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Chinese nuclear power plant shut down over cracked fuel rods

·3 min read
Taishan
Taishan

A nuclear power plant in China owned by the companies developing new power stations in the UK has been shut down for "maintenance" after cracks were found in fuel rods.

China General Nuclear (CGN) said the reactor at the Taishan plant, about 80 miles west of Hong Kong, was safe and under control, and the damage was within the "allowable range".

It comes more than a month after fuel rod damage at the plant was first made public, after a request to US officials to share technical assistance was leaked to CNN.

The plant is a joint venture between CGN, which owns a 70pc stake, and its French partner EDF, which owns the remainder.

CGN is a junior partner to EDF in the Hinkley Point C power plant being developed in Somerset. It is set to be operating by mid-2026 to provide about 7pc of Britain's electricity.

They are also planning a second plant, Sizewell C in Suffolk, although it emerged this week that the Government is looking for ways to curb China's involvement in projects after Hinkley.

Both Hinkley Point C and Sizewell will use the European Pressurised Reactor technology used at Taishan, which is the first reactor in the world based on the technology.

In a statement in Chinese on its website, CGN said: "A small amount of fuel damage has occurred during the operation of Unit 1, but it is still within the allowable range of technical specifications, and the unit can continue to operate stably.

"Taishan nuclear power plant insists on safety first and conservative decision-making in accordance with nuclear safety regulations and nuclear power plant operating procedures.

"Combined with the start of construction of the power grid ... we chose this time to shut down for maintenance. At present, the unit is being evacuated to a shutdown state in accordance with the operating regulations, and the reactor is safe and controllable."

Radioactivity is understood to have been detected in cooling liquid around the rods, within a sealed part of the plant.

EDF and CGN are also building Hinkley Point C in Somerset
EDF and CGN are also building Hinkley Point C in Somerset

David Fishman of consultants Lantau Group said last month: "Failed fuel or cracked fuel is a fairly normal and common - undesirably certainly - but not uncommon phenomenon in the nuclear fuel industry."

EDF said last week that if Taishan were in France, it would have been shut to investigate the problems with the fuel rods.

"EDF's operating procedures for the French nuclear fleet would lead EDF, in France, to shut down the reactor in order to accurately assess the situation in progress and stop its development," it said.

The Government's efforts to curb CGN's work on Sizewell C come amid rising concerns about China's involvement in critical national infrastructure projects.

CGN has a 20pc development stake in Sizewell C with an option to participate in the construction phase. It also wants to build its own new plant in Bradwell, Essex, and its reactor is being assessed by regulators.

There are concerns, however, that restricting its work on Sizewell could disrupt its involvement in Hinkley Point C, where work is already well advanced.

Its involvement in all three projects is part of one deal agreed with the UK government in 2015, and trying to reopen one could affect the others.

EDF is in negotiations with the Government over Sizewell C. Legislation is likely to be introduced allowing developers to recoup costs from household bills.

EDF has been contacted for comment.