The French state energy company EdF urged the Chinese state company China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) on Monday to investigate a possible incident in a jointly operated nuclear power plant not far from the southern Chinese city of Taishan.

The plant is located near the South China Sea.

The megacities of Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong are within a radius of up to 150 kilometers as the crow flies.

Hendrik Ankenbrand

Business correspondent for China based in Shanghai.

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    EdF, which holds 30 percent of the joint venture TNPJVC in Taishan (70 percent is with partner CGN), announced on Monday that it had been informed "of an increase in the concentration of rare gases in the primary circuit of reactor number 1 in Taishan".

    The joint venture operates the facility.

    At the request of EdF, its board of directors should now disclose “all data and necessary decisions” in an extraordinary meeting.

    The primary circuit is a closed circuit and contains pressurized water that heats up in contact with the nuclear fuel.

    Argon, helium, krypton, neon or xenon are considered rare gases.

    EdF added that "the presence of certain rare gases in the primary circuit is a well-known phenomenon".

    For these cases, certain processes are provided in the reactor operation.

    "Planned overhaul" of a reactor

    The EdF subsidiary Framatome, which was involved in the construction of the reactors in China and co-operates them, announced that it is closely monitoring the processes.

    So far the power plant has been working within the permitted safety parameters.

    CGN had rejected a recently published report on an alleged leak in the nuclear power plant late on Sunday evening.

    Rather, it was a "planned overhaul" of one of the two reactors.

    It has been running normally again since June 10th.

    The American news broadcaster CNN reported, citing American government officials and secret documents, that the French co-operator Framatome had warned the American government on June 8 of a “leak” in the Taishan plant and an “imminent radiological threat”. Framatome also reported that as a result of the incident, the Chinese supervisory authorities raised the limit values ​​for nuclear radiation outside the nuclear power plant in order not to have to shut it down.

    The American government investigated the incident last week and contacted the governments in France and China. She came to the conclusion that the situation at the Taishan nuclear power plant is not yet at "crisis level" and does not currently pose a serious threat to the safety of the plant's employees or the Chinese public.

    The Chinese operating company CGN is on a blacklist of the American government, which provides for export restrictions on American goods and services to certain Chinese companies, which Washington accuses of endangering the national security of the United States. This is obviously the reason why the French co-operator Framatome turned to the Department of Energy in Washington in the first place. The French had asked for a special permit that would allow “American technological support” to investigate the incident at the plant in China. The presence of an "imminent radiological threat" is one of two reasons that must be present for Washington to issue such an exemption.

    The two reactors in Taishan, commissioned in 2018 and 2019, are the only EPR-3 nuclear power plants in operation today. French President Emmanuel Macron and China's President Xi Jinping celebrated its completion during a state visit to Beijing. In Finland and France, EdF and previously the French company Areva have been building such reactors for years. There have been major delays and cost overruns.