Point Lepreau reactor hit by unexpected shutdown

NB Power says the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station is shutting down on Thursday to deal with a malfunctioning refuelling machine.

NB Power confirms reactor will be down for likely 2 weeks because of a new refuelling problem

NB Power says the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station is shutting down on Thursday to deal with a malfunctioning refuelling machine. (CBC)

A new refuelling problem at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station is forcing the reactor into an unscheduled late winter shutdown this week, all but ensuring the facility will miss its annual production target for the third year in a row.

"We're investigating what caused it," said NB Power spokesperson Deborah Nobes. 

"They're going to shut it down. It will last approximately two weeks."

She said there are no safety issues associated with the problem.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which was notified by NB Power on Wednesday about the pending shutdown, also issued a statement, saying the maintenance work "has no impact on nuclear safety."

The repairs to the fuelling machine will, however, be discussed at the commission's next public meeting on March 25, the statement said.

The shutdown, slated to begin Thursday at 10 p.m., is the first setback at the nuclear plant in more than eight months and comes at an expensive time of the year for NB Power with its customers still using electricity to heat their homes and peak hydro production from the utility's river dams still weeks away.     

That puts a premium on the price of finding or generating replacement power for the nuclear plant, which NB Power generally budgets to cost just above $1 million per day.

Last March, when Point Lepreau was operating at full power, it supplied 45 per cent of NB Power's entire production for the month.

According to reports from inside the plant, a machine used to remove spent fuel from the reactor became stuck during operations and has resisted attempts to free it.

The shutdown is required to deal with the problem. Although NB Power is hoping it can be fixed quickly, the issue has never been encountered at the plant before.

The refuelling issue is the latest in a series of problems at Point Lepreau, both large and small, that have caused it to miss budgeted production targets in each of its first three fiscal years since it was refurbished.

This year, the utility had budgeted for 67 down days, including 45 days for maintenance activities last spring and 22 days for unexpected problems, but those were all used last summer when the maintenance shut down went two weeks over schedule.

About the Author

Robert Jones

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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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