The emergence of problems in a new-generation nuclear reactor in China threatens to undermine efforts by its French designer to sell it elsewhere, and could hurt Beijing’s nuclear industry, analysts said.
French energy giant EDF and the Chinese government have sought to ease concerns about a gas build-up at the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant after a CNN report of a potential leak at the site.
The Chinese foreign ministry said Tuesday that radiation levels remained normal at the site in southern Guangdong province and there were no safety concerns.
But it is the latest snag to hit EDF’s much-vaunted EPR reactor.
The Taishan power station became in 2018 the first site worldwide to use the pressurised water design, which has been subject to years of delays in similar projects in Britain, France and Finland.
A second EPR reactor was launched at Taishan a year later. The facility is partly owned by EDF along with state-owned China General Nuclear Power Group, the majority stakeholder and operator of the plant.
EDF said the plant’s number one reactor experienced a build-up of gases in part of the cooling system following the deterioration of the coating on some uranium fuel rods.
The French company was first informed about the problem with the fuel rods in October, but only learned about the gas build-up on Saturday, according to EDF.
The problem and the silence of Chinese authorities triggered criticism of EDF, whose EPR reactor is supposed to be safer, last longer and produce more electricity than previous versions.
– EDF seeks contracts –
“It seems that both the Chinese nuclear regulators and the French nuclear corporations may have acted in bad faith,” said Paul Dorfman, a researcher at the University College London’s Energy Institute.
“If so, this new EPR debacle should have important consequences for any further plans for new EPR builds in France, the UK, and internationally,” he added.
Taishan could also undermine the development of nuclear energy within China.
While the nation has the world’s third-largest park of reactors, nuclear energy remains a relatively small part of China’s energy mix.
After the Fukushima disaster in 2011, Chinese authorities have become prudent in further developing nuclear power in the face of sceptical public opinion.
“The events at Taishan therefore challenge Beijing to explain the facts to its population, even as China has in recent weeks very publicly criticised Japan’s handling of its management of the Fukushima waste water cleanup,” said Mark Hibbs, a senior nuclear policy fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.