The Coalition Avenir Québec might try to force the Parti Québécois government to hold legislative hearings into the future of the province's only nuclear power plant in an attempt to thwart Premier Pauline Marois's plan to shut it down.

The CAQ's critic for the natural resources portfolio, François Bonnardel, said Monday he's ready to submit a motion to Quebec's national assembly calling for committee hearings if the government doesn't order them.

The PQ government, with only a minority of seats in the legislature, might have no choice. The Liberals have also denounced the decision to close the Gentilly-2 nuclear reactor in Bécancour, near Trois-Rivières.

The nuclear plant's operating licence runs out at the end of December. The former Liberal government had planned to spend $2 billion to refurbish the reactor, which would extend its life by up to 30 years. But the PQ has committed to decommissioning it, and made an announcement formalizing that plan last week. 

Liberal MNA Danielle St-Amand, who represents the riding of Trois-Rivières, said her party would support any means to keep the nuclear plant operating, including the CAQ's proposal to hold legislative hearings.

On Monday, St-Amand called for the government to call a meeting within 10 days with local officials and businesses, which mostly want the generating station to stay open.

St-Amand said the meeting would be a quicker, easier way to deal with the issues than setting up legislative hearings.

The union that represents Hydro-Québec employees has also come out strongly against closing down the reactor.

Risk of cost overruns

One issue facing the government is that the actual costs of refurbishing Gentilly-2 could be much steeper than projected. Only two other Candu-6 nuclear reactors have ever been refurbished. The first, New Brunswick's Point Lepreau generating station, was supposed to take 18 months but suffered three years of delays and more than $1 billion in cost overruns, and still isn't back online.

There are also concerns about the health effects of the Quebec reactor. The recently premiered film Gentilly Or Not To Be cites data from the Mauricie and Central Quebec public-health authority showing an increase in tumours in people under age 20 living in Cap-de-la-Madeleine, a Trois-Rivières community 13 kilometres upriver from the nuclear plant.

The vast majority of Quebec's electricity, nearly 95 per cent, comes from hydro power. Gentilly-2 has an output of 635 megawatts — about 1.5 per cent of Quebec's total capacity — and generates around three per cent of the province's electricity.

With files from CBC News