Dust coat halts repairs on Bruce nuke reactor
Toronto Star: TYLER HAMILTON - Nov 07, 2008
100-day delay not expected to affect estimated cost of overhauling Kincardine power plant, CEO says
A coating of red dust found inside an old nuclear reactor being refurbished at the Bruce Power generating station must be cleaned up before crucial work on the area can continue, company chief executive Duncan Hawthorne told investors yesterday.
"During the disassembly there were a few anomalies," Hawthorne said. "We found water in places we didn't expect to find, and we found evidence of corrosion ... It was unexpected."
He said work in the Unit 2 reactor is likely to be delayed 100 days while the oxide dust covering the components is vacuumed away.
The effort is part of a multibillion-dollar restart of Units 1 and 2 at the Bruce A station in Kincardine, about 225 kilometres northwest of Toronto.
Unit 2 is in worse shape, shut down 22 years early in 1995 because a worker mistakenly left a $50 lead blanket inside the reactor's steam generator.
"Lead doesn't like high temperatures so it migrated through the primary system and caused breakaway erosion on many components," explained Hawthorne.
The cleanup won't change Bruce Power's latest cost estimates, he emphasized, because of its fixed-price contract with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., which is currently handling a sensitive phase of the project that involves replacing the "calandria tubes" inside the reactor.
AECL is expected to absorb the cleanup costs, but company spokesperson Dale Coffin said it's too early to put a dollar value on it.
"We have not at this time assessed the cost," Coffin said. "We're working with Bruce Power and other experts to resolve the issue. We're more focused on completing the rebuilding of Unit 2 right now."
Asked if AECL is prepared to absorb any extra costs itself, Coffin replied: "At this point we're not going to speculate."
The cost of the project was initially estimated at $2.75 billion, but Bruce Power updated that amount in May to between $3.05 billion and $3.4 billion, citing "first-of-its-kind" risks that required costly "discovery work."
The higher figure is more likely. TransCanada PipeLines Ltd., a part owner in Bruce Power, said last week the estimate is "in that $3.4 billion range" or 24 per cent over the original budget.
Under the province's contract with Bruce Power, the first $300 million in overruns is to be evenly split between Ontario electricity users and the project's private-sector partners, including TransCanada and the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System.
Beyond $300 million, the partners must cover three-quarters of overruns and users cover the remaining quarter.
Alex Pourbaix, president of energy at TransCanada, said the company is still satisfied with the project.
"Despite certain challenges, we are overall pleased with the progress to date," he said.
It's possible AECL could challenge its obligation in the contract to cover the cost of the cleanup. There's no indication it will, said Hawthorne, who added that if such a situation were to arise "we have an obligation to defend that."