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The Point Lepreau refurbishment project was supposed to finish in September 2009, it is now expected to wrap up in the fall of 2012.

NB Power has finished reloading fuel at the Point Lepreau nuclear generating station as part of the facility’s refurbishment.

Officials are calling the successful manual loading of 4,560 new fuel bundles a "milestone" and say they are on track to restart the reactor by the fall after three years of delays.

The power utility will need the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s approval before restarting the reactor.

"Until the CNSC authorizes the restart of the reactor, it will remain in a safe shutdown state while NB Power completes commissioning and testing activities," the utility states in a release.

The next major return-to-service activity is a test of the primary heat transport (PHT) system to confirm the tightness and integrity of the components, according to officials.

Once confirmed, the next step will be to fill the PHT system with heavy water, which will flow through each fuel channel and pick up the heat released by the fission in the fuel.

The role of the PHT system is to take that heat energy to the boilers where it is used to boil ordinary water to generate steam, which in turn drives the turbine and generates electricity.

The refurbishment project is three years late and more than $1 billion over budget.

NB Power was given permission by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to proceed with reloading fuel at Point Lepreau on March 22.

Point Lepreau is expected to produce more than one-third of New Brunswick’s in-province energy requirements, according to the utility.

It is expected to produce safe and reliable power for the next 25 to 30 years, officials say.