Safety test delays deal on second Daya Bay

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 July, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 July, 1995, 12:00am

CHINA has demanded further monitoring of the performance of the troubled Daya Bay nuclear power plant before the final signing of contracts to build a sister station five kilometres away at Lingao.

The news will come as a further embarrassment to the firms that built Daya Bay, following concerns about the main safety system, which failed international tests in February and kept one reactor out of action for seven months.

A Daya Bay source said the delay showed the Chinese were being 'very tough', and, 'if we have more problems . . . they might not sign'.

The Chinese initialled the deal on July 14 in Beijing, before the July 15 deadline for final agreement set by the French and British governments, which are guaranteeing the deal.

But Beijing is delaying the final signing in a move that could prompt the guarantors to demand a rise in the interest rate at which China is borrowing the $21 billion cost.

However, bankers yesterday said the guarantors were unlikely to risk scuppering the deal so close to finalisation.

Contracts for the Daya Bay replica are with the same team that built Daya Bay I - French nuclear supplier Framatome, state operator and technical adviser Electricite de France, and Anglo-French power equipment firm GEC-Alsthom.

Yesterday, Framatome said final signing by all three parties would take place 'at the latest by October 15, pending confirmation to the Chinese authorities of the satisfactory performance of the Daya Bay nuclear power plant'.

Framatome representative Marie Carole de Groc said China's initialling of the agreement indicated its willingness to stick with the Framatome design.

She said: 'I understand that the financial conditions are not changed, the cost is not changed, but they want to watch [Daya Bay] for another three months.' Even with the delay, the contracts should come into effect on January 15, with construction planned to start soon after that, she said. Start-up is scheduled for 2002.

Framatome has agreed to change parts of the mechanism at Daya Bay that drops safety rods into the reactors in an emergency, following two failed tests on the speed of drop in one of the two reactors earlier this year.

The problem has not occurred elsewhere and has been blamed on a new design of tube that guides the rods into the reactor.

Both reactors are currently running with some of the guide tubes replaced. Others will be changed at the beginning of next year.

The Daya Bay source said the Chinese 'want to be sure that this new design works very well. They prefer to have some experimental results before signing anything'.

Ms de Groc said Framatome was 'very confident' the solution would work.