New Brunswick

AECL reactor work to be probed by N.B.

New Brunswick Energy Minister Craig Leonard will investigate why Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. continued to install hundreds of calandria tubes in the Point Lepreau nuclear reactor after problems were discovered.

New Brunswick Energy Minister Craig Leonard will investigate why Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. continued to install hundreds of calandria tubes in the Point Lepreau nuclear reactor after problems were discovered.

The $1.4-billion refurbishment project at the nuclear generating station is three years behind schedule and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget.

AECL admitted further delays in October, saying it had to pull out the 380 calandria tubes it had installed because many of them failed air-tightness tests.

Atlantic Canada's only nuclear reactor was supposed to be returned to service in September 2009, but it is now delayed until fall 2012.

Leonard said he's not sure why most of the 380 calandria tubes were installed long after leaks were known, but added that he intends to find out.

"We will definitely be looking at it in terms of negotiating a settlement with the [federal] government," he said in an interview on Monday. "We will have to look at it. I haven't yet," .

The tubes — made to house smaller nuclear pressure tubes, which in turn contain radioactive nuclear fuel bundles — were the first major pieces of equipment to be installed in the reactor as part of Point Lepreau's much delayed refurbishment.

Fail leak tests

Refurbishment documents show those failed leak tests, were well under way after the first 20 of the faulty tubes were installed early last February, an early alarm that might have saved the project months of delays and millions of dollars if work had been halted when the first leaks showed themselves.

It is estimated NB Power spends roughly $1 million a day to purchase replacement fuel for each day the nuclear reactor is delayed.

The former Liberal government had threatened to take the federal government to court to get some financial relief related to the refurbishment project's cost overruns.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly stated Ottawa would abide by the contractual obligations when it comes to paying for any delays at the reactor.

When AECL and the New Brunswick government announced the refurbishment and retubing contracts in 2005, those new agreements included penalty clauses if the project were to run behind schedule.

The penalty clauses do not cover all the costs associated with the mounting delays. Before the refurbishment project began, NB Power took out insurance to help cover any unexpected costs.