NUCLEAR: Point Lepreau nuclear plant gets 5-year licence

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Inadequate firefighting skills, inadequate earthquake risk assessment, no long-term waste disposal plan, “unsettling” leaks. This opening may be the news of the decade for the Bay of Fundy.

New Brunswick facility must improve firefighting, conduct earthquake risk assessments

CBC News  Posted: Feb 17, 2012 7:04 PM AT Last Updated: Feb 17, 2012 7:01 PM AT
The Point Lepreau power plant was taken offline in 2008.
The Point Lepreau power plant was taken offline in 2008.(CBC)

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has given NB Power clearance to refuel and restart the Point Lepreau nuclear generating station later this year.

The commission has also granted Lepreau a five-year operating licence, but attached two conditions in its decision, released Friday.

NB Power must improve Lepreau’s firefighting capability, which the commission called substandard, and conduct updated earthquake risk assessment testing around the plant using modern techniques.

“NBPN’s [NB Power Nuclear] fire protection program is currently below expectations and requires improvement,” the decision states.

“NBPN would be required to comply with the latest fire protection codes and standards by Dec. 31, 2014.”

Lepreau had 17 fires during its previous licensing period, according to the commission.

But NB Power said they were all minor incidents and each one has been thoroughly investigated.

NB Power had objected to having to do updated earthquake risk assessments around Lepreau during hearings held late last year, arguing the area had been fully evaluated during the 1980s.

However, the commission sided with opponents of the plant who argued the earthquake and tsunami disaster at Fukushima illustrated the need for an updated review.

David Coon, executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, had argued the plant couldn’t be licensed because it didn’t meet new earthquake standards adopted after the disaster in Japan.

NB Power was also ordered to make the new assessment public.

Lepreau has been under renovation since the spring of 2008. NB Power hired Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. to refurbish the 30-year-old reactor to extend its service life, but a series of engineering and other problems have thrown what was supposed to be an 18-month job three years behind schedule.

The safety commission said it is satisfied the plant, which is finally nearing completion, is fit to go back in service.

“The commission concluded that NBPN is qualified to carry on the activity that the licence will authorize,” the commission stated.

The reactor is not anticipated to be generating electricity until the fall, well past its original September 2009 deadline.

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