NB Power is facing tough questioning at the Energy and Utilities Board over the possibility the refurbished Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station may not perform as well as the utility has been claiming.

Rene Basque, the public intervener, and the EUB itself have asked NB Power to answer several dozen questions about the nuclear reactor, many about NB Power's claim it is likely to operate trouble free for 27 years once it begins operation. 

The questions have been submitted in advance of a Dec. 11 hearing about Point Lepreau in front of the regulatory board.

"Has NB Power assessed the ramifications ... of an unexpected early permanent shutdown of the Point Lepreau Generating Station," Basque asked in a written question to NB Power.

'The deferral account is supposed to be paid off over the life of the plant so it matters what the life of the plant is.' — David Young, EUB

"If so, please provide that assessment. If not, please comment on this possibility."

The utility needs the EUB to approve a lifespan for Point Lepreau so a long-term payment schedule for its $2.4-billion construction cost can be worked out. 

A 27-year payback period would allow NB Power to charge less for power Point Lepreau produces than if the EUB finds the plant is unlikely to last that long.

"The deferral account is supposed to be paid off over the life of the plant so it matters what the life of the plant is," said David Young, a spokesman for the regulator.

The EUB has asked to see numerous documents related to the refurbishment, some NB Power has kept confidential for years, including any warrantees the utility negotiated with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. to protect itself from an early failure of the plant.

"Please file a copy of all agreements between NB Power and AECL related to the Point Lepreau Refurbishment, including the Performance Agreement," the board has asked.


The Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station is three years behind schedule and more than $1 billion over budget. (CBC)

For his part Basque asked NB Power to turn over all work it has done assessing the possibility of poor performance, including the possibility the reactor won't last past five years.

In an interview with the CBC, Basque said given how problems plagued the refurbishment itself — pushing the job three years late and a billion dollars over budget — it only makes sense to question whether Point Lepreau can operate as long as NB Power is claiming.

"That is fuelling our insistence on getting the right number down and trying to make sure that when we evaluate the rate setting for the future that it's realistic."

NB Power has filed evidence with the regulatory board showing that it expects Point Lepreau to operate for 210,000 "effective full power hours" over 27 years. 

That's virtually the same estimate it gave for the brand new Point Lepreau when it went into service in 1983. 

However, the plant suffered numerous design, maintenance and operational problems and fell more than 26,000 hours short of its budgeted output before being shut for refurbishment. 

That forced NB Power to absorb $450 million in debt the plant couldn't repay which still burdens the utility's balance sheet.

The utility is required to respond to all written questions about Point Lepreau next week.