Atlantic Canada’s only nuclear power plant is offline due to a partial power loss. The most recent shutdown follows a week-long stoppage in August due to equipment issues and planned summer maintenance that went a month longer than expected.
According to operator NB Power, the partial power loss at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station in New Brunswick doesn’t pose a risk to employees, the public or the environment. However, Ann McAllister of the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (CRED-NB) says it shows the unreliability of the “aging” plant and puts the credibility of the operation's recent licence extension into question.
“It's had a history of outages, planned and unplanned, especially since the refurbishment, which was from 2008 to 2012,” she said.
“And these outages are extremely expensive.”
CBC News reports unscheduled outages at Lepreau are priced between $28,500 and $45,700 per hour, depending on variables like the time of year and market conditions. However, NB Power said those are old figures that will be updated in its annual report.
Canada’s National Observer reached out to NB Power for response to the criticism and to ask about the costs but did not receive comment in time for publication. In its release, NB Power says: "Further assessments are underway to perform maintenance required in order to reconnect the station to the grid." The release does not list a date that the reconnection will occur.
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission said it has confirmed with NB Power that the utility "also identified a leak in a small instrument line that is part of the heat transport system at the station. The leakage was contained and managed within the reactor building using NB Power processes and procedures."
Point Lepreau began operating in the 1980s. It is one of only four nuclear power stations in Canada and the only one outside Ontario. Consisting of a heavy-water CANDU reactor, Point Lepreau received a licence extension to operate for 10 more years in June. NB Power initially requested a 25-year renewal.
The renewal came after public hearings where the Passamaquoddy, whose traditional territory includes Point Lepreau, suggested the licence only be extended an additional three years. Chief Hugh Akagi detailed concerns about radioactive waste from the nuclear reactor, which is now stored at the Point Lepreau site but will need to be moved elsewhere, stressing the nation has never given consent for it to be stored on the territory. There is currently no long-term storage plan for waste from the power plant.
The most recent shutdown follows a week-long stoppage in August caused by an equipment issue and planned summer maintenance that went a month longer than expected.
When the plant shuts down due to both unplanned interruptions and planned maintenance, the energy grid reverts to taking power from the coal-fired Belledune Generating Station and purchases more hydropower from Quebec, said McAllister. She stressed the need for New Brunswick to invest in more renewable sources of energy, noting the province’s potential for offshore wind.
As the plant continues to age, reliability will likely worsen, she added.
“The thing is, they’ve always sold it as a reliable source of baseload power … anywhere from 36 to 40 per cent of New Brunswick’s power, but that’s because they’ve never created any alternatives,” she said.
“NB Power seems determined to remain a nuclear utility; they're locked into that mindset… It's just, ‘nuclear is reliable’ even when it's not reliable, and nuclear’s backup is fossil fuels.”