Is there a nuclear leak at the Taishan nuclear power plant? Rarely does a joint-venture French company turn to the U.S. for help

Citing unnamed officials and government documents, CNN said Chinese authorities are suspected of raising the acceptable limits for radiation detection outside the Taishan nuclear power plant in Guangdong in order not to shut it down. French company Framatome, which has a stake in the Taishan plant and is involved in its operation, wrote to the U.S. Department of Energy seeking assistance, warning the company of an “imminent radiological threat. The U.S. government has been verifying the incident over the past week and has concluded for the time being that there is no danger to workers or the public.

The report quoted one of the sources as saying that while the letter from Famatron was “alarming,” the Biden administration did not consider the Taishan plant to be at “crisis level.

China Guangdong Nuclear Corporation (CGNPC) said its Taishan nuclear power plant and surrounding environmental indicators are normal. CGNPC said that in response to recent concerns in some media about the situation of the Taishan nuclear units, it pointed out that Unit 1 is currently operating at full power and Unit 2 completed its overhaul as planned and was successfully connected to the grid last Thursday. All operating indicators of the two units meet the requirements of nuclear safety regulations and plant technical specifications, and continuous monitoring of environmental data shows that the nuclear power plant and surrounding environmental indicators are normal.

While U.S. officials do not believe the current situation poses a serious safety threat to workers at the Taishan nuclear power plant or to the Chinese population, it is unusual for a foreign company to unilaterally seek help from the U.S. government. If the leak continues or becomes more serious and is not addressed, the situation could put the United States in a “complicated situation.

The U.S. government has met several times to discuss the incident

The report also said the National Security Council held several meetings last week, including two at the deputy level and another at the assistant minister level on Friday, chaired by Rosenberg, senior director of China affairs at the National Security Council, and Stewart, senior director of arms control.

The Biden administration has discussed the situation with the French government and their own experts at the Energy Department, the sources said. U.S. officials said the United States has also been in contact with the Chinese government, although the level of contact is unclear.

The report also cited officials at the National Security Council, State Department and Energy Department as saying that if there were any risk to the Chinese public from the incident, the U.S. would have a duty to disclose it under current treaties related to nuclear accidents.

Famatron had contacted the U.S. in order to obtain a waiver that would allow them to share in the U.S. technical assistance to solve the problems at the Taishan nuclear power plant. There were only two reasons for granting the waiver, one of which was the “imminent radiological threat,” the same wording used in Famatron’s June 8 memo.

The construction of the Taishan nuclear power plant has been plagued by a number of engineering quality and nuclear leakage incidents so far

In June 2018, the official website of China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) confirmed that the pressure vessel top cover at Unit 1 of the Taishan nuclear power plant had an excessive carbon content, referring to the fact that a safety test method for the top cover is still under study. Until an effective test method is found, the pressure vessel top cover will continue to be used for seven years until April 2025, and will be replaced only if a safety test method is not found by that date.

By April 2020, Areva, a French nuclear equipment manufacturer, submitted a report acknowledging that approximately 400 components had been improperly tested for safety over the past 51 years, including test results and functions that had been modified, omitted, or had inconsistencies in information. Areva has yet to provide details of the 400 components in question, with only 50 in use at French nuclear plants and the remaining 350 unaccounted for. The French Nuclear Safety Authority also warned by name that the Areva “Areva” pressure vessels at the Taishan nuclear power plant may have the same problem.