Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station

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Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station
Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station is a Canadian nuclear power station located 2 km northeast of Point Lepreau, New Brunswick. The facility was constructed between 1975-1983 by NB Power, the provincially-owned public utility. The facility derives its name from the nearby headland situated at the easternmost part of Charlotte County, although the generating station itself is located several hundred meters inside Saint John County. It is administratively part of the local service district of Musquash, west of the city of Saint John. The Point Lepreau station is the only nuclear facility located in Atlantic Canada and comprises 1 CANDU nuclear reactor located on the northern shore of the Bay of Fundy, having a net capacity of 635 MW (680 MW gross).

The construction of a nuclear plant in New Brunswick has been discussed since the late 1950s. For over 15 years, engineers from the New Brunswick Electric Power Commission visited federal Crown corporation Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario, to keep abreast of the latest trends in the field. Formal talks between Premier Richard Hatfield and the Canadian government began in 1972. Discussions accelerated the next year, in the midst of the 1973 oil crisis, as the province was looking for ways to diversify its electricity supply and reduce its reliance on oil. However, financing the venture was a problem since the province had a limited borrowing capacity. The last obstacle was lifted by the federal government in January 1974, with the announcement of a loan program covering half the costs of a first nuclear plant in a province. Hatfield announced his intention to build a first reactor in New Brunswick on February 5, 1974. Reelected in the fall, despite misgivings by part of the population, the Progressive Conservative government follows through with the plan. In March 1975, Hatfield declared on television that the decision was final, and that the reactor would be built regardless of the on-going environmental assessment process, in a move described by New Brunswick sociologist Ronald Babin as the "nuclear fait accompli policy". On May 2, 1975, the Atomic Energy Control Board authorized the construction of two 635-MW reactors on a site designed to host four in Point Lepreau, 20 km west of Saint John, New Brunswick's largest city. The New Brunswick Electric Power Commission began the construction of one reactor, with an option for a second one. At its peak in 1979, the construction project employed 3,500 workers and 108 individual contracts out of 139, were granted to local businesses. Point Lepreau was licensed for operation on July 21, 1982, achieved criticality four days later and began commercial operations on February 1, 1983. Tense labour relations on the worksite and skyrocketing construction costs, a common trait among large infrastructure projects built in that period, tripled the early forecasts. The estimated price tag of C$466 million in 1974 increased to C$684 two years later and to C$895 in 1978. At the time of its commissioning in 1983, the total cost was estimated at C$1.4 billion, excluding interest charges.

The Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station achieved record levels of availability with a 10-year average of 93.11% and generated over 5,000 GWh/year of energy on a sustained basis for its first decade of operations. However, numerous problems started to surface in the mid to late 1990s, due to poor maintenance and low investment. In mid-January 1997, a leak in the reactor core forced a third shutdown in 2 years. The 75-day stoppage was caused by an unlocked feeder pipe. The human error cost C$40 million in repairs and C$450,000/day to purchase replacement power from Quebec. In 1990, assistant plant operator Daniel George Maston was charged after he took a sample of heavy water from the moderator system and loaded it into a "sport mix" drink dispenser in an industrial lunch zone. It was not loaded in a water cooler in an office. Eight employees drank some of the contaminated water. One individual who was engaged in heat stress work, requiring alternating work, rest, and re-hydration periods consumed significantly more than the others. The incident was discovered when employees began leaving bio-assay urine samples with elevated tritium levels, one with particularly and unusually high levels. The quantities involved were well below levels which could induce heavy water toxicity, but several employees received elevated radiation doses from tritium and activated chemicals in the water. It is believed that Maston intended the exposure to be a practical joke, whereby the affected employees would be required to give urine samples daily for an extended length of time.


Public debate
Point Lepreau's CANDU-6 reactor was designed to last 25 years and was scheduled to be mothballed by 2008. Public debate on the future of the plant began as early as 2000. At the time, NB Power estimated the refurbishment cost at C$750 million. In 2002, NB Power, with support from the Government and opposition, pushed for refurbishment. However, the New Brunswick Energy and Utilities Board ruled that "there is no significant economic advantage to the proposed refurbishment" of Point Lepreau and that "it is not in the public interest". In April 2004, a report authored by former British Energy chairman Robin Jeffrey estimated the plant's refurbishment would cost 1.36 billion instead of the C$935 million figure quoted at the time by the provincial utility. Jeffrey's report made no recommendations on whether to undertake the plant's overhaul or not but advised New Brunswick decision makers to seek competitive bids for new fossil-fuel fired generation capacity. Despite being denied a federal grant to fund the project, NB Power announced on July 29, 2005 that it was awarding Atomic Energy of Canada Limited a $1.4 billion (CAD) contract for refurbishing the generating station.

Refurbishment work
The refurbishment of the power station began on March 28, 2008 and was originally scheduled to last 18 months and the lead contractor on the project is AECL. But the operation was marred by technical glitches, delays and incidents. For instance, two 115-tonne turbine rotors, worth C$10 million each, toppled a barge in Saint John Harbour while being transported to the plant on October 15, 2008. The part manufacturer, Siemens Canada Ltd., eventually sued four companies in an Ontario court, including J. D. Irving Ltd., for "gross negligence" in the incident. Estimates for the reopening of the plant have been revised several times. In January 2009, a 3-month delay was announced because of problems with the robotic equipment used to remove pressure tubes. A second, 4-month delay was announced in July of the same year In October 2009, New Brunswick minister of Energy, Jack Keir, announced a tentative reopening by February 2011 and asked for federal money to cope with the unexpected cost of purchased power to replace the power ordinarily generated by the plant. The situation is compounded by the strategic importance of the plant in NB Power supply plans, since Point Lepreau provides 4 TWh/year or between 25 to 30% of the provincial output. A few weeks later, on October 29, 2009, Point Lepreau was one of the assets planned to be sold off to Hydro-Québec, in the proposed sale of NB Power However, on March 24, 2010, New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham announced the deal had fallen through, citing Hydro-Québec's "concerns about unanticipated costs". However, this interpretation was contested by analysts, who blamed the collapse of the deal on the difficult political situation in New Brunswick, six months before a scheduled provincial election. According to leaked internal documents, the proposed sale and a proposed post-refurbishment staff reorganization had a negative impact on workers' morale at the plant and became a safety concern. Over 600 workplace injuries occurred at Point Lepreau between January 2009 and June 2010, including 7 "lost time", 13 "restricted work" injuries and 32 incidents requiring medical aid. According to the internal reports, delays have cost the company C$33 million a month: "C$11 in capital costs and C$22 million for replacement power and interest". On October 9, 2010, NB Power announced that AECL would have to remove all 380 calandria tubes from the reactor and reinstall them a second time, an operation which took a year earlier in the refurbishment program. The calandria tubes, roughly 7 m (23 ft) and 13 cm (5.1 in), hold the pressure tubes fueling the reactor. According to an internal report dated June 30, 2010, the problem "is likely the result of damage to the tube sheet bores caused by the cleaning operation in a previous work series". According to an October 2010 estimate, the generating station is now scheduled to be back on stream in the fall of 2012, three years later than first expected.

Possible second reactor
In 2007, Team CANDU, a consortium of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, Babcock & Wilcox Canada, GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy Canada Inc., Hitachi Canada Ltd and SNC-Lavalin Nuclear Limited began a $2.5 million feasibility study regarding the installation of a new 1,100 MWe Advanced CANDU Reactor at Point Lepreau, to supply power to New England. In July 2010, the New Brunswick government signed an agreement with French nuclear manufacturer Areva to study the feasibility of a new light water nuclear plant on the Point Lepreau property. The plan was shelved by the incoming premier shortly after the election of a new Conservative government (from the previous Liberals) in September 2010.