Refurbishment Problems in New Brunswick?

Are fiddleheads hallucinogenic?


The reason I ask is that it could be an explanation for the upbeat optimism of the New Brunswick government on all matters nuclear. They have repeatedly expressed the desire for a second reactor apparently to produce electricity for export to the New England states. What’s more instead of just cloning their first and only reactor, the CANDU 6 at Pt. Lepreau, they want to take on the first-of-a-kind ACR-1000. In my opinion this would be an extremely daunting task for a relatively small utility in a one of the smaller provinces. Massive federal support would be essential but New Brunswick seems sanguine about getting it.


New Brunswick is the best prospect for the first ACR-1000. I believe that a few years from now,  after the current recession,  when Alberta and Saskatchewan get around to choosing reactors to build, they will probably choose the AREVA EPR in part because they would prefer a foreign reactor rather than one from eastern Canada on political grounds. The past tells me that both Bruce Power and OPG would prefer not to have any more CANDU reactors and if the Ontario government can get a low-risk fixed-price deal from AREVA, they will go with two EPRs for Darlington, assuming that Westinghouse is indeed out of the contest.


With respect to Ontario there was a recent newspaper report that some unions involved in the nuclear business would be content with foreign reactors and willing to work with offshore companies. They must be using the same crystal ball as I am. Of course, the AECL professional union was not in favour but whatever the outcome of the Ontario competition, their members will still have decades of work on CANDU refurbishment.   


By the above reasoning New Brunswick is the most likely site for the first ACR-1000. Unfortunately for AECL, the refurbishment of the Pt. Lepreau reactor has run into problems. The expected cost overruns as yet are only up to $90M on a total budget of $1.4B – a mere bagatelle in the refurbishment business- but still enough to cause rumblings in the local press. I note that the refurbishment of the very similar Gentilly II reactor in Quebec has been estimated to cost $2B so I’d advise the NB media to hang on to their hats in terms of the final cost. There was a Keystone Cops episode concerning turbine rotors falling off a barge and the demise of a local NB firm making the new end fittings involved in retubing, particularly distressing because the refurbishment was supposed to grow new industrial activity in the province and enhance exports sales.


Whether the above developments are making a dent in the provincial government’s nuclear optimism and what impact that might have on the plan for a second reactor remains to be seen.

A small victory for transparency – public disclosure for NRU

I was heartened to read in the Ottawa Citizen today that AECL has agreed to voluntary public disclosure on its website of any future incidents at NRU. This is a small but worthwhile step in the direction of more transparency and honesty in dealing with the public.


It was what they should have been doing all along for good public relations as recommended in my last post. Maybe somebody there actually reads this blog but on the other hand it was the obvious thing to do and I’m sure eventually they would have come up with it on their own.


NRU Leaks

Old reactors like old people often become incontinent.


This is certainly the case with NRU.  It had some minor leaks in early December 2008 which just made the headlines last week. At the outset I should commend the operators of NRU for doing a wonderful job of keeping that old and leaky reactor running.  It was widely recognized twenty years ago that it needed to be replaced and but for the failure of the MAPLE project would have long since been retired.


If the politicians want NRU to continue producing isotopes then they will have to accept that there will be continuing problems of this type until it is finally shut down. To express outrage at not being informed each time it piddles a little bit is simply playing to the gallery. Similarly for the media to trumpet every incident as apocalyptic is a waste of public adrenaline. As for the nuclear medicine docs whose primary concern is for the welfare of their patients and certainly not for their wallets, they should know that knocking NRU is not going to help keep it operating.


Nothing significant happened at NRU in December but the incident was totally blown out of all proportion. This is a great example of my previous post on the corrosive effects of secrecy on the nuclear industry. In my opinion the solution for AECL is to issue a press release every time anything happens at NRU. This would go a long way to re-establishing the transparency and honesty that the nuclear industry so badly needs. As I see it, letting the media find out by reading reports to the regulator (CNSC) is dumb because it’s just asking for accusations of secrecy. Swamp the media with information and with their short attention spans they’ll soon get bored and move on to the next titillating episode in the life of Brittany Spears, Jessica Simpson or someone of that ilk.


In this vein, here’s an anecdote about the current head of a famous nuclear company. When protestors in a small town accused her of concealing leaks that endangered public health at a nearby nuclear facility she managed, she offered to give them any radiation monitoring equipment they wanted to take away to do their own measurements. All they had to do is to return it to the city hall when they were done. They took her up on the offer and the protests stopped. We could use that kind of imagination and the indications are looking more and more like that we might even get it, albeit indirectly, from the lady herself.