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One of the nuclear turbine rotors destined for Point Lepreau is recovered from the Saint John harbour in 2008. ((CBC))

The manufacturer of two huge turbine rotors that sank in Saint John harbour on their way to NB Power's Point Lepreau nuclear generating station in 2008 is suing J.D. Irving Ltd. and three other companies for $40 million in damages.

In a statement of claim filed in Ontario court, Siemens Canada Ltd. accuses J.D. Irving of gross negligence, recklessness and breach of contract "for the provision of a safe and reliable handling and transportation plan."

BMT Marine and Offshore Surveys Ltd. of Montreal, Maritime Marine Consultants Inc. of Saint John, and Superport Marine Services Ltd. of Port Hawkesbury, N.S., are also named as defendants. The allegations have not been proven in court.

Rotors fell off barge

On Oct. 15, 2008, the rotors, which each weigh about 115 tonnes, and measure 7.8 metres by 4.1 metres, were to be transported by barge from Saint John to Point Lepreau as part of the nuclear plant's $1.4-billion refurbishment.

'The stability calculations done in this transportation plan were wrong. The centre of gravity calculations were wrong.'— Jonathan Lisus, Siemens lawyer

Irving Equipment, a division of J.D. Irving, had been contracted to do the work.

An Irving vehicle successfully transferred one of the rotors onto a barge, but workers failed to secure it, Siemens claims in the 27-page court document.

A second vehicle was transferring the other rotor when the entire load became unstable and toppled off the barge and into the harbour. Both rotors sank about 10 metres to the harbour floor.

An investigation by Transport Canada revealed errors, said Jonathan Lisus, a Toronto lawyer representing Siemens, which is based in Burlington, Ont.

"The stability calculations done in this transportation plan were wrong. The centre of gravity calculations were wrong," he said.

"And as a result, the load — these precision-engineered pieces of equipment — was unstable, when in motion, and ended up at the bottom of the harbour."

Repairs cost $10M

The rotors, which had been manufactured in Germany, were each worth about $10 million, according to Siemens.

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The rotors sustained significant damage, Siemens claims. They have been repaired but will need early replacement. ((CBC))

It took a team of engineers, divers and two cranes four days to recover both of the rotors from what Siemens describes as the "chemically aggressive salt water environment of the harbour."

The rotors sustained "significant" damage from the impact and exposure, including pitting, corrosion, scoring, deformation of the rotating blades and a displaced coupling, the company claims.

It cost about $10 million to repair the two rotors in the United Kingdom, according to Siemens.

And they will need to be replaced after six years, instead of the previously anticipated 30 years, because of "increased susceptibility to the effects of stress corrosion," it claims.

Siemens must manufacture and deliver two new rotors at an estimated cost of $20 million, according to the documents.

In addition, Siemens also claims that Irving has refused to provide information about the nature and cause of the incident, including witness statements, or allow the company to interview any of the people involved.

Irving seeks to limit liability

J.D. Irving's vice-president of communications, Mary Keith, has declined to comment, saying the matter is before the courts.

J.D. Irving has previously filed an application in Federal Court, seeking to limit its liability to $500,000, plus interest, under the Marine Liability Act.

"Siemens assumed the risks associated with the move," the document states.

'Siemens assumed the risks associated with the move.' — J.D. Irving statement

"In any event, the incident and any loss resulting therefrom was not caused by [Irving's] personal act or omission with the intent to cause such loss or recklessly and with [Irving's] knowledge that such loss would probably result."

NB Power officials have declined to comment.

The repaired rotors were safely delivered to Point Lepreau in July 2009.

They are designed to spin faster, generating an additional $15 million worth of power each year.

The Point Lepreau refurbishment began in the spring of 2008, with the reactor originally scheduled to be back up and running by October 2009 but has run into several problems.

NB Power officials say it's unlikely it will return to service before February 2011, with cost overruns estimated at $475 million.

The Point Lepreau project is the world's first refurbishment of a Candu 6 plant. Atomic Energy of Canada Limited had hoped the process would be a model that could be sold to other countries that purchased a Candu 6.

Corrections

  • Siemens is suing for $40 million in damages. A previous version of the story incorrectly suggested the value of the lawsuit was more than $160 million.
    Apr 28, 2010 1:30 PM AT