Safety attitude at nuclear plant comes under fire

Mike Hawkins
Times Globe
January 21, 1998

WATCHFUL EYE: Incidents at the Lepreau are becoming all too common for the Atomic Energy Control Board, which warns that the quality of work must improve.

SAINT JOHN – A spokesman for the Atomic Energy Control Board says a Dec. 9 accident at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station is yet another example of a poor safety attitude at the plant.

“This latest incident is just another one in a line of similar-type incidents that indicate a need to improve the quality of the work at the station,” Bob Potvin said in an interview from the AECB office in Ottawa yesterday.

The AECB outlined the incident in a routine report to the government on nuclear generating operations. As reported to the regulatory board by NB Power, a manway leading inside a water heater was left open and a water pump was switched on, causing a powerful burst of water to damage the heater.

The accident happened in a non-nuclear part of the plant on Dec. 9, 1997. No one was in the vicinity of the heater when it happened and no one was injured.

Rod White, NB Power vice-president nuclear, was quoted as saying the damage was minimal and will not affect the station’s repair schedule currently under way.

The incident did, however, reignite the AECB’s concerns about the plant.

“There is probably a way to go before we’re entirely happy with the operation,” Mr. Potvin said, adding that the plant’s licence is up for renewal in April and warning that it could be faced with a limited licence if improvements are not implemented soon.

“What we have done in Ontario, for example, at the Pickering station, we have reduced the term of the licence. At one point last year, we only granted a six-month licence – sort of shortened the lease if you like – and required them to make significant improvements.”

Last June, AECB issued a scathing report to NB Power, owners of the Lepreau plant, criticizing a general lack of concern for safety.

“We indicated very clearly there were a number of areas where we wanted to see some significant improvements made,” Mr. Potvin said.

“Nothing that in the short term compromised the safety operation of the station,” he added, “but an unsatisfactory quality of work that could, before long, lead to situations where the plant’s safety may be somewhat compromised.”

Greg Byrne, Minister of State for Energy and Mines, was asked about the incident during question period at the Provincial Legislature yesterday afternoon.

Mr. Byrne downplayed the incident as a part of a problem that was already in the process of being fixed.

“This was primarily a communication problem and so procedures are being reviewed,” he said. “For some time, there has been a performance improvement program that has been instituted to review both the safety culture and operational procedures at the site. But I think this incident indicates there’s a need to conduct a thorough review to ensure that incidents of this nature are kept to a minimum.”

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