“EDF’s Chinese dream seems well and truly over”. The minor incident at a Chinese nuclear power plant could have repercussions … on French industrial cooperation with China, explains Frédéric Lemaître, correspondent for “Le Monde” in Beijing, in his column. Since June 14, Fabrice Fourcade, the head of EDF in China, and the economic service of the French Embassy in Beijing have been absent subscribers. Within hours, an apparently minor technical incident at 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 an “imminent radiological threat” to the nuclear power station of Taishan, 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 site. Why the United States? The answer is complicated. According to Le Figaro, the French engineer in charge of 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 in the group. Problem: Taishan’s majority shareholder, Chinese CGN, is on the US government’s blacklist. In order to work on the case and possibly come to Taishan’s aid, an American must therefore obtain the approval of the White House. EDF communicators may try to put out the fire by explaining, from Paris, that the incident is minor, while the industrial disaster is major. The episode proves that EDF, a 30% shareholder in Taishan, has no say in the matter, is not informed of technical problems and cannot get a board meeting. In Xi Jinping’s China, where any situation is the result of a balance of power, a minority has – by definition – no rights.
Le Monde 6th July 2021 read more »