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Chinese nuclear power plant investigating 'increase of gases' at reactor

The company that runs the plant said it was operating safely despite the abnormality.
The joint Sino-French Taishan Nuclear Power Station being built outside the city of Taishan, China, in 2013.
The Taishan Nuclear Power Station under construction outside Taishan, China, in 2013.Peter Parks / AFP - Getty Images file

A Chinese nuclear power plant is investigating an unusually high concentration of gases in one of its reactors, one of its owners said Monday.

Reactor 1 at the vast Taishan power plant in Guandong province, north of Hong Kong, experienced an "increase in the concentration of certain rare gases in the primary circuit," according to the giant French energy company EDF, which holds a 30 percent stake in the plant's parent company.

"The presence of certain rare gases in the primary circuit is a known phenomenon, studied and foreseen by the operating procedures of reactors," EDF said in statement on its website.

But the company is still calling for an extraordinary meeting of Taishan Nuclear Power Joint Venture's shareholders to decide on the next steps for the plant.

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Framatome, a French company owned by EDF, which partly operates the plant, said in an online statement: "The plant is operating within the safety parameters. Our team is working with relevant experts to assess the situation and propose solutions to address any potential issue."

The plant, opened in 2018 after almost 10 years of development, was the first in the world to deploy a third-generation evolutionary power reactor (EPR) that is now used at plants in France and Britain.

Nuclear energy is seen as a key element of China's dizzying industrial and economic growth.

China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group, which owns 70 percent of the plant, said in a statement that the installation's two reactors were operating safely.

"Currently, regular monitoring data shows the Taishan station and its surrounding environment meet normal parameters," said the statement, according to a translation by Reuters.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said in an emailed response that it had received "no indication that a radiological incident occurred" at Taishan. The agency said it was in touch with its Chinese counterpart about the incident.

Neither the Chinese Foreign Ministry nor the U.S. National Security Council immediately responded to a request for comment.

Nuclear safety experts raised fears back in 2009, shortly after Taishan became operational, that China's headlong leap into nuclear energy could create safety shortcuts.

The project to build Taishan was so huge that its surface area covered an area equivalent to 245 football fields, the company's website said. At least 5,600 workers were at the construction site every day during the peak period and they used 3 million tons of concrete and 230,000 tons of reinforced steel bars, the same amount you’d need to build a railway from London to Rome.

China has 50 nuclear reactors in use with another 18 in construction, according to figures from the World Nuclear Association. By contrast the United States, has 93 nuclear reactors in use, but just two in production, and it has shut down 40.

Nancy Ing contributed.