Report fingers declining safety

The Moncton Times and Transcript
August 14, 1998

Despite criticism, plant remains fundamentally sound with low exposure risk

Although no nuclear power station in Canada suffered any serious breach of safety last year, Point Lepreau was singled out for greater criticism.

At a meeting of the Atomic Energy Control Board here yesterday, officials said their annual report on New Brunswick Power was more critical than its reports on all the other nuclear power stations in the country.

«The annual report on Point Lepreau was the most critical of all the reports this year,» an official conceded when asked by board member Yves Giroux.

AECB staff member Charles Montgomery told the public hearing that the 15-year-old nuclear power station on the Bay of Fundy does not meet performance requirements in two of four categories: containment and emergency core cooling.

Despite the criticism, though, he added that the plant, like all other Candu reactors in Canada, is fundamentally sound and risks of exposure to radiation for employees and the public remain very low.

In 15 minutes, Montgomery generally described the annual reports on six nuclear power stations in Canada, including Point Lepreau. It is the last year that AECB will produce individual annual reports on stations. Next year, the nuclear licenser plans to produce a single report on all the stations in Canada.

«Point Lepreau operated safely in 1997, in terms of radioactive releases to the public, the environment and radiation doses to workers,» the AECB report concluded. «However, AECB staff believes that continuing high numbers of licence non-compliances, more events with greater severity, and inadequate configuration control, indicate deteriorating safety performance.

«While NB Power has initiated a large-scale performance improvement program and increased station staffing, the program has not yet had a measurable effect on the safety performance of the station.»

The litany of problems that occurred at the 600 mega-watt station last year are strewn throughout the report. There were 26 separate incidences when the station was non-compliant with its licence conditions, slightly more than the 23 incidents reported in 1996 but about triple the numbers reported in 1990 to 1993.

«AECB staff concludes that operation and maintenance performance can support safety at the station for the present. However, improvements are needed to cope with an accelerated frequency of aging-related degradations in the plant systems.»

Performance of the emergency core cooling system was «poor» in 1997, the report said because two valves were found to be defective. It was also «unavailable» for two-and-a-half months of the year when the station was shut down.

The containment system was also judged poor last year. NB Power discovered that a valve would have been inadequate to contain a spill, which would have meant the entire containment system was ineffective. The company also has not yet fixed a problem with inadequate air supply components that also jeopardize the containment system. «This condition has existed and has been reported for several years without resolution,» the report said.

Other incidents reported included:

* In February, a cracked feeder tube required the station to shut down for two months.

* In March, five workers were exposed to tritium, a radioactive hydrogen produced in heavy water, while cleaning a duct.

* In September, tritium was released to a site drainage ditch when a pump was inadvertently activated.

* In October, two maintenance workers were exposed to tritium while working on a pump.

* And in November, a worker was exposed to tritium when a glass container broke.

NB Power is in the process of applying for a new licence from AECB. In June, a formal application was made at a hearing in Pembroke, Ont. While much of the same criticism was made against NB Power in that hearing, AECB staff recommended that the licence be renewed for two years. A decision is expected in October.

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