OFFICIALS have warned of an "imminent danger" as a Chinese nuclear power plant is reportedly leaking radiation – but Beijing is trying to cover it up.
A French company which part owns the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in Guangdong province reached out to the United States for help with the leak and warned of an "imminent radiological threat", CNN reports.
Framatome, the French company, contacted US officials on June 8 to inform them of a leaking nuclear reactor and to ask for a waiver to allow them to address the problem.
"The situation is an imminent radiological threat to the site and to the public and Framatome urgently requests permission to transfer technical data and assistance as may be necessary to return the plant to normal operation," the letter to the US Department of Energy said, according to CNN.
According to the memo, the French company accused China of hiking up the acceptable limits for radiation detection outside the Taishan plant to avoid having to shut it down.
As of May 30, the reactor had reached 90 per cent of the allegedly revised limit, the letter said.
Despite the alarming warning, the Biden administration does not believe the plant is at "crisis level" yet, a source told CNN.
For now, US officials said the situation does not pose a severe safety threat to workers at the plant or the Chinese public.
But the National Security Council held multiple meetings last week as they monitored the situation, pointing to growing concerns.
Sources told CNN two meetings were held at the deputy level and another at the assistant secretary level on Friday, led by NSC Senior Director for China, Laura Rosenberger, and Senior Director for Arms Control, Mallory Stewart.
And the Biden administration has spoken to both the French and Chinese government about the situation, according to reports.
The French company, Framatome, requested a waiver to allow it to share American technical assistance in order to resolve the issue at the Chinese plant.
But the Chinese government will ultimately decide whether the plant will need to be shut down completely due to the leak, the documents obtained by CNN reveal.
Cheryl Rofer, a nuclear scientist who retired from Los Alamos National Laboratory in 2001, told CNN: "It is not surprising that the French would reach out.
"In general, this sort of thing is not extraordinary, particularly if they think the country they are contacting has some special ability to help.
"But China likes to project that everything is just fine, all the time."
Rofer added: "If they do have a gas leak, that indicates some of their containment is broken. It also argues that maybe some of the fuel elements could be broken, which would be a more serious problem.
"That would be a reason for shutting down the reactor and would then require the reactor to be refuelled."
WHAT HAPPENED AT CHERNOBYL?
THE nuclear catastrophe in Chernobyl April 26, 1986 claimed 31 lives as well as leaving thousands of people and animals exposed to potentially fatal radiation.
When an alarm bellowed out at the nuclear plant, workers looked on in horror as the control panels signalled a major meltdown in the number four reactor.
The safety switches had been switched off in the early hours to test the turbine but the reactor overheated and generated a blast – the equivalent of 500 nuclear bombs.
The reactor's roof was blown off and a plume of radioactive material was blasted into the atmosphere.
As air was sucked into the shattered reactor, it ignited flammable carbon monoxide gas causing a fire which burned for nine days.
The catastrophe released at least 100 times more radiation than the atom bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
Soviet authorities waited 24 hours before evacuating the nearby town of Pripyat – giving the 50,000 residents just three hours to leave their homes.
After the accident traces of radioactive deposits were found in Belarus where poisonous rain damaged plants and caused animal mutations.
But the devastating impact was also felt in Scandinavia, Switzerland, Greece, Italy, France and the UK.
The exact death toll is not known and the long-term affects could last for decades.
In 2005, the World Health Organisation revealed a total of 4,000 people could eventually die of radiation exposure.
Farmers also noticed an increase in genetic abnormalities in farm animals immediately after the disaster.
The operator of the power station, state-owned China General Nuclear Power Group, said on Sunday evening that "the environmental indicators of Taishan Nuclear Power Plant and its surroundings are normal".
It did not reference any leak or incident at the power station, which it said meets "the requirements of nuclear safety regulations and power plant technical specifications".
Framatome also acknowledged the company was "supporting resolution of a performance issue with the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in Guangdong Province, China".
"According to the data available, the plant is operating within the safety parameters," the statement added, according to CNN.
"Our team is working with relevant experts to assess the situation and propose solutions to address any potential issue."
The Taishan plant was built after China signed a nuclear electricity generation agreement with Électricité de France, which is mainly owned by the French government.
Construction of the plant started in 2009 and the two units started generating electricity in 2018 and 2019.
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