A Nuclear Power Plant in China Has Damaged Fuel Rods and Is Shutting Down

The energy firm helping run the site says China raised permissible radiation levels to avoid this.
Brad Bergan
The Taishan Nuclear Power Plant.EDF Energy / Wikimedia

Nuclear power is evolving, adding novel technologies for the 21st century.

However, a nuclear plant in China was shut down after its fuel rods suffered damage, according to an initial report from the China-based news source CGTN. Located in Taishan, the reactor is the first-of-its-kind, and came after the nation acknowledged the issue.

There is no danger, and the reactor will be fully repaired.

China's nuclear reactor increased 'acceptable' radiation limits outside of the facility

The new Taishan reactor is called an EPR, and anticipates a handful of other similar new reactors forthcoming in other countries, including the U.K., France, and Finland. This shutdown came one month after China's government declared the damage to its new plant's fuel rods, but it assuaged concern by saying this was a "common" issue, not worthy of world-historical concern, according to a BBC report. On Friday, China's General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) said the dysfunctional reactor was already "completely under control." In other words, this is nothing like Chernobyl, and everyone is going to be fine.

The statement from CGN also said engineers are working to find the cause of the damaged fuel rods, which themselves will be replaced. The French energy firm EDF, which assists in the monitoring of the nuclear site, had given warning to the U.S. that China's nuclear regulator had increased its limits on permissible levels of radiation outside the facility, in an attempt to try and avoid shutting it down. But later, the EDF said the fuel-rod problem contributed to a build-up of gases that needed to be released into the atmosphere.

Taishan plant saves 21 million tons of CO2 every year

Fuel rods are a crucial part of nuclear reactors, consisting of metal tubes that contain the material that powers the nuclear reactor: uranium (although different nuclear materials may be used). More than 200 of these rods are brought together to form a fuel assembly, with each reactor core consisting of a few hundred assemblies, depending on how much power is needed. On the interior of the reactor, fuel rods are immersed in water, which functions as both a coolant and a moderator, the second role of which is necessary to slow down the neutrons emanating from the fission reaction. This allows engineers to maintain a chain reaction, and power a city grid over time.

To modify the reaction rate, control rods may be inserted into the core, which reduces the rate. By contrast, pulling them out increases the fission reaction rate. The power itself comes from heat generated by the fission, which converts the water into steam, which in turn spins a turbine that creates mechanical energy, which is then converted into zero-carbon electricity that's connected to a city grid, where it may eventually reach the laptop or handheld device on which you're reading this. The Taishan nuclear power plant houses two 1,570-megawatt (MW) European pressurized reactors (EPR) — the most powerful reactors in existence, according to Electricité de France (EDF) Energy, which owns the reactors. Incidentally, they prevent the emission of roughly 21 million tons of CO2 every year, and, once the fuel rods are replaced and the initial problem is identified, we can rest assured that the Taishan plant will continue to serve as a sustainable alternative to other, less eco-friendly forms of energy generation.

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