Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press
Winnipeg Free Press
August 6, 2010
FREDERICTON – The refurbishment of the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant in New Brunswick has been delayed by at least another year, putting the project 2 1/2 years behind schedule and driving the cost beyond the $2 billion mark.
NB Power president Gaetan Thomas said crews continue to have a problem getting a tight seal in the joints of the reactor’s new calandria tubes, which contain pressure tubes that hold the fuel bundles. Of the 380 tubes, 80 have been passed and 80 have failed, while the remaining 220 have yet to be tested.
Hugh MacDiarmid, president and CEO of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., confirmed the delay Friday when he met with New Brunswick Energy Minister Jack Keir and Thomas in Fredericton.
Thomas said NB Power needs the refurbishment to last 25 to 30 years, so strict standards must be met.
“For NB Power, we must ensure that when the plant is turned back over from AECL to us that it is exactly as we expect,” Thomas said.
The refurbishment was originally budgeted at $1.4 billion, including $400 million for replacement power. It costs NB Power about $1 million a day to provide replacement power, which means the cost of replacement power could be well over $1 billion.
Thomas said there’s no way to know what the higher costs could do to power rates in the province until the utility learns the exact length of the delay.
Premier Shawn Graham has been pressing the federal government to shoulder the cost overruns because AECL is a federal Crown Corporation.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and federal Conservative MPs have said the contract will be honoured, but have not agreed to pay for the replacement power during the delays.
In a letter to Graham last month, Harper said the province was “fully aware that there were uncertainties involved” when the project was started.
The contract was signed by the province’s previous Conservative government in 2005, a year before Graham’s Liberals came to power.
Graham has threatened to sue Ottawa for the extra costs, but Keir said he wants a mediation process with the federal government to settle the question of who will pay.
“The people of New Brunswick contracted for success on this project, not for failure,” Keir said.
This is the first refurbishment of a Candu-6 reactor by AECL, and Keir said New Brunswickers should not be paying for a federal Crown corporation that’s on a learning curve that will allow it to do a better job of refurbishing similar reactors elsewhere around the world.
But Paul Robichaud, the Tory energy critic, said he thinks the provincial government is jumping the gun.
“I believe there is still some time and some place for discussion and instead of calling a press conference, what the province of New Brunswick should do is to sit at the table with the federal government and try to find a solution to this situation,” he said.
Work on Point Lepreau was scheduled to take 18 months when it began in March 2008. It is now expected to be at least early 2012 when the work is complete.
“Until we have a solution to the leak testing and acceptance testing for the calandria tubes, we just can’t provide a definitive date yet to when the reactor will be returned to service,” said Dale Coffin, a spokesman for AECL.
“We’re working through those options and narrowing down the options to identify which is the best solution.”
The delays faced by AECL at Point Lepreau and at a plant in North Korea have prompted Hydro-Quebec to hold off on the refurbishment of its Gentilly-2 nuclear station, according to media reports. It is also a Candu-6 reactor like Lepreau.
Norm Rubin of the Toronto-based energy watchdog Energy Probe said he’s not surprised by the added delays at Point Lepreau or the decision by Hydro-Quebec.
“People who look at this as a reliable source of power are destined to live in the dark,” he said.
“This is an unforgiving technology and it has found ways to break the hearts of investors and electricity consumers all over the world for decades.”