Chronic. Since June 14, Fabrice Fourcade, the boss of EDF in China, and the economic service of the French Embassy in Beijing are absent subscribers. In a few hours, a technical incident, a priori minor, in a Chinese nuclear power plant turned into a perfect crisis for the French electrician.
The cluster bomb came from the United States. Monday, June 14, while the American President, Joe Biden, is in Europe, the American channel CNN announces that the French Framatome, a few days earlier, informed the White House of a “Imminent radiological threat” at the Taishan nuclear power plant in the far south of China. Why Framatome? Because this plant, in which EDF is a 30% shareholder, was built on the model of the French EPR and because Framatome is one of its main architects. “The largest commercial contract signed by the French nuclear industry and, more generally, in the history of civil nuclear power, this project strengthens Framatome’s presence in China, one of the most promising markets in the world”, explains the group on its website.
Why the United States? The answer is complicated. According to Le Figaro, the French engineer responsible for monitoring the file – in fact, a leak of fuel rods supplied by Framatome – warned a colleague across the Atlantic because it is the American subsidiary which manages the database of all incidents that have occurred in the group. Problem: Taishan’s majority shareholder, Chinese CGN, is on the US government’s blacklist. To work on the file and possibly come to the aid of Taishan, an American must therefore obtain the approval of the White House.
Lèse majesté crime
The EDF communicators may try to extinguish the fire by explaining, from Paris, that the incident is minor, the industrial disaster, it is major. The episode proves in fact that EDF, a 30% shareholder in Taishan, has no say in the matter, is not informed of technical problems and is unable to obtain a meeting of a board of directors. In Xi Jinping’s China, where any situation is the result of a balance of power, a minority has – by definition – no rights.
But the main problem lies elsewhere. Commissioned in 2018, Taishan is the flagship of Franco-Chinese cooperation. This third generation EPR nuclear reactor is the first to have seen the light of day. According to specialists, the origin of the problem could come from the manufacture – in France – of the pencils, their transport, their installation, or even a design flaw of the EPR. If the problem comes from France, the Chinese will not like it. Above all, and this is undoubtedly the most serious, they risk making the French pay dearly for the humiliation that the United States has just inflicted on them. That Paris went through Washington to obtain information from Beijing and make China lose face is a crime of lèse-majesté which proves that, in the technological war between China and the United States, France is willingly unwillingly, on the side of the latter. It is clear that if the plant had been built with the help of Russia, the failure of the pencils would not have reached the desk of the President of the United States. Orano (ex-Areva) can undoubtedly give up the reprocessing plant that it has been hoping to sell to China for nearly twenty years.
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