An Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd official said he could offer no insight into why the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station’s refurbishment project had so many problems and took three times longer to finish, despite repeated questions on the subject during Energy and Utilities Board hearings on Monday.

"My involvement was fairly peripherally," said Douglas Rodgers, director of AECL's fuel channels division.

Rodgers was called as a witness to endorse NB Power's argument to the board that a rebuilt Point Lepreau should run for 210,000 hours at full power now that it's back online.

But lawyers for the public and the board seemed just as interested in explanations of why the refurbishment itself went so badly.

"Are you able to offer any comment as to why the refurbishment was behind approximately three years and how this relates to the design of the reactor," asked Ellen Desmond, an EUB lawyer.

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An AECL official was asked during a regulatory hearing on Monday to explain why the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station's refurbishment was over budget and three years behind schedule. (CBC)

John Furey, a lawyer for NB Power, quickly objected to Desmond’s question to Rodgers.

"Mr. Chairman, that is clearly a question outside the scope of this hearing and it’s not a fair question," said Furey, who unsuccessfully tried to stop questions about the refurbishment from Desmond and René Basque, the public intervener.

Raymond Gorman, the EUB’s chairman, allowed the inquiries. But Rodgers said he had no explanations in any event, noting he was in AECL's research and development division, not the engineering branch that actually performed the refurbishment.

Rodgers told the hearing he did not know much at all about his organization's troubles, including that a second AECL refurbishment on a Candu-6 reactor in South Korea had also gone overtime and over budget.

The public intervener said he was frustrated Rodgers could only testify about Point Lepreau's expected lifespan.

"So far I have had an answer regarding 210,000 hours," an exasperated Basque told the hearing.

"It is the only evidence this gentleman has given me other than 'I don't know.'"

Although a witness for NB Power, Rodgers testimony about Point Lepreau's likely lifespan differed somewhat from the utility's statements.

He said the plant is designed to run for 210,000 hours over a 30-year period while NB Power has outlined a plan to run Point Lepreau more aggressively, reaching 210,000 hours of operation over 27 years. 

Rodgers said both are feasible, but said AECL's design target calls for slower operation over the longer 30-year period.

The EUB hearings are being held in Saint John to determine how NB Power will back the money in the $1-billion deferral account, which was accumulated while the nuclear reactor was being refurbished.