New Brunswick

Hydro-Québec learned from Point Lepreau's mistakes

Hydro-Québec cited the delays and cost overruns with the Point Lepreau reburbishment project as a reason for closing its own nuclear reactor.

Quebec's Gentilly-2 reactor will be closed instead of refurbished

Point Lepreau lessons

10 years ago
Duration 1:57
Hydro-Quebec pointed to problems with the Point Lepreau refurbishment project in its decision to close its Gentilly-2 reactor

Quebec’s decision to shut down its only nuclear generating station comes as New Brunswick's Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station is preparing to come back online after three years of delays and more than $1 billion in extra costs.

When the New Brunswick government announced the nuclear refurbishment project in 2005, it had predicted that Point Lepreau would become an example to other nuclear power plant operators around the world to follow suit.

Instead, the Quebec government pointed to the shortcomings of the New Brunswick nuclear refurbishment project in its decision to close and decommission the Gentilly-2 reactor, which is located in Bécancour, across the St. Lawrence River from Trois-Rivières.

Hydro-Québec will close the Gentilly-2 nuclear reactor by the end of 2012. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

"Refurbishing the Gentilly-2 reactor isn't an economically viable option for Quebecers. We have to learn from the example of the cost overruns during the refurbishment of the reactor at Point Lepreau, New Brunswick," Natural Resources Minister Martine Ouellet said in a release.

Hydro-Québec estimates the Gentilly-2 refurbishment would cost $4.3 billion. Instead, it will spend $1.8 billion to dismantle the reactor over the next 50 years.

Thierry Vandal, the president of Hydro-Québec, said the Point Lepreau project has proven nuclear refurbishment is too risky and expensive. Even though the Quebec utility has already spent $900 million on its own refurbishment project, Vandal said the reactor will be shut down.

"The best option by far is to proceed with closure of the plant by the end of the year," Vandal said this week.

Vandal said it has become clear that refurbishment projects are easily beset by missed deadlines and blown budgets.

The Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station's refurbishment is three years late and $1 billion over budget. (Canadian Press)

The Point Lepreau refurbishment ran into problems, particularly around the installation of the calandria tubes, the pipes that pass through the reactor core and contain the fuel channels and uranium fuel bundles.

NB Power's nuclear reactor, which was originally intended to come back online in September 2009 after an investment of $1.4 billion, has missed five restart dates. It is now expected to restart this fall.

Hydro-Québec is quite familiar with the Point Lepreau refurbishment project.

Hydro-Québec offered to buy Atlantic Canada's only nuclear reactor during former premier Shawn Graham's failed attempt to sell NB Power.

However, the Quebec power company would only pay an amount equal to the original refurbishment estimate of $1.4 billion — and only if the rebuilt reactor worked. Hydro-Québec’s conditions suggest it had refurbishment concerns back in 2009 and 2010.

But Vandal's latest assessment that a refurbishment project is a bad deal for Quebec stands in contrast to the views of Craig Leonard, who will become New Brunswick’s full-time energy minister next week.

"There simply is not another option out there at this low a cost. So over the long term, it's still a very good facility for New Brunswick," he said.

Hydro-Québec is not the first utility to learn from mistakes made at Point Lepreau.

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. started another refurbishment project in Wolsong, South Korea, after the Point Lepreau refurbishment began.

AECL finished the Wolsong refurbishment in 2011.