Japan crisis won’t deter N.B. nuclear plans: premier

(March 29, 2011)  The premier of New Brunswick says he has no concerns about resuming the Province’s nuclear power generation.  However, Energy Probe’s Norm Rubin says that the Point Lepreau nuclear plant will continue to be a safety hazard, even after costly refurbishments.

SAINT JOHN, N.B. — The premier of New Brunswick says he has no concerns about resuming nuclear power generation in his province, despite the nuclear crisis in Japan.

The world has been watching as Japan continues to deal with radiation leaks two weeks after a nuclear complex was crippled by a major earthquake and a tsunami.

New Brunswick’s Point Lepreau nuclear power plant was taken out of service in early 2008 for a major refurbishment, but the project is running three years behind schedule and is $1 billion over the original budget.

Premier David Alward said Monday he knows the incident in Japan has caused some concern over his province’s nuclear facility.

“I’m concerned about confidence that could be undermined because of that,” he said.

“What I can assure the people of New Brunswick is the work that’s being done at Lepreau is with full regulatory process, full transparency and in a very safe way.”

The refurbishment has hit a number of technical snags, but the plant is expected to return to service in the fall of 2012.

The project is expected to extend the life of Atlantic Canada’s only nuclear reactor by 25 to 30 years.

Alward said officials with NB Power and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., are watching the situation in Japan very closely.

“They will be incorporating what is learned from Japan as well into the work that’s going on with Lepreau, and I have full confidence in the work that is being done,” he said.

Earlier this month, Wade Parker, the director of the Point Lepreau generating station said the possibility of an Atlantic tsunami represents an extremely low risk to the facility.

He said the reactor is well above the high tide levels of the Bay of Fundy, and the station has four backup diesel generators, two of which are built on large springs to withstand a powerful earthquake.

But one energy observer isn’t so confident about safety at any nuclear power plant.

Norm Rubin of Toronto-based energy watchdog group Energy Probe said no nuclear reactor will ever be completely safe.

“Using the word safe is a misnomer because there is always a big grey zone. Did we plan on a big enough earthquake? Have we planned on a smart enough saboteur?” he said Monday.

“Certainly with the existing Point Lepreau we’re dealing with an old unit, and we’re dealing with an inherently hazardous unit with a bunch of add-on safety systems.”

French nuclear firm Areva wants to build a reactor at Point Lepreau and has begun talks with the provincial government, but Alward said it’s premature to talk about a second reactor.

He said his priority is getting the Candu reactor at Lepreau back in service.

Rubin said anyone just has to look at the ongoing crisis in Japan to learn that grouping nuclear reactors at the same location is a bad idea.

“If one reactor out of two or more has a release that is big enough that it’s not safe for the staff to work there, then the other reactor becomes a hazard,” Rubin said.

NB Power has applied to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for a one-year licence extension to cover the rest of the refurbishment period, but the commission has yet to rule.

Canadian Press, March 29, 2011

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