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Safety Concerns Mount Over Damaged Fuel Rods at China’s Taishan Nuclear Plant

The second EPR reactor at China’s Taishan nuclear power plant is about to enter into commercial operation.

Safety Concerns Mount Over Damaged Fuel Rods at China’s Taishan Nuclear Plant
A French whistleblower claims that the real number of damaged fuel rods exceeds the figure acknowledged by officials, and that there may be issues with other reactors of the same design.  By Jesse Turland  The Diplomat December 11, 2021
 On November 28 Radio France International Chinese published claims by a whistleblower contradicting official statements downplaying the extent of damage to fuel rods at the Taishan 1 Nuclear Reactor in Taishan, Guangdong province.

The whistleblower, who works at a French nuclear energy company, warned that more than 70 fuel rods were damaged, 14 times the figure acknowledged by China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) in June, when it stated “about five” rods were damaged. Additionally, the whistleblower claimed the damage may be linked to a “design flaw.”

Under pressure from public activism, France’s nuclear energy regulator, Autorité de sûreté nucléaire (ASN), yesterday announced it would halt the development of the EPR reactor at Flamanville in Normandy, which uses the same design as Taishan, pending inquiries into the malfunctions at Taishan.

There is still a lot of work to be done on the [Flamanville] site before start-up operations, and feedback from the experience of the Taishan 1 EPR deviation must take place,” said ASN deputy general manager Julien Collet yesterday.

Located 110 kilometers south of Guangzhou, Taishan is the site of the world’s first reactors of the Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR) design to commence operation. Its two reactors are capable of generating 1,750 Megawatts electric (Mwe) each.

According to the whistleblower, the problem of the Taishan EPR reactor is “a not-very-successful hydraulic system at the bottom of the vessel which gives an uneven distribution of power in the assemblies. A transverse current is created in the core and causes the assemblies to move, especially those at the periphery.”

The whistleblower’s claims were relayed by Bruno Chareyron, director of the Commission for Independent Research and Information about Radiation (CRIIRAD), a Paris-based NGO established in 1986 to monitor radioactive leaks in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster.

According to the whistleblower, the problem of the Taishan EPR reactor is “a not-very-successful hydraulic system at the bottom of the vessel which gives an uneven distribution of power in the assemblies. A transverse current is created in the core and causes the assemblies to move, especially those at the periphery.”

The whistleblower’s claims were relayed by Bruno Chareyron, director of the Commission for Independent Research and Information about Radiation (CRIIRAD), a Paris-based NGO established in 1986 to monitor radioactive leaks in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster.

There are at least three consequences. One is the fact that due to the damage to the nuclear fuel, a significant amount of radioactive substances migrate across the cladding of the rods and is go into the water of the primary circuit,” according to Chareyron.

“So radioactive gases like krypton and xenon are accumulating in the water inside the pressure vessel… Those gases are collected into tanks and those tanks are opened to the atmosphere normally every two months. But with fuel rod damage, some of the gases released have half-lives of years, like Krypton 85.”

He continued: “[The] second problem is the impact on the people working in the plant. Because if you have such damage in the core of the reactor, you contaminate the water inside the pressure vessel, but some of this contamination will stay inside the tubes, the pipes, the pumps.

“So when the operators have to conduct maintenance, they receive much more radiation than if the cladding fitted properly.”

Finally, “The third problem is if the fuel assemblies are a little bit broken, it means that you may reach a situation when, for example, in case of an earthquake, you cannot insert the control rods into the fuel assemblies because the assemblies are damaged,” Chareyron said…………….                                       

Jesse Turland

Jesse Turland holds a degree in Chinese language and Asian Studies from the University of Melbourne and writes about contemporary Chinese society.  https://thediplomat.com/2021/12/safety-concerns-mount-over-damaged-fuel-rods-at-chinas-taishan-nuclear-plant/

December 14, 2021 - Posted by | China, incidents

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