The Point Lepreau nuclear generating station is scheduled to commence service at the end of the month, NB Power confirmed in filings Tuesday.

That start date hasn't changed in two years, even though crews finished most key jobs at Lepreau months earlier than expected.

It's raising questions about what's taking so long and whether Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. is being wrongly blamed for three years of delays and $1 billion in cost overruns.

"We believe that AECL could not deliver what they promised to deliver," Premier David Alward said last month.

However, there's evidence that NB Power caused delays of its own, including the commissioning of Lepreau, which is underway now.

Behind schedule

Three years ago, Gaetan Thomas, NB Power’s then-vice president, made it clear that three months of the refurbishment schedule was devoted to putting the plant back in service, following what was supposed to be a 13-month complete tear down and rebuild of the reactor itself.

Commissioning is largely a responsibility of NB Power, and according to the original schedule, the three-month period was supposed to start on July 1, 2009 with reactor refuelling, then end Sept. 30 when the plant was to come back online.

"We're ready.  As soon as we get the word we're going to load this fuel channel and start the refuelling process," said Chris Baker for NB Power back in March.

Refuelling actually started on March 28 this year, as NB Power crews unpacked a case of nuclear fuel bundles and began loading them into the reactor.

It was the official start of the three-month refuelling and commissioning stage outlined in the original schedule, except that was nearly six months ago, with the reactor still not in service.

Lepreau is 36 months behind its original schedule and three months have been lost since March in the refuelling and commissioning phase — an $80 or $90 million part of the overall delay that can't be put on AECL or its replacement Candu Energy.

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. was sold by the federal government last year to engineering giant SNC Lavalin, but Ottawa has said it will honour all of the company's contractual obligations on Lepreau, although those did not include guarantees the job would finish on time.