New Brunswick

Point Lepreau operating at reduced capacity

New Brunswick's trouble-plagued Point Lepreau nuclear station is being forced to operate at reduced power for several weeks as NB Power scrambles to find spare parts to deal with another breakdown in the plant's non-nuclear equipment.

Breakdown occurred in non-nuclear equipment as plant itself wasn't refurbished along with reactor

Nearly three years after a major and very expensive refurbishment, the Point Lepreau nuclear plant is still operating below capacity. The latest trouble has been traced to non-nuclear equipment that wasn't replaced during the last rebuild. And as Robert Jones reports, the result is more delays and more expense for NB Power. 1:52

New Brunswick's trouble-plagued Point Lepreau nuclear station is being forced to operate at reduced power for several weeks as NB Power scrambles to find spare parts to deal with another breakdown in the plant's non-nuclear equipment.

"We are confident this is just a small problem," said NB Power President Gaetan Thomas early Monday. "These are normal in the first few years of a restart."

Point Lepreau is now operating at between 75 per cent and 85 per cent of capacity while waiting for replacement parts to be found to repair a non-nuclear part of the plant. (CBC)
NB Power announced  in a news release May 28 it was taking Lepreau offline "to facilitate testing and analysis of the turbine system," but those tests turned up problems in one of two "reheaters" that cannot be immediately fixed.

Lepreau quietly went back online Friday evening after an eight-day evaluation of the problem but can now operate at only between 75 per cent and 85 per cent power until replacement parts are acquired. Lepreau will then have to be shut down again for those parts to be installed, according to Thomas.

"It could be a few weeks from now — four to six weeks. We need to obviously get some spares and plan the outage effectively so we don't know yet at this stage when that will be."

N.B. Power president Gaetan Thomas says it will probably be four to six weeks before NB Power can carry out repairs at Point Lepreau on some non-nuclear equipment. (CBC)
It's the plant's second shutdown in the last three months and one of several since it came back online from a $1.4 billion,  four-and-a-half-year renovation in November 2012.

NB Power had originally budgeted 117 days of lost production to unexpected events and ongoing maintenance at Lepreau during its first three and a half years of operation to the end of March 2016. Instead, a series of problems has led to over 220 lost days. Running at reduced power for several weeks and then shutting down to repair the reheater will add significantly to that total.

Nuclear critic Chris Rouse of the Canadian energy watchdog group New Clear Free Solutions says although the reactor was refurbished, the rest of the plant was not and that is causing more problems than NB Power expected.

We got a 30- or 35-year-old plant and we can't expect it to operate like a new one.- Chris Rouse, New Clear Free Soluctions energy watchdog group

"We didn't get a new plant. We got a 30- or 35-year-old plant and we can't expect it to operate like a new one," said Rouse, who is a registered intervenor in NB Power's upcoming rate hearing before the Energy and Utilities Board.

"I don't see it getting any better."

Thomas does acknowledge there are aging problems with Lepreau's non-nuclear generating equipment.

"It was the conventional plant that was not refurbished. We will continue to invest over the next few years to bring it up to par,"  he said.

NB Power begins a rate hearing in front of the Energy and Utilities Board next week and has asked for a 2 per cent increase to meet its financial targets. But those targets were partly based on Lepreau operating at 96 per cent efficiency this year, a level it cannot reach.

NB Power says every day of lost production at Lepreau costs about $1 million but has previously announced it will not be asking for a higher rate increase because of Lepreau's problems.

About the Author

Robert Jones

Reporter

Robert Jones has been a reporter and producer with CBC New Brunswick since 1990. His investigative reports on petroleum pricing in New Brunswick won several regional and national awards and led to the adoption of price regulation in 2006.

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