It is the only EPR plant in operation in the world: Taishan, built in China with the French energy giant EDF, has resolved to shut down one of its two reactors, more than a month after the announcement of an incident presented as not serious.
The site is located in a coastal area of the large province of Guangdong (south), the most populous in the country, a few tens of kilometers from the Chinese semi-autonomous territories of Macao and Hong Kong.
After the American channel CNN had reported a possible "leak", the Chinese authorities had reported in mid-June an incident at the level of the reactor number 1 of Taishan.
A small number of damaged uranium fuel rods ("rods") caused an accumulation of rare radioactive gases in the sealed primary circuit of the plant.
The authorities had qualified the phenomenon as "current" and ruled out any danger on the site, carried out in partnership with EDF, which supplied the EPR technology.
Under pressure, the French electrician said a month later that if the incident had happened in France, he would have shut down the reactor.
In Taishan, however, such a decision rested with TNPJVC, the joint venture operating the plant.
EDF holds 30%, alongside the Chinese giant CGN which owns 70%.
"The Taishan nuclear power plant (...) made safety its top priority (...) and decided to shut down Reactor 1 for maintenance, in order to find the cause of the damage affecting the fuel and to replace the fuel. damaged, "CGN said in a statement on Friday.
The local nuclear giant specifies that the decision was taken "after a substantial discussion between Chinese and French technicians".
"EDF takes note of the decision of TNPJVC", for its part reacted Friday to AFP a spokesperson for the French group.
It "is consistent with what EDF would have done in France with regard to its procedures for operating the French nuclear fleet," she insisted.
- "Eligible" -
According to CGN, the shutdown of the reactor is not the result of imminent danger: the damage to the fuel "remains within the permissible range of the technical specifications" and the reactor could "have continued to operate in a stable manner", according to the group.
The "Taishan 1" reactor was the first EPR in the world to enter service, in December 2018. The second reactor, "Taishan 2", continues to operate.
The problem encountered at the plant has fueled criticism against the EPR in recent weeks, whose sites in France, Finland and the United Kingdom (for two reactors) are marked by delays and additional costs.
"A complete and transparent examination of the dysfunctions of the Taishan EPR must be carried out", claimed Yannick Rousselet, of Greenpeace France.
"If a fault in the design of the reactor or the fuel was at the origin of the incident on the Taishan EPR, this would compromise the four European EPR projects", according to the non-nuclear NGO.
- What future?
EDF is currently building only one EPR in France, that of Flamanville (Manche), but hopes for new sites.
The French government is playing it safe and wants to wait for the concrete start of this site, expected at best for the end of 2022 after many delays, to make a decision.
Despite the setbacks, EDF has good hopes of selling the EPR abroad again, counting on the desire of certain countries to improve their climate balance sheet and in particular to depend less on coal.
The problem in Taishan, however, questions the future of nuclear power in China, which today has the third largest nuclear fleet in the world.
The development of the atom is important there but was slowed down following the disaster at the Japanese power plant in Fukushima in 2011.
© 2021 AFP