It is quite common for a few fuel rods to sustain damage in a nuclear reactor, said Najmedin Meshkati, an engineering professor specializing in nuclear safety at the University of Southern California. But it’s less common for radioactive gases to build up in the water around fuel rods to the point where regulators need to review levels that are safe, he said.
“There is no doubt that something has happened,” he said, adding that events inside the reactor are unlikely to pose a serious security threat.
The two Taishan nuclear reactors use a new design developed in France. Two large French companies involved in the construction and operation of reactors, Framatome and EDF, publicly acknowledged on Monday that difficulties had arisen in the operation of reactor 1.
The fuel rods of Western nuclear reactors also sometimes leak traces of radioactive gases into the water around them. Leaks can occur when the outer coating of the rods is damaged by the bristles of brushes used for maintenance or other contaminants.
But China’s security regulator, part of the Ecology and Environment Ministry, said no environmental leaks had taken place. “At present, the results of the monitoring of the radiative environment around the Taishan nuclear power plant show that there is no abnormality in the level of radiation around the nuclear power plant,” the statement said.