Point Lepreau problems

19 October 2004

Canada's Point Lepreau plant has suffered an unplanned shutdown shortly before a crucial decision on its future is made.

First, an electronic problem came to light when a shutdown mechanism partly started. The unit was then shut down for checks expected to last for two days. Upon restart, a steam leak was found, causing the restart to be cancelled. Subsequently, cracks were found in four other steam pipes and the outage extended to 16 days. During this time, operators New Brunswick Power (NB Power) were forced to buy replacement power from other generators to maintain supplies to customers. The total cost of the outage has been estimated at over C$13 million ($10.3 million).

Point Lepreau was finally restarted on 18 October, but question marks remain over its long-term future. NB Power is currently holding talks with AECL over a possible refurbishment of the plant, based around a 635MWe Candu reactor: the plant's lifespan could be increased by 25 years - at a cost of C1.4 billion ($1.1 billion).

Environmentalists question the sustainability of the plant, while business leaders question the sustainability of New Brunswick province without it. This project has thus been made even more controversial in the run-up to the end-of-year government decision on whether to proceed with the refurbishment.

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