Hong Kong leader ‘concerned’ over Chinese nuclear plant after leak report

Hong Kong leader ‘concerned’ over Chinese nuclear plant after leak report
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam (AP)

Hong Kong’s leader has said her government is closely watching a nearby Chinese nuclear power plant following reports that it might be leaking.

The plant’s operators have released few details, but nuclear experts say based on their brief public statement, the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant might be suffering a leak of gas from fuel rods inside a reactor.

Chief executive Carrie Lam said government data showed radiation levels in Hong Kong were normal on Monday night.

Data on Tuesday from the Hong Kong Observatory showed radiation was still normal on Tuesday.

Framatome, the French company that helps manage the plant in Guangdong province, said on Monday it was dealing with a “performance issue”, adding that the facility is operating within safe limits.

Ms Lam said that her government is “highly concerned” about the situation at a nearby nuclear power plant in mainland China (AP)

That followed a report by CNN that Framatome told US authorities the power plant 85 miles west of Hong Kong might be leaking.

Ms Lam said: “With regards to foreign media reports about a nuclear plant in Taishan, Guangzhou, the Hong Kong government attaches a high degree of importance to this.”

She said her government would ask authorities in Guangdong for information and tell the public about any developments.

The Taishan plant, which began commercial operation in December 2018, is owned by China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group and Electricite de France, the majority owner of Framatome.

A second reactor began operating in September 2019.

The nuclear power plant in Taishan, south-eastern Guangdong province (AP)

They are the first of a new type called European Pressurised Reactors. Two more are being built in Finland and France.

CNN reported Framatome wrote to the US department of energy warning of an “imminent radiological threat” and accusing Chinese authorities of raising acceptable limits for radiation outside the plant to avoid having to shut it down.

However, US officials believe there was no severe safety threat, CNN said.

The Department of Energy did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, told The Associated Press that it is aware of the issue and is awaiting information from contacts in China.

Electricite de France said it had been informed of the increase in concentration of “certain rare gases” in Taishan’s reactor number one.

That suggests fuel rods are leaking noble gases, a by-product of nuclear fission, according to Luk Bing-lam, an expert on nuclear engineering at the City University of Hong Kong.

“If the leakage is more severe, then you will start seeing more radioactive material like caesium, rather than gas,” said Mr Bing-lam, who also is chairman of the Hong Kong Nuclear Society.

Such leaks “happen every so often” in China and plants “usually can handle it themselves”, he said. But the expert added this incident might be complicated by the fact that the Taishan plant might use US technology that is covered by export restrictions.

China’s major state-owned nuclear power companies are on Washington’s “entity list” of companies that are barred from obtaining US technology without government approval.

Ms Lam said radiation levels were safe (AP)

The French partner might be asking for US approval because Framatome previously licensed technology from Westinghouse, Mr Bing-lam said.

“With the situation now, that becomes difficult,” said Mr Bing-lam. “For even a small problem, they need US government approval.”

Mr Bing-lam, who has worked with Chinese nuclear power plant operators, said he asked the company for information about the leak, but managers will not talk about it.

“I suspect the leakage is far more widespread than just a single assembly,” he said. “Because of that, they probably need some special technology to resolve this leakage problem.”

Previously, the Taishan facility leaked a “small amount” of radioactive gas on April 9, the National Nuclear Safety Administration said on its website.

It said the event rated Level 0 on its safety scale, meaning it was “without safety significance”.

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