Weeks ago the Chinese government sought to downplay - but also admitted - an incident at Taishan nuclear plant near Hong Kong which involved damage to fuel rods, also amid wider suspicions of a radiation leak, mainly being spotlighted by entities based outside the country - most notably the French company that part owns and assists in operating the site which warned of an "imminent radiological threat".
Now adding to these suspicions of a much more serious incident than what China admitted, Taishan's operator has announced Friday that one of Taishan's reactors has been shut down for "maintenance". The Chinese government had dismissed what it called a "common" problem, citing no need for concern, while the China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) on Friday issued a statement saying the reactor is "completely under control".
This after as CNN reported in mid-June the French operator took the very unusual step of reaching out to the US government for help:
While US officials have deemed the situation does not currently pose a severe safety threat to workers at the plant or Chinese public, it is unusual that a foreign company would unilaterally reach out to the American government for help when its Chinese state-owned partner is yet to acknowledge a problem exists. The scenario could put the US in a complicated situation should the leak continue or become more severe without being fixed.
Obviously this all suggested a potential serious cover-up in progress which further appeared to pit the French operator against Chinese authorities overseeing the plant. BBC in its latest reporting Friday referenced this internal conflict now leading to the Unit 1 shutdown at Taishan.
Referencing the French firm, BBC writes:
EDF later said a problem with fuel rods had led to the build-up of gases, which had to be released into the atmosphere. Fuel rods are sealed metal tubes which hold nuclear materials used to fuel the nuclear reactor.
Last week an EDF spokesperson told CNN the French company would shut the plant down if it could. They said the decision lay with the Chinese operator. The situation at Taishan was "not an emergency" but nevertheless a "serious situation", the spokesperson added.
But now this statement: "After lengthy conversations between French and Chinese technical personnel, Taishan Nuclear Power Plant... decided to shut down Unit 1 for maintenance," China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) said.
Taishan Nuclear Power Plant back in the headlines.— HUNTSMAN 🇺🇸 (@man_integrated) July 24, 2021
The French partner blew the whistle in June, and is again leaking to the international media about their concerns.
Major CYA ongoing here.
A shutdown would be bad.
A meltdown would be Fukushima-level impact or greater. https://t.co/VAT6rgnYPy pic.twitter.com/Bx5er6TU2E
The type of reactor the Tiashan facility has, the EPR, is somewhat experimental as it's the first operational one in the world as has been dubbed the "future" of nuclear energy reactors as it's supposed to be safer and more powerful. However, as one 2020 headline in Popular Mechanics emphasized, "France's revolutionary nuclear reactor is a leaky, expensive mess."
All of this potentially points to a more severe problem at the site than what's being publicly acknowledged. Referencing the initial EDF letter sent to the US Department of Energy in June, one regional report says the Chinese may be covering up a growing radiation leak.
EDF had previously spelled out that if the reactor were located in France, it would without doubt shut it down - but that this was the decision of the Chinese government.
EDF says that based on latest data it would shut down the Taishan No. 1 nuclear reactor *if it was in France*, but that it's not its decision— David Sheppard (@OilSheppard) July 22, 2021
It's held an extraordinary board meeting with its China JV after a report of a possible radiation leak last month https://t.co/TDtQcrraYJ pic.twitter.com/XwISah2AFY
"In the letter, the French power company reportedly accused the Chinese safety authority of raising the acceptable level of radiation outside the power plant, a report denied by the Chinese government. While the ministry of ecology and environment admitted the power plant had five broken fuel rods, it said no radioactivity leaked," according to Hindustan Times.