Point Lepreau restart may be ahead of schedule

NB Power officials are refusing to confirm whether the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station's refurbishment is finally ahead of its revised schedule.

Premier David Alward, NB Power officials remain tight-lipped

The Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station may start ahead of schedule. However, NB Power officials will not confirm whether the project is ahead of its revised schedule. (CBC)

The Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station’s refurbishment project is in the homestretch and is starting to hit some of its deadlines earlier than expected. 

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

NB Power is now getting some positive reports about the refurbishment project’s restart timeline. However, the Crown corporation and the provincial government are refusing to talk about it publicly.

Point Lepreau is not scheduled to be running at full power until the end of September, but there have been signs for months that it could happen earlier.

When asked about Point Lepreau’s plans to start up again, Premier David Alward would say only on Wednesday the refurbishment project will be done when it’s done.

Alward’s guarded response is in keeping with the answers given by the NB Power officials.

Last  December, Rod Eagles, the refurbishment director at NB Power, downplayed a possible summer restart during meetings with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission in Saint John.

At the time of those meetings, the refurbishment project was running weeks ahead of its revised schedule.

And then last month, the CNSC’s Ronald Barriault asked NB Power’s Paul Thompson about rumours the project was ahead of schedule.

But Thompson offered a non-committal answer.

"We are progressing well and we expect to be back online within that original predicted date of 2012. But again until it’s finished I'm not going to hedge on what that date is going to be," Thompson said.

Early delays

NB Power and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. teamed up on the refurbishment project in 2005. It was the first time AECL had refurbished a Candu-6 reactor.

It ran into a series of delays that caused the refurbishment project to pass its original 2009 restart date.

The main reason for the delay was the installation of the reactor’s calandria tubes.

All 380 new tubes were inserted in the reactor between December 2009 and April 2010. But dozens of the tubes failed air tightness tests after being fused with special inserts designed to hold them in place.

The tubes, which are about six metres long and 13 centimetres in diameter, contain the reactor's fuel channels and fuel bundles.

The calandria tubes were the first major pieces of equipment to be installed in the reactor as part of the refurbishment.

In 2011, AECL finished the refurbishment of a Candu-6 reactor in Wolsong, South Korea, a project that was started after Point Lepreau.

Earlier in 2012, NB Power and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. started legal action against an insurance company for $524 million to help cover some of the costs related to the delayed refurbishment.

NB Power is seeking $320 million in damages and AECL is after $204 million in damages.

NB Power and AECL allege that their insurance policy with Lloyd's of London covers the reactor tubes that were damaged during the rebuild.

NB Power and AECL also claim that the insurer should pay for hundreds of millions of dollars in extra costs caused by delays.

The insurance company denied a previous claim by NB Power and AECL last year.

NB Power's decision to seek funds from the insurance company is separate from the provincial government's ongoing attempt to get the federal government to cover the cost overruns.