The Hong Kong government is closely watching a nearby Chinese nuclear power plant following a news report that it might be leaking, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) said yesterday.
The plant’s operators have released few details, but nuclear experts have said that based on their brief public statement, the facility might be suffering a leak of gas from fuel rods inside a reactor.
Government data showed that radiation levels in Hong Kong were normal on Monday night, Lam said.
Data from the Hong Kong Observatory showed radiation levels were still normal yesterday.
A French company that helps manage the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in Guangdong Province said on Monday that it was dealing with a “performance issue.”
It said the facility was operating within safe limits.
That followed a report by CNN that Framatome told US authorities that the power plant 135km west of Hong Kong might be leaking.
“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,” Lam said.
Lam 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.
They are the first of a new type called European pressurized reactors. Two more are being built in Finland and France.
CNN reported that 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.
US officials believed there was no severe safety threat, CNN said.
The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters that it was aware of the issue and was awaiting information from contacts in China.
Electricite de France on Monday said that it had been informed of the increase in concentration of “certain rare gases” in Taishan’s reactor No. 1. That suggests fuel rods are leaking noble gases, a byproduct of nuclear fission, said Luk Bing-lam (陸炳林), 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 cesium, rather than gas,” said 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,” Lam said.
However, he said this incident might be complicated by 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.
The French partner might be asking for US approval, because Framatome previously licensed technology from Westinghouse, Lam said.
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