New Brunswick

Point Lepreau restart challenged over earthquake fears

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is considering NB Power's application for a new five-year operating licence for Point Lepreau, though several groups attended the hearings to oppose the licence.
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is considering NB Power's application for a new five-year operating licence for Point Lepreau, though several groups attended public hearings held this week to oppose the licence.
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is holding public hearings this week before it decides on NB Power's application for a Point Lepreau restart. (CBC)

Security was tight — bag searches and armed police greeted the public as the hearings into whether the Point Lepreau nuclear plant should be allowed to restart next spring, following a troubled four-year renovation.

The commission's expert staff led off with a lengthy presentation and said they could find no reason why Lepreau should not be restarted next spring.

"CNSC Staff recommend that the commission issue the proposed operating licence with an expiry date of June 30, 2017," said Ramzi Jammal, executive vice president of the commission.

"New Brunswick Power is qualified to operate Point Lepreau, and to make adequate provisions for the health and safety of persons, protection of the environment and maintenance of national security," said Greg Rzentkowski, director general of power reactor regulation at the commission.

NB Power refurbishment director Rod Eagles said he welcomed the endorsement.

"Obviously we believe that to be an appropriate decision for the commission."

Earthquake fears

But several groups were on hand to oppose Lepreau restarting, including the NB Conservation Council, which says the plant can't be licensed because it doesn't meet new nuclear earthquake standards adopted after the disaster in Japan.

"It's very clear the kind of earthquake they require it to be protected against —  that could cause damage to the core of the nuclear reactor it does not meet that standard," said David Coon, executive director of the council.

"We know we can't build up Japan-sized earthquakes with any sort of frequency within the middle of a plate," said geological expert John Adams.

Adams was called to explain the earthquake risk and said the risk of large events in the area is extremely low, but not low enough according to opponents who plan to produce their own expert and challenge the Lepreau licence later in the hearing on the earthquake risk issue.

"The Japanese nuclear incident is often mentioned," said Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission president Michael Binder.

Binder began the hearings by pointing out many interveners raised the possibility of a second Fukishima in their written submissions.
The Point Lepreau power plant was taken offline in 2008. (CBC)

He earlier asked Natural Resources Canada and the provincial government to make their own presentations on the matter.

"Point Lepreau Generating Station is not located in a subduction tectonic plate boundary, as is the case in Japan," said Wade Parker, station director at Point Lepreau.

Ken Burke a seismologist hired by the Conservation Council of New Brunswick pointed to Passamaquoddy Bay, where a 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck somewhere in the area in 1904.

He said the next major quake for southern New Brunswick would likely happen in the same place.

"It could happen tomorrow. It could not happen for 100 years. We seismologists don't have that kind of capability today. We can't predict earthquakes," Burke said.

He recommended more study.

Burke said that the likelihood of a major earthquake at Lepreau is small.