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As rumours of a cover-up surround the accident at China’s Taishan Nuclear Power Plant, one of China’s leading nuclear scientists, Zhang Zhijian, has died after apparently falling from a tall building.
Zhang, who had been vice-chancellor at the prestigious Harbin Engineering University, was found dead on Thursday morning.
Born in 1963, Zhang had at least two years left before retirement. But two days before his death, another nuclear expert was appointed as the new vice-chancellor of Harbin Technical University. His death was announced in a post from the university’s official account on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.
The statement added that police had "ruled out homicide as the cause of death after on-site investigations," without providing any additional details.
"Harbin Engineering University announces with deep grief that Professor Zhang Zhijian regrettably fell off a building and died at 9:34am on June 17, 2021," the statement said.
The scientist had received a number of top honours, including the National Award for Excellence in Innovation
Harbin Technical University, in China’s northern Heilongjiang province, is one of two Chinese universities that have very close ties to the Chinese military.
The university was banned from using American-made computer software last June, amid trade tensions between China and the US.
Last year, the US Department of Commerce added Harbin Technical University and Harbin Institute of Technology to its "blacklist".
Earlier this week, a letter from French nuclear energy company Framatome, requesting help from the US Department of Energy warned that the build-up of radiation at the Taishan plant represented an "imminent radiological threat," according to a report from CNN.
However, official Chinese sources say there is no cause for concern. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian insisted to reporters that "there is nothing abnormal detected in the radiation level surrounding the plant”.
China’s Atomic Energy Authority sent a report to the International Atomic Energy Authority on June 16 stating that while there was some minor damage to fuel rods in one of its reactors, “ the plant is in normal condition and that operational safety is guaranteed.”
According to the South China Morning Post, there has been no official announcement about Mr Zhang's death. He is still listed on the university's faculty, as of June 18.
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