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Taishan 1 to Shut Down and Enter Overhaul Due to Damaged Nuclear Fuel Rods

published: 2021-08-04 9:30

The Taishan Nuclear Power Plant located in Guangdong sustained damages to the fuel rods of generator 1 in June, which may result in radiation leakage, and the China General Nuclear Power Group (CGNPC) announced one month after the incident that generator 1 will be shut down for overhaul. 

After the discussion between Chinese and French technicians, the CGNPC announced a statement last Friday (July 30th) and stated that generator 1 of the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant will be shut down for maintenance, and the two reactors of the plant have maintained safe and stable operation, with the malfunctioned device now under control.  The Taishan Nuclear Power Plant is a joint venture co-operated by CGNPC and EDF, where the former holds 70%, and the latter 30%, with the primary decision lying on the former. 

In the face of this particular issue, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (National Nuclear Safety Administration) commented on June 16th that the damages to the several nuclear fuel rods within the plant are considered a “common” occurrence, and there is no need for amplified concerns. The ministry added that generator 1 of the plant contains more than 60K of fuel rods, and there are merely 5 of them that have encountered cladding failure, which is less than 0.01%. The failure rate is way below the hypothetical maximum damage ratio (0.25%) of fuel components, since damages are hard to avoid from factors such as manufacturing, transportation, and loading.

EDF and CGNPC pointed out that there was no radiation leakage, and the radiation level of Guangdong is within the normal range, while the primary loop water for the reactor is also within the normal range of radiation for Taishan, which conforms to the international standard. The Ministry of Ecology and Environment said that there will not be risks of radiation leakage as long as the pressure boundary to the coolant system of the reactor, as well as the containment tightness, satisfy the requirements, and these two factors are currently functioning normally. 

EDF believes that it was the deterioration to the coating on the uranium fuel rods that resulted in the accumulated inert gas in the cooling system circuit, though EDF also commented that it was first notified about the fuel rods in October, but only found out about the elevated concentration of krypton and xenon on June 12th. 

EDF reminded on June 22nd that the operation of the nuclear power plant would have been suspended if it happened in France, which insinuated China to temporarily shut down the plant. 

The incident derived a prominent degree of attention after being covered by CNN in June. As pointed out by CNN, investor Framatome has sought for technical assistance from the Department of Energy, and warned the possible instantaneous radiation threat. 

Framatone disclosed then that the Chinese government had relaxed the alert standard for radiation leakage in order to avoid the closing of the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant, though the Ministry of Ecology and Environment clarified afterwards that the National Nuclear Safety Administration was reviewing the relevant limit to the specific activity of inert gas from the coolant of the reactor under the chemical looping and radiochemistry technical specifications for Taishan 1, which is used for operation management, and is unrelated to the external radiation inspection of the nuclear power plant. 

The Taishan Nuclear Power Plant has the first EPR in the world, and the two generators commenced operation in 2018 and 2019, though this incident may affect the progress of related power plants. France, UK, and Finland are all trying to establish EPR nuclear power plants, such as the Hinkley Point C Nuclear Power plant in the UK.  

(Cover photo source: EDF Energy, Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons)

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