in China’s heavily populated Guangdong Province, raising concerns about a potential nuclear leak.

The nuclear plant is located in Guangdong, which according to Chinese census estimates for 2020, has an estimated population of about 126 million people. The plant is also located about 84 miles from Hong Kong.

CNN reported, citing U.S. officials and Department of Energy documents it reviewed, that the U.S. government has been assessing a reported leak at the nuclear plant for the last week. Those documents, obtained by CNN, warned of a potential “imminent radiological threat” at the power plant.

A letter sent from the French company to the Department of Energy (DOE) and obtained by CNN warned Chinese safety regulators were reportedly raising the acceptable limits for radiation detection in the area surrounding the power plant, in an effort to avoid having to shut the plant down.

“To ensure off-site dose limits are maintained within acceptable bounds to not cause undue harm to the surrounding population, TNPJVC (operator of Taishan-1) is required to comply with an regulatory limit and otherwise shut the reactor down if such a limit is exceeded,” the company reportedly wrote in its letter to the DOE.

The letter reportedly stated “due to the increasing number of failures,” rather than maintaining the advised radiation detection levels, China’s safety authority, the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA), revised the detection limit to more than double that of the gases being released from the power plant “which in turn increases off-site risk to the public and on-site workers.”

While the letter to the DOE warned of loosening safety standards, Framatome said in a public press release on Monday, “According to the data available, the plant is operating within the safety parameters,” the company added. “Our team is working with relevant experts to assess the situation and propose solutions to address any potential issue.”

Framatome said it “is supporting resolution of a performance issue with the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant.”

Reuters reported Framatome’s parent company, Électricité de France (EDF), said it had learned of a build-up of inert gases. EDF said the build-up of noble gases is part of a “known phenomenon, studied and provided for in the reactor operating procedures.”

The Taishan power plant is a French-Chinese joint venture with the state-owned China General Nuclear (CGN) Power Group acting as the majority owner on the project.

CGN also said the power plant was operating within its safety rules and the surrounding area is safe.

“Regular monitoring data shows the Taishan station and its surrounding environment meet normal parameters,” CGN said in a statement obtained by Reuters.