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Any further delay of the Point Lepreau refurbishment could jeopardize a campaign promise to freeze power rates made by the incoming Progressive Conservative government.

NB Power has announced that Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. will have to start over with one of the most important parts of the refurbishment of the Point Lepreau nuclear plant.

The federal Crown corporation is going to remove all 380 calandria tubes to reinstall and reseal them, which could further delay the completion of a project that is already more than a year behind schedule.

It has been estimated that NB Power will have to pay $1 million a day to purchase replacement power while the reactor is not in service.

"Project staff are proceeding with the removal of all 380 calandria tubes," said an NB Power statement that was released at 5 p.m. AT Friday, as New Brunswickers prepared for the three-day Thanksgiving weekend.

"We do not have specific details from AECL on how it will impact the overall timeline of the project. In our continued efforts to be open and transparent with our employees and customers, we are releasing this information to you now as this is currently happening and will provide you with more detailed information as it becomes available later next week."

The calandria tubes are made to house smaller nuclear pressure tubes, which in turn contain radioactive nuclear fuel bundles.

Originally scheduled for 2009 finish

They were the first major piece of equipment to be installed in the reactor as part of the much-delayed refurbishment of the 27-year-old generating station in southern New Brunswick.

The refurbishment, which began on March 28, 2008, is expected to extend the generating station's life by 25 to 30 years. It was supposed to be completed by September 2009.

Before Friday's announcement, the $1.4-billion refurbishment was already hundreds of millions of dollars over budget.

The most optimistic recent forecasts estimate the refurbishment will be completed by October 2011, and NB Power will need until February 2012 to get the power plant to begin generating electricity again.

The removal of the original calandria tubes took AECL one year.

With the delays, the incoming Progressive Conservatives will be in charge of a refurbishment deal they signed up for in 2005, when they were led by Bernard Lord. 

The newest delay could be a problem for David Alward, the incoming premier, who takes power Oct. 12. He promised a three-year freeze on power rates, which was calculated on the assumption the reactor would be operational in February.

NB Power predicted in April that power rates would rise an additional three per cent next year because of the refurbishment cost overruns.

The delay also causes problems for electricity users on P.E.I., where Maritime Electric buys about 20 per cent of its energy from the New Brunswick plant.

Buying replacement energy will have cost the island utility an estimated $50 million by 2011.