Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station
|Point Lepreau Nuclear
Transmission lines leading to the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station in background at left.
Musquash Parish, New Brunswick
|Status||Operating. Reactivated to full service 23 November 2012 after undergoing Life Extension Project since March 2008.|
|Commission date||1 February 1983|
|Construction cost||C$1.4 billion (1983)|
|Nuclear power station|
|Units operational||1 x 660 MW|
|Nameplate capacity||660 MW|
|2013 gross output||4111 GW·h|
Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station is a nuclear power station located 2 km northeast of Point Lepreau, New Brunswick, Canada. The facility was constructed between 1975-1983 by NB Power, the provincially owned public utility.
The facility derives its name from the nearby headland situated at the easternmost part of Charlotte County, although the generating station itself is located within Saint John County. The generating station is administratively part of the local service district of Musquash, west of the city of Saint John.
The Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station is the only nuclear generating facility located in Atlantic Canada and consists of a single CANDU nuclear reactor located on the northern shore of the Bay of Fundy, having a net capacity of 660 MW (705 MW gross).
Point Lepreau was finished in 1981. It operated until 2008, when it closed for a refurbishment until October 23, 2012, when it was first re-connected to the grid. This is the only operating nuclear reactor in Canada outside Ontario. This was the only CANDU reactor built on the East Coast of Atlantic Canada ; other CANDUs are in Argentina, South Korea, India, Pakistan, Romania and China.
Expansion plans considered
In 2007, Team CANDU, a consortium of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, Babcock & Wilcox Canada, GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy Canada Inc., Hitachi Canada Ltd and SNC-Lavalin Nuclear Limited began a $2.5 million feasibility study regarding the installation of a new 1,100 MWe Advanced CANDU Reactor at Point Lepreau, to supply power to New England. 
In July 2010, the Government of New Brunswick, led at that time by the Liberal Party, signed an agreement with French nuclear manufacturer Areva to study the feasibility of a new light water nuclear plant on the Point Lepreau property. In September 2010 the Progressive Conservative Party gained power and the plan was shelved by the incoming premier shortly after the election.
The construction of a nuclear powered electrical generating station in New Brunswick had been discussed since the late 1950s. For over 15 years, engineers from the New Brunswick Electric Power Commission[note 1] visited AECL's Chalk River Laboratories to keep abreast of the latest trends in the field. Formal talks between the Government of New Brunswick and the Government of Canada began in 1972. Discussions accelerated the next year, in the midst of the 1973 oil crisis, as the provincial government began to seriously consider options for diversifying New Brunswick's electrical generation and reduce its reliance on oil. However, financing the venture was a problem since the province had a limited borrowing capacity.
The borrowing capacity was solved by the federal government in January 1974 with the announcement of a loan program covering half the costs of a first nuclear plant in any province in Canada. Premier Richard Hatfield announced his intention to build a nuclear generating station in New Brunswick on February 5, 1974. Hatfield's Progressive Conservative Party was reelected in that fall's general election, despite misgivings of the nuclear generation plan by part of the population. In March 1975, Hatfield declared on television that the decision was final, and that the reactor would be built regardless of the ongoing environmental assessment process, in a move described by New Brunswick sociologist Ronald Babin as the "nuclear fait accompli policy".
On May 2, 1975, the Atomic Energy Control Board authorized the construction of two 635-MW reactors on a site designed to host four in Point Lepreau, 20 km west of Saint John, New Brunswick's largest city. The New Brunswick Electric Power Commission began the construction of one reactor, with an option for a second one.
At its peak in 1979, the construction project employed 3,500 workers and 108 individual contracts out of 139, were granted to local businesses. Point Lepreau was licensed for operation on July 21, 1982, achieved criticality four days later and began commercial operations on February 1, 1983.
Tense labour relations on the worksite and skyrocketing construction costs, a common trait among large infrastructure projects built in that period, tripled the early forecasts. The estimated price tag of C$466 million in 1974 increased to C$684 two years later and to C$895 in 1978. At the time of its commissioning in 1983, the total cost was estimated at C$1.4 billion, excluding interest charges.
The Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station achieved record levels of availability with a 10-year average of 93.11% and generated over 5,000 GWh/year of energy on a sustained basis for its first decade of operations. However, numerous problems started to surface in the mid to late 1990s, due to poor maintenance and low investment. In mid-January 1997, a leak in the reactor core forced a third shutdown in 2 years. The 75-day stoppage was caused by an unlocked feeder pipe. The human error cost C$40 million in repairs and C$450,000/day to purchase replacement power from Quebec.
In 1990, assistant plant operator Daniel George Maston was charged after he took a sample of heavy water, contaminated with tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, from the moderator system and loaded it into a cafeteria drink dispenser. Eight employees drank some of the contaminated water. One individual who was engaged in heat stress work, requiring alternating work, rest, and re-hydration periods consumed significantly more than the others. The incident was discovered when employees began leaving bio-assay urine samples with elevated tritium levels, one with particularly unusually high levels. The quantities involved were well below levels which could induce heavy water toxicity, but several employees received elevated radiation doses from the tritium and activated chemicals in the water. It is believed that Maston intended the exposure to be a practical joke, whereby the affected employees would be required to give urine samples daily for an extended length of time.
In 1995, a plywood cover was left in the boiler after completion of a maintenance outage. When the heat transport pumps were restarted, the cover was sucked into the heat transport system where it caused catastrophic damage to one of the pumps. The cause of the incident was lack of control of temporary modifications, poor work management, lack of foreign material exclusion (FME) measures, and human error. There was no public safety significance to the event, since the reactor had been shut down long enough that decay heat power was below the level that required coolant flow. However, the breach of the pressure boundary at the damaged pump created a radiation hazard for workers, and debris in feeders, fuel channels and potentially other Heat Transport and Auxiliaries pipework could have created a significant safety hazard during at-power operation. The cost of pump repairs, and the production downtime caused by the incident and its cleanup, was significant. The incident also left wood and metal debris unrecoverable in the cooling system. Maintenance incidents at Lepreau in 1995 cost the facility more than $50 million in repairs and replacement power.
In 2011 a spill of heavy water in the reactor building triggered a radiation alert and evacuation. NB Power stated that the event did not pose significant impact to the public or environment. This was the first time the reactor building had ever been evacuated.
2008-2012 refurbishment project
Point Lepreau's CANDU-6 reactor was designed to last 25 years and was scheduled to be mothballed by 2008. Public debate on the future of the plant began as early as 2000. At the time, NB Power estimated the refurbishment cost at C$750 million.
In 2002, NB Power, with support from the Government and opposition, pushed for refurbishment. However, the New Brunswick Energy and Utilities Board ruled that "there is no significant economic advantage to the proposed refurbishment" of Point Lepreau and that "it is not in the public interest".
In April 2004, a report authored by former British Energy chairman Robin Jeffrey estimated the plant's refurbishment would cost $1.36 billion instead of the C$935 million figure quoted at the time by the provincial utility. Jeffrey's report made no recommendations on whether to undertake the plant's overhaul or not but advised New Brunswick decision makers to seek competitive bids for new fossil-fuel fired generation capacity.
Despite being denied a federal grant to fund the project, NB Power announced on July 29, 2005 that it was awarding Atomic Energy of Canada Limited a $1.4 billion (CAD) contract for refurbishing the generating station.
The refurbishment of the power station began on March 28, 2008 and was originally scheduled to last 18 months with AECL as the lead contractor on the project. But the operation was marred by technical glitches, delays and incidents. For instance, two 115-tonne turbine rotors, (not part of the AECL contract) worth C$10 million each, toppled a barge in Saint John Harbour while being transported to the plant on October 15, 2008. The part manufacturer, Siemens Canada Ltd., eventually sued four companies in an Ontario court, including J. D. Irving Ltd., for "gross negligence" in the incident.
Estimates for the reopening of the plant had been revised several times. In January 2009, a 3-month delay was announced because of problems with the robotic equipment used to remove pressure tubes. A second, 4-month delay was announced in July of the same year. In October 2009, New Brunswick minister of Energy, Jack Keir, announced a tentative reopening by February 2011 and asked for federal money to cope with the unexpected cost of purchased power to replace the power ordinarily generated by the plant. The situation is compounded by the strategic importance of the plant in NB Power supply plans, since Point Lepreau provides 4 TWh/year or between 25 and 30% of the provincial output.
A few weeks later it was announced on October 29, 2009 that the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station would be one of the assets that were to be included in the proposed sale of NB Power to Hydro-Québec. On March 24, 2010 Premier Shawn Graham announced that the proposed sale had fallen through, citing Hydro-Québec's "concerns about unanticipated costs". Graham's announcement was contested by analysts who blamed the collapse of the deal on the difficult political situation in New Brunswick, six months before a scheduled provincial election.
According to leaked internal documents, the proposed sale of NB Power and a proposed post-refurbishment staff reorganization of the company had a negative impact on workers' morale at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station and was becoming a safety concern. Over 600 workplace injuries occurred at Point Lepreau between January 2009 and June 2010, including 7 "lost time", 13 "restricted work" injuries and 32 incidents requiring medical aid. According to the internal reports, delays were costing NB Power C$33 million a month: "C$11 in capital costs and C$22 million for replacement power and interest".
On October 9, 2010, NB Power announced that AECL would have to remove all 380 calandria tubes from the reactor and reinstall them a second time, an operation which took a year earlier in the refurbishment program. The calandria tubes, roughly 7 m (23 ft) and 13 cm (5.1 in), hold the pressure tubes fueling the reactor. According to an internal report dated June 30, 2010, the problem "is likely the result of damage to the tube sheet bores caused by the cleaning operation in a previous work series". According to an October 2010 estimate, the generating station was scheduled to be back on stream in the fall of 2012, three years later than first expected.
First re-connected to the grid on October 23, 2012, on November 23, 2012 Point Lepreau restarted commercial power production. Final refurbishment costs, $3.3 billion.
- The company was renamed Énergie NB Power in the 1970s.
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