China's Taishan Nuclear Plant Shuts Down After Damage to Fuel Rods

Engineers at a nuclear plant in southern China have been forced to shut down a reactor after minor fuel damage was detected.

China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) said on Friday that the Taishan plant in Guangdong province would undergo "maintenance."

It came after a recent spike in radioactivity levels led to fears of a leak at the plant.

Taishan is roughly 80 miles west of Hong Kong and has a population of just under 1 million. Guangdong is the country's largest province, with around 115 million residents.

Last month, authorities said minor fuel rod damage was to blame for radioactive gases that had built up at the site.

"After lengthy conversations between French and Chinese technical personnel, Taishan Nuclear Power Plant... decided to shut down Unit 1 for maintenance," said an online statement released by the operator on Friday and seen by AFP.

CGN added that only "a small amount of fuel damage" had been found and engineers would begin to "find the cause of fuel damage and replace the damaged fuel."

AFP reported that there were more than 60,000 fuel rods in the core unit of the reactor, and that the damaged rods accounted for "less than 0.01 percent."

The plant is alone in the world in using EPR—a pressurized water reactor design produced in partnership with the French energy company EDF.

On June 14, Chinese officials reported an incident at the No. 1 reactor of the plant.

They played down the severity of the issue, however, saying it was a "common phenomenon."

Following a CNN report last month that the facility's French joint operator had warned of problems at the site, Chinese authorities insisted there was "no leak."

CNN reported that the plant's French joint operator, Framatome, had written twice to the U.S. in June to ask for technical assistance.

The plant's majority stakeholder is the state-owned CGN, which was placed on the U.S. government's Entity List by the administration of former President Donald Trump. As a result, the company cannot be sold American goods without a special license. So, Framatome needed official approval to obtain U.S. assistance in what it described as an "imminent radiological threat."

China's Ministry of Ecology and Environment responded at the time that the increase in radioactivity in the primary circuit was the result of damage to fuel rod housings, an "uncontrollable factor in the production, transportation and loading of fuel."

A minimum amount of fuel rod damage is unavoidable, the statement said, noting that this has not affected nuclear plant operations in other parts of the world.

Update 7/30/21, 11:30 a.m. ET: This article was updated to add extra information.

Taishan Nuclear Power Station
Workers at the joint Sino-French Taishan Nuclear Power Station outside the city of Taishan in Guangdong province on December 8, 2013. China is the world's largest market for atomic power stations. PETER PARKS/AFP via Getty Images