Lepreau shutdown could cause $70M hit

Bruce Bartlett
Saint John Telegraph-Journal
June 18, 2002

The economy of Southern New Brunswick would be devastated if the 700 jobs at the Point Lepreau Nuclear plant are eliminated, the Public Utilities Board heard Monday.

“I believe closing Lepreau, if they don’t refurbish, would have as big an impact on Saint John as if you closed both the pulp mills and the refinery,” said Ross Galbraith, representing the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Closing the Lantic sugar refinery in Saint John created a huge outcry, but it employed only 20 per cent of the number of people working at Point Lepreau, he said.

If a natural gas plant is built to replace the nuclear plant it would only employ about 40 people. But the cost of running the gas plant would be about the same because of the higher cost of natural gas compared to nuclear fuel.

The big unknown in comparing the costs of the two alternatives is how much the price of natural gas will rise over the years.

“No one can predict with any certainty what those fuel costs could climb to, any more than we could predict 25 years ago what gasoline would be costing us today,” he said.

When the technology for combined cycle natural gas plants first came along it was highly praised. But since then demand for natural gas has risen and so has the price. The plans of many U.S. utilities to build gas-powered generators are now on hold, said Mr. Galbraith.

The jobs at Point Lepreau contribute $50 million annually into the economy. There are approximately 1,100 indirect jobs tied to the nuclear plant that pump an additional $20 million into the economy, he said.

Nuclear plants also have the advantage of not contributing to greenhouse gases. NB Power has produced 30 per cent of its electricity from nuclear power since 1983. If it had burned oil, it would have consumed 130 million barrels, he said.

The nuclear waste produced at Point Lepreau is all contained at the site and will eventually be stored somewhere by the federal government, he said.

“No one has yet figured out a way to dispose of the millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases that are pumped into the atmosphere by non-nuclear generating stations,” said Mr. Galbraith.

He also submitted a review of the project by Myron Gordon, an economist from the University of Toronto, who favours the nuclear option.

Mr. Gordon’s report rebuts several points made by Tom Adams of Energy Probe in Toronto, who is expected to give evidence today at the utilities board hearing.

Mr. Adams filed evidence with the board saying that NB Power has only paid down its debt by $74 million annually over the past seven years. Mr. Morton says financial statements show debt reduction was at $116 million per year.

Mr. Adams has also said a failed refit at the Pickering nuclear plants was the main cause of Ontario Hydro’s 1997 financial collapse.

Mr. Morton says both claims are false. The refit is proceeding with some delays and Ontario Hydro was starved of cash by the provincial government, which had decided to privatize it.

“The four reactors at Pickering A are now expected to start producing by the end of 2002 and the $1.9 billion investment in extending their life is still expected to be very profitable,” he wrote.

The hearing into the economics of refurbishing Point Lepreau is expected to wrap up this week. Intervenors are scheduled to sum up their arguments today after Mr. Adams presents his evidence.

 

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