What happened at China’s Taishan nuclear reactor?

What happened at China’s Taishan nuclear reactor?
French nuclear firm Framatome said recently it was working to resolve a ‘performance issue’ at the plant it part-owns in China. (AFP)
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Updated 16 June 2021

What happened at China’s Taishan nuclear reactor?

What happened at China’s Taishan nuclear reactor?
  • The plant is facing an ‘imminent radiological threat,’ Framatome warned

SHANGHAI: French energy company EDF is investigating a potential issue linked to a buildup of inert gases at its nuclear plant in China’s southeastern province of Guangdong.

The probe comes after CNN reported that the US government was assessing a report of a leak at the Taishan power station. The report was made by Framatome, the EDF business that designed the plant’s reactor and remains involved in its operations. 

Framatome warned that the plant, a joint venture with China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) that is located around 200 kilometers from Hong Kong, was facing an “imminent radiological threat.”

Here is what we know so far.

What happened at Taishan?

According to CNN, US officials have been investigating the Framatome claims of a leak for the past week.

EDF, which has a minority stake in the plant, said a buildup of krypton and xenon — both inert gases — had affected the primary circuit of Taishan Unit 1, but added that it was a “known phenomenon, studied and provided for in the reactor operating procedures.”

Majority owner CGN also said in a statement that operations at the plant met safety rules.

Radiation levels in the vicinity were still normal on Monday, according to real-time data from the China Nuclear Safety Administration (CNSA). 

According to CNN, Framatome’s warning included an accusation that CNSA was raising acceptable radiation limits outside the Taishan plant to avoid having to shut it down. 

The regulator did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in a regular briefing the plant was fully compliant with all requirements and operating normally.

What are the risks?

Nuclear experts have generally played down the risks. CNN cited US officials as saying that the dangers to the public were currently minimal.

Li Ning, a Chinese nuclear scientist based in the United States, told Reuters that CNN was “making a mountain out of a molehill” and that it was unrealistic to expect “zero failure” in the fuel cladding of nuclear projects anywhere in the world.

Li said the media were “often unwilling to put risks into proper perspective,” which he said had effectively killed off the nuclear industry in the west.

“Coal fired power plants can emit and discharge more radioactivity than nuclear power plants,” Li said.

Why is the US govt involved?

CGN, China’s largest state-owned nuclear company, was placed on a US blacklist in Aug. 2019 for allegedly making efforts to acquire advanced US technology and material for diversion to military uses in China. 

That means that Framatome, which has operations in the United States, would need a waiver from the US government to allow it to help CGN fix technological problems, Li said.

China’s foreign ministry has said the blacklist is a misuse of export control measures.

What is Taishan’s safety records?

Minor safety issues have been quite frequent at Taishan. In March, inspectors checking a faulty voltmeter in Unit 1 accidentally caused an electrical malfunction that triggered an automatic shutdown, according to CNSA incident records. In April, a burst of radioactive gas unexpectedly entered a pipe at Unit 1’s waste gas treatment system just as workers were trying to seal it, also triggering an alarm, CNSA said.

What is an ‘EPR’?

Formerly known as a “European Pressurised Reactor,” the EPR is a “third-generation” nuclear technology that includes enhanced safety features as well as greater generation capacity.

It was designed by Framatome together with Germany’s Siemens. Its third-generation rivals now include Westinghouse’s AP1000, Russia’s VVER-1200 and China’s Hualong One. In 2006, EDF and fellow French nuclear group Areva lost a bid to build four reactors on China’s eastern coast, with China opting for Westinghouse’s model after signing a deal to transfer core technology for use in its own projects.

In 2007, EDF agreed to build two EPRs at Taishan, which would be 70 percent-owned by CGN. Construction got underway in 2010. Originally scheduled to be connected to the grid within four years, the first unit wasn’t completed until December 2018.

What next?

EDF did not provide a timeframe for completion of its investigation, nor did US officials, according to the CNN report.

Problems at the Taishan project are unlikely to dent China’s nuclear ambitions, but they underscore the challenges facing foreign reactor developers in a market increasingly dominated by domestic players.

China fell short on its 2020 nuclear capacity target. Many complained the sector’s expansion was derailed not only by the 2011 Fukushima disaster, but also by the lengthy delays and spiralling costs at foreign-designed projects.

As it steps up the construction of new plants, China is now expected to depend primarily on its own third-generation Hualong One design, but it is also helping to finance the construction of an EPR project at Britain’s Hinkley Point. 


SABIC second-quarter profit jumps 57 percent as prices, volume increase

SABIC second-quarter profit jumps 57 percent as prices, volume increase
Updated 6 sec ago

SABIC second-quarter profit jumps 57 percent as prices, volume increase

SABIC second-quarter profit jumps 57 percent as prices, volume increase
  • Net profit jumped 57 percent to $2.04 billion in Q2
  • Selling prices increased 10 percent, sales volumes rose 3 percent

RIYADH: Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC) reported a surge in second-quarter profit as it sold more chemicals at higher prices than the previous quarter amid an increase in crude prices.

Net profit jumped 57 percent to SR7.64 billion ($2.04 billion) in the three months to the end of June as revenue rose 13 percent to SR42.42 billion, SABIC said in a filing to the Tadawul stock exchange.

The Middle East’s largest petrochemicals producer posted a SR12.51 billion first-half profit on sales of SR79.95 billion, compared with a loss of SR3.27 billion on sales of SR54.81 billion in the same period last year.

Selling prices increased by 10 percent in the second quarter compared with the first three months of the year, while sales volumes rose 3 percent. Over the first half, sales prices were 48 percent higher and volumes were 2 percent lower compared with last year.

“SABIC’s financial performance in the second quarter was strong – continuing the margin improvement seen during the first quarter of 2021,” Yousef Abdullah Al-Benyan, vice chairman and CEO of SABIC, said in a statement to the Tadawul. “This was driven by higher sales volumes and prices, supported by a rise in oil prices and a healthy supply and demand balance for most of our key products as the global economy continued its path to recovery.”

SABIC achieved $230 million of synergies with Saudi Aramco since June 2020 when Aramco acquired a 70 percent stake in SABIC, driven by combining their purchasing power and sharing warehousing and logistics facilites.

In the second half of 2021, SABIC expects demand will continue to be strong in line with the recovery of the global economy. Margins will moderate, but remain healthy as oil prices and
feedstock costs remain elevated while existing supply constraints ease and new supply capacity comes on line, it said in the filing.


Saudi Arabia starts trial of the first wind turbine in Al-Jouf

Saudi Arabia starts trial of the first wind turbine in Al-Jouf
Updated 49 min 42 sec ago

Saudi Arabia starts trial of the first wind turbine in Al-Jouf

Saudi Arabia starts trial of the first wind turbine in Al-Jouf
  • Dumat Al-Jandal is poised to become the largest wind farm in the Middle East

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has started the operational trial of the first wind turbine at Dumat Al-Jandal wind farm, which once fully operational will reduce CO2 emissions by nearly 1 million tons annually and supply 72,000 homes with clean energy.

The turbines comprise towers, blades, and nacelles, which will be assembled at the project site, 900 kilometers north of Riyadh in the Al-Jouf region. The project will include 99 Vestas wind turbines, each with a hub height of 130 meters and a rotor diameter of 150 meters.

The Kingdom’s first utility-scale wind-power source is being developed by a consortium led by EDF Renewables of France in partnership with Abu Dhabi-based Masdar. The Renewable Energy Project Development Office of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Energy awarded the project to the EDF Renewables-Masdar consortium in January 2019 after a competitive tender.

Its tariff of $21.3 per megawatt-hour (MWh), the lowest bid submitted, was reduced to $19.9/MWh at financial close, making Dumat Al-Jandal the most cost-efficient wind-energy project in the world. According to the US-Saudi Arabian Business Council, the development of Saudi Arabia’s renewable energy sector could create up to 750,000 jobs over the next decade, as the Kingdom pushes to generate 7 percent of its total electricity output from renewables by 2030.

It will also benefit from a 20-year power purchase agreement with the Saudi Power Procurement Co., a subsidiary of the Saudi Electricity Co., the Kingdom’s power generation and distribution company. Saudi Arabia’s renewable energy program aims to contribute to a sustainable future, preserve nonrenewable fossil fuel resources, and safeguard the Kingdom’s international energy leadership, according to the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy. That way, the program aims to ensure greater long-term global energy market stability.

Renewable energy projects, including wind and solar, are planned across more than 35 parks in Saudi Arabia by 2030.


Gulf economies expected to grow 2.2 percent this year, says World Bank

Gulf economies expected to grow 2.2 percent this year, says World Bank
Updated 05 August 2021

Gulf economies expected to grow 2.2 percent this year, says World Bank

Gulf economies expected to grow 2.2 percent this year, says World Bank
  • Most GCC countries are expected to continue to post deficits over the coming years
  • The countries that posted the largest deficits in 2020 — Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman — are expected to remain in deficit until 2023

RIYADH: Economies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will likely grow at an aggregate 2.2 percent this year after a 4.8 percent contraction last year caused by the pandemic and lower oil prices, the World Bank said on Wednesday.

“With recent progress made with the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine globally and with the revival of production and trade worldwide, the prospects for an economic recovery are firmer now than at the end of last year,” it said in a research report.

“Although downside risks remain, the forecast stands for an aggregate GCC economic turnaround of 2.2 percent in 2021 and an annual average growth of 3.3 percent in 2022–23.”

It remains vital for GCC countries — which include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE — to diversify their economies, the World Bank said, as oil revenues account for over 70 percent of total government revenues in most GCC countries.

It said it expects Kuwait and Qatar to introduce a value-added tax (VAT) this year, following the example of other GCC states that have implemented the revenue-diversifying measure in different phases over the last few years.

On the fiscal side, most GCC countries are expected to continue to post deficits over the coming years, the World Bank said, after shortfalls intensified last year because of the coronavirus crisis.

The countries that posted the largest deficits in 2020 — Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman — are expected to remain in deficit until 2023, but with narrower ratios than in the 2020 downturn. While a rebound in oil prices may lift economic prospects in the short term, the World Bank said downside risks to its outlook are “extremely high” because of the region’s heavy exposure to global oil demand and the service industries.

“Mobility restrictions including for international travel may hurt attendance at future high-profile events in the GCC — the 2020 (rescheduled to 2021) World Expo in the UAE and the 2022 Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup in Qatar,” it said.


SABB records net profit of $504 million

SABB records net profit of $504 million
Updated 05 August 2021

SABB records net profit of $504 million

SABB records net profit of $504 million

JEDDAH: The Saudi British Bank (SABB) recorded a net profit after zakat and income tax of SR1,889 million ($504 million) for the six months ended on June 30, 2021.

This is an increase of SR7,785 million or 132 percent compared to the loss of SR5,896 million for the same period in 2020.

Operating income of SR3,984 million for the six months ended June 30, 2021, a decrease of SR703 million, or 15 percent, compared to SR4,687 million for the same period in 2020.

Lubna Suliman Olayan, board chair of SABB said: The bank’s “performance in the second quarter of 2021 builds on the progress made in the first quarter of the year, as we continue the implementation of our five-year strategic plan.”

She said the bank is now focused on supporting the Kingdom’s economic transformation.


Yemen central bank injects old riyal bills worth billions into market to challenge Houthi ban

Yemen central bank injects old riyal bills worth billions into market to challenge Houthi ban
Updated 04 August 2021

Yemen central bank injects old riyal bills worth billions into market to challenge Houthi ban

Yemen central bank injects old riyal bills worth billions into market to challenge Houthi ban
  • The Houthi ban has forced travelers to Sanaa and other areas controlled by the militant group into buying old banknotes from the black market at a higher rate

ALEXANDRIA: The Central Bank of Yemen in Aden has injected billions of riyals in old large-sized 1,000 banknotes into the market to address a chronic shortage of cash.

The bank also implemented several other economic measures to control the chaotic exchange market and put an end to the fall in the Yemeni riyal.

Since late 2019, the Iran-backed Houthis have banned the use of banknotes printed by the Yemeni government in Aden, creating a severe cash crunch in areas under their control which has led to local exchange firms and banks stopping paying salaries and raising remittance charges.

The Houthi ban has forced travelers to Sanaa and other areas controlled by the militant group into buying old banknotes from the black market at a higher rate and carrying Saudi riyals or US dollars.

In a challenge to the Houthis, the central bank has put billions of riyals in old banknotes into the market and started withdrawing the newly printed 1,000 banknote. Yemenis can get old banknotes from local banks and exchange firms.

However, the Houthis warned people against using the large banknotes and published copies and serial numbers of the newly circulated cash.

In a bid to regulate the exchange market and curb the plunging value of the riyal, the central bank has tightened regulations for opening new exchange shops or firms, demanding that applicants produce a three-year feasibility study prepared by a certified accountant showing estimated budgets.

Existing exchange companies must now send their annual financial statements to the bank, use an approved software for their financial activities, apply international financial reporting standards, and audit their accounts by accountants certified by the central bank.

Some Yemeni economists, however, have cast doubt over the central bank’s ability to enact the regulations after the Yemeni riyal on Wednesday broke another historic record low against the dollar.

Local money traders told Arab News on Wednesday that the Yemeni riyal was trading at 1020 to the dollar in government-controlled areas, compared to less than 980 a month ago. When the war broke out in late 2014, the Yemeni riyal was sold at 215 to the dollar.

The Yemeni government previously relocated the central bank’s headquarters from Sanaa to Aden, floated the Yemeni riyal to bridge the gap between the official rate and the black market, closed many exchange shops, and printed billions of riyals to pay public servants. But all the measures proved ineffective on the ground as the Yemeni riyal continued to drop.

Waled Al-Attas, an assistant professor of financial and banking sciences at Hadhramout University, told Arab News: “The central bank is required to control the market and close unlicensed exchange shops in parallel with tightening control and procedures on existing exchange entities.”

He noted that the latest injection of cash into the market had boosted foreign currency speculation activities and pushed up inflation.

“The large 1,000 banknote that the central bank pumped into the market represents an additional burden and additional liquidity that will cause more inflation, higher prices, and speculation on exchange rates,” he added.

The continuing devaluation of the Yemeni riyal has pushed up food and fuel prices in government-controlled areas and triggered protests.