More delays plague Pickering restart

John Spears
Toronto Star
February 6, 2004

Work on two units of the Pickering A nuclear station has been suspended, according to a message sent to staff of the plant, owned by Ontario Power Generation Inc.

The problem-plagued project to restart Pickering A is already three years behind schedule and billions over budget. Only one of the plant’s four reactors, Unit 4, is producing power.

Work has been under way at Pickering A since 1998. The project received approval from OPG’s board of directors in 1999.

Despite years of work, an internal message to staff yesterday said cost and schedule estimates for Unit 1 – the second unit due to start up – are still not complete. Engineering work on the remaining two units is also incomplete.

OPG also said yesterday it is scaling back its relationship with PowerSource Canada, a hiring agency that has supplied OPG with hundreds of engineers, many of them from the United States.

The company was incorporated in Nova Scotia in 2002 shortly before it began receiving untendered contracts from OPG.

OPG spokesperson John Earl said the company is streamlining, and will cut its engineering and design force at Pickering A by 50 per cent.

“There will be fewer contractors, and some of those contractors were from PowerSource, so our relationship with PowerSource has shrunk,” Earl said.

Yesterday’s internal memo from Bill Robinson, vice-president in charge of Pickering, said the company must focus its efforts on finishing cost estimates and work schedules for Unit 1.

“We are therefore suspending any further engineering work on Units 2 and 3,” the two remaining units, the memo said.

OPG has been struggling to restart the Pickering A plant since OPG’s board approved the project in 1999, at an estimated cost of $1.3 million. The first unit was supposed to be back in service by the end of 2000.

Instead, the first unit, Unit 4, wasn’t back in service until last fall, three years late. And a special panel headed by former federal energy minister Jake Epp now estimates it will cost $3 billion to $4 billion to get all four units back in service.

The cost overruns and delays have prompted Energy Minister Dwight Duncan to ask a committee headed by former finance minister John Manley to review OPG’s prospects, including whether it’s worth completing the Pickering A overhaul. Manley’s deadline is March 15.

Suspending work at Units 2 and 3 will help OPG develop firmer cost and scheduling estimates for Manley’s committee “in a timely fashion,” Robinson’s memo said.

Tom Adams, executive director of Energy Probe, said it’s hard to believe that five years into a project, OPG still hasn’t completed cost, scheduling and engineering work.

Adams noted that Epp recently completed an evaluation of the Pickering A project, and wondered how that could have been conducted without first doing firm cost and scheduling estimates.

“OPG is lost,” he said. “They can’t find themselves on the map.”

If OPG still hasn’t finished basic planning and engineering work, he said, it should simply be telling Manley’s committee the status of the project, complete with gaps and unfinished business, rather than preparing yet another plan.

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