The Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in Guandong province, China, installed its first French-made EPR nuclear reactor in 2018. Following the first installation, the power plant proceeded with the installation of a second reactor a year later.
Analysts said the emergence of problems in both the new-generation nuclear reactors is a threat which could hurt Beijing’s nuclear industry. Also, such problems could also undermine its French designer’s efforts to sell it elsewhere.
Both nuclear reactors came from French energy giant EDF (Électricité de France S.A.), of which the French government largely owns.
CNN recently reported a potential gas leak at the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant site. This has led to both the Chinese government and EDF seeking to ease concerns about a gas build-up at the plant.
No safety concerns
On Tuesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the site in southern Guangdong province had normal radiation levels. Also, the Ministry said there were no safety concerns at the plant.
However, this is the latest problem hitting the EDF’s highly praised EPR reactor.
First EPR reactor installed despite delays at other sites
In 2018, the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant was the first site in the world to install the EDF’s pressurized water design EPR nuclear reactor. However, similar projects in France, Finland and England have been subject to years of delays.
Second EPR reactor installed in 2019
A year later, Taishan launched a second EPR reactor. EDF and the state-owned China General Nuclear Power Group own the facility. China General Nuclear Power Group operates the plant and is the majority stakeholder.
The start of the problems
A build-up of gases in part of the cooling system was experienced in the plant number one reactor, according to EDF. This is due to the coating of some uranium fuel rods deteriorating.
In October, the problem with the fuel rods was first informed to the French company. According to the EDF, they only learned about the problem with gas build-up on Saturday.
As a result of the reactor problems as well as Chinese authorities remaining silent, EDF received a lot of criticism. Compared to previous nuclear reactor versions, the EPR reactor is supposed to produce more electricity, be safer and last longer.
Contracts sought by EDF
Paul Dorfman is a researcher at the University College London’s Energy Institute. Dorfman said “It seems that both the Chinese nuclear regulators and the French nuclear corporations may have acted in bad faith.”
He adds “If so, this new EPR debacle should have important consequences for any further plans for new EPR builds in France, the UK and internationally.”
European countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic are also in discussions with EDF.
Britain is considering ordering two more reactors, while two EPR reactors are currently under construction.
Too early for conclusions
It is too early to draw any conclusions says Nicolas Mazzucchi, a research fellow at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research.
Mazzucchi asks, “Is it due to inadequate actions by the (Chinese) safety regulator? Or is it a problem of a nature whose impact upon the reactor needs further evaluation? For the moment, all these questions remain unanswered.”
Unfortunately, the Taishan incident comes as EDF is hoping to win new contracts. Currently, EDF is struggling to finish the Flamanville EPR installation in France, after more than 12 years of work.
No decision making yet
It is expected the Flamanville reactor will come online in late-2022 at best. Until then, France will defer its decision whether to renew its park of aging nuclear reactors sooner or later.
Barbara Pompili, the minister responsible for France’s green energy transition, told France Inter radio “All energies have advantages and disadvantages, let’s look at them but not react to them in a hurry.”
Chinese-built nuclear reactor in the spotlight
Building a giant plant with six EPR reactors at Jaitapur, is a project EDF is discussing with the Indian government.
However, Russia as well as China have developed their own reactors, and come in as international competition for EDF.
According to experts, China’s handling of the problems at the Taishan plant lacks transparency. As a result, this could undermine confidence in its own reactors.
18h June 2021 23:00
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