A group of specialized nuclear engineers at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station said Wednesday morning they are prepared to strike.

The union representing the engineers said they're in strike position because of disagreements with SNC-Lavalin Group, which purchased Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. last year.

The restructured company is now called Candu Energy Inc. and is the primary contractor for the refurbishment project. The Candu Energy Inc. employees are now in a strike position.

According to the latest updates from NB Power, New Brunswick's only nuclear reactor is finally within months of starting up again.

Peter White, president of the Society of Professional Engineers and Associates said his group, which plays a key role in certifying the plant is operating safely, is frustrated.

"We can give 72 hours notice and be on the picket line," White said.

"We met with our members last night who are extremely frustrated."

"They need to show the plant operates in the way the safety analysis intended it to. So they need to take measurements, which they are going to do. They're going to make zero power cold measurements, which will show that the plant is functioning the way it intended it to. Then they will have to have confidence that as they go up in power, nothing changes," said White.

Michelle Duncan, a union spokesperson, said since the federal government sold Atomic Energy of Canada Limited to SNC-Lavalin, there's been an exodus of Canadian nuclear specialists.

She said it's bad for New Brunswick and the country.

"Your taxpayers have waited very patiently and are paying very dearly for the refurbishment of Point Lepreau. Our members have worked hard to make that happen and are the brain-trust of that reactor," Duncan said.

The union said their member play a critical role in managing safety and New Brunswickers should be concerned the strike could happen at what they call a critical time in the power plant's re-commissioning.

The federal regulator says the power plant will not be allowed to restart unless the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is satisfied with the quality of reporting it receives from NB Power.

It said a strike or a lockout affecting the people who contribute to those reports could cause more delays.

CBC News made several attempts to contact officials at NB Power for some reaction Wednesday but calls and emails were not returned.

Ottawa to keep liabilities

In New Brunswick, the Opposition Liberals said in June that the possible sale of AECL could have major repercussions for the province as it grapples with cost overruns at its Point Lepreau nuclear power plant.

The provincial Tory government has been looking to Ottawa to cover roughly $1 billion in additional costs incurred during the Lepreau refurbishment, which is being overseen by AECL.

Ottawa said last June it will retain responsibility for liabilities related both to Point Lepreau and the Bruce power station in Ontario, which is also being refurbished but is three years behind schedule and at least $2 billion over budget.

AECL has been struggling to modernize its technology to keep up with rivals Areva, Westinghouse, Hitachi and others.

The company lost $800 million last year, and has not sold a new reactor since the 1990s. However, some reports said AECL's business was hindered by a cap on new contracts that the government had ordered during the sale process, to avoid having the company burdened with new liabilities.

Corrections

  • This story has been edited. An earlier version indicated SNC-Lavalin purchased the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station. SNC-Lavalin purchased Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., which is the primary contractor for the reactor's refurbishment.
    Sep 13, 2013 3:24 AM AT