The French power company that co-owns a nuclear plant in China would shut it down if it could, due to damage to the fuel rods, a spokesperson said – but the decision is ultimately up to the plant’s Chinese operator.
The spokesperson for Electricite de France (EDF) said on Thursday that while it was “not an emergency situation” at the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant, located in China’s southern Guangdong province, it was a “serious situation that is evolving.”
If the reactor was in France, the company would have shut it down already due to “the procedures and practices in terms of operating nuclear power plants in France,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson did not directly call on China to halt operations at the plant, noting it was a decision for its Chinese partner and majority shareholder in the plant, the China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN).
CNN first reported in June that the French company Framatome – an EDF subsidiary which supports operations at Taishan – had warned of an “imminent radiological threat” at the plant, prompting the United States government to investigate the possibility of a leak.
The company had also accused the Chinese safety authority of raising the acceptable limits for radiation detection outside the plant in order to avoid having to shut it down, according to a letter from Framatome to the US Department of Energy, obtained by CNN.
Chinese authorities have denied any danger at the plant, saying soon after CNN’s exclusive report that there was “no abnormality in the radiation environment” and the safety of the plant was “guaranteed.” Authorities declined to answer follow-up questions regarding Framatome’s warning to US officials.
In June, the Chinese nuclear safety administration acknowledged an increased level of radioactivity in the primary circuit in one of the two reactors due to damaged fuel rods – but said it was “completely different from a radiological leakage accident” because the “physical barriers are safe.”
It also denied raising the acceptable limits of radiation, and said the levels were “still within the range of allowable, stable operations.”
The agency also previously said only five of the reactor’s more than 60,000 fuel rods were affected, adding there was no risk of “radiation leaking to the environment.”
On Thursday, the EDF spokesperson reiterated it was detecting an increase in noble gas in a reactor, and that the company had publicly clarified its position to the Chinese plant’s owner and operator, Taishan Nuclear Power Joint Venture Co., Ltd (TNPJVC).
EDF holds a 30% stake in TNPJVC – a joint venture with state-owned China General Nuclear Power Group.
“We’ve shared with them all the elements of EDF’s analysis and all the reasons why, in France, we would stop the reactor,” the spokesperson said, “so that they can take the decision that will be necessary as responsible operators.”
According to the spokesperson, EDF would have shut down the reactor in order to “avoid further degrading of the fuel rods, and carry out an investigation, and avoid further damage to the industrial facility.”
But the ultimate decision is up to TNPJVC, which intends to carry out its own analysis, the spokesperson said. EDF said they did not have a timeline for the operator’s decision.
Framatome declined to provide additional comment when asked about the EDF statement.
CNN’s Nectar Gan contributed reporting from Hong Kong.