Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Nuclear risks

The refurbishment of New Brunswick's Point Lepreau nuclear station was announced last week, but it's the Globe's web comment that tells us who's on the hook:
The province's utility, New Brunswick Power Corp will proceed with the refurbishment of Point Lepreau nuclear power station, with AECL as the general contractor...

In 2002, the New Brunswick Public Utilities Commission turned down N.B. Power's request for approval to refurbish Point Lepreau. Mindful of the disastrous nuclear-refurbishment experience at Pickering in Ontario, the main concerns of the regulator were the significant risks of cost overruns and delays.

The regulator's concerns proved justified. The current refurbishments of two Pickering reactors are three and five years behind schedule and four and five times over budget, respectively. AECL was a general contractor at Pickering during the first four years of the project...

Ominously for federal taxpayers, Mr. Lord promised to "hold the federal government accountable" for AECL's refurbishment commitments. New Brunswick officials will not release the terms of AECL's guarantees, so federal taxpayers have no way of knowing how much they might be on the hook for.

The part about planning ahead for power needs is a plus. It's the part about entrusting the building to a contractor with a history of going three times over budget that should raise concerns - with that kind of track record, New Brunswick had might as well have hired Halliburton for the job.

And then there's the question of whether nuclear power is still something worth pursuing at all. It appears that AECL gave the Public Utilities Commission a sweet enough deal that it didn't bother to consider that issue. We'll see whether it's a topic of conversation a few hundred million dollars down the road.

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