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June 15, 2021, 9:42 a.m. EDT

Concerns rise in Hong Kong over possible nuclear power leak in Guangdong province

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By Associated Press

HONG KONG (AP) — China’s government said Tuesday no abnormal radiation was detected outside a nuclear power plant near Hong Kong following a news report of a leak, while Hong Kong’s leader said her administration was closely watching the facility.

The operators released few details, but nuclear experts said that based on their brief statement, gas might be leaking from fuel rods inside the reactor in Taishan, 135 kilometers (85 miles) west of Hong Kong.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian gave no confirmation of a leak or other details. He responded to reporters’ questions by saying, “there is nothing abnormal detected in the radiation level surrounding the plant.”

In Hong Kong, radiation levels Tuesday were normal, according to the Hong Kong Observatory.

Framatome, a French company that helps manage the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in Guangdong province, said Monday it was dealing with a “performance issue.” It said the facility was operating within safe limits.

That followed a report by CNN that Framatome told U.S. authorities about a possible leak.

“With regards to foreign media reports about a nuclear plant in Taishan, Guangzhou, the Hong Kong government attaches a high degree of importance to this,” said Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

She said her government would ask authorities in Guangdong for information and tell the public about any developments.

China is one of the biggest users of nuclear power and is building more reactors at a time when few other governments have plans for new facilities because the cost of solar, wind and other alternatives is plunging.

Chinese leaders see nuclear power as a way to reduce air pollution and demand for imports of oil and gas, which they deem a security risk. Government plans call for Hong Kong to use more mainland nuclear power to allow the closure of coal-fired power plants.

The Taishan plant, which began commercial operation in December 2018, is owned by China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group and Electricite de France /zigman2/quotes/201783867/delayed FR:EDF +1.12% , the majority owner of Framatome. A second reactor began operating in September 2019.

They are the first of a new type called European Pressurized Reactors. Two more are being built in Finland and France.

CNN reported Framatome wrote to the U.S. Department of Energy warning of an “imminent radiological threat” and accusing Chinese authorities of raising acceptable limits for radiation outside the plant to avoid having to shut it down.

U.S. officials believed there was no severe safety threat, CNN said.

The Department of Energy did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The International Atomic Energy Agency, a U.N. body, told The Associated Press it was aware of the issue and was awaiting information from China.

Electricite de France said Monday it was informed of the increase in concentration of “certain noble gases” in Taishan reactor No. 1.

That suggests fuel rods are leaking gases produced during nuclear fission, according to Luk Bing-lam, an expert on nuclear engineering at the City University of Hong Kong.

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