Photo: / Greenpeace

Part 1 of Pushing back on the nuclear path outlined three post-Fukushima nuclear battles in Ontario. They were the campaigns to stop the construction of two new reactors at Darlington Station, the life extension of 10 more reactors in Ontario, and efforts to prevent economically desperate communities in Northern Ontario from becoming dumping grounds for Canada’s radioactive waste.

In this final part, we’re headed to Eastern Canada to outline the ongoing efforts to oppose nuclear in Quebec and New Brunswick.

Point Lepreau: Down the re-furbishment rabbit hole

Point Lepreau is Atlantic Canada’s only nuclear reactor. Commissioned in 1983 and brought online in 1984, Point Lepreau is approximately 50 km west of Saint John, on the storied Bay of Fundy.

Originally planned for a lifespan of 40 years, Point Lepreau’s safe operating life was soon revised down to 30 years. In 2002, The New Brunswick Power Corporation (NB Power) filed an application to have Point Lebreau rebuilt — a mere 18 years after its original construction.

The New Brunswick Public Utilities Board (now, The New Brunswick Energy and Utilities Board) was charged with ruling on NB Power’s application. The Public Utilities Board — which was legislated to act in the public interest — determined that there was no economic advantage to rebuilding the Point Lepreau, and that the project was not in the public interest. Still, against the advice of his energy regulator, New Brunswick’s former premier, Bernard Lord, allowed NB Power to proceed with the refurbishment.

While NB Power expects to restart Point Lepreau in the fall, it is difficult to describe the rebuild as anything other than a complete debacle. Perhaps the most spectacular error in the refurbishment of Point Lepreau was the botched installation of all 380 new calandria tubes, a vital component of the reactor’s design. If the reactor goes online this fall, it will have been three years late and over $1 billion more expensive than planned.

It is also worth mentioning that NB Power and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited are currently suing insurance company Lloyd’s of London for $540 million to recoup some of the delay costs, primarily due to difficulties in re-tubing the reactor.

Earthquake risks

Since the ongoing Fukushima nuclear disaster began, there has been renewed international concern around seismic risks and the safety of a generally aging fleet of reactors. Scrutiny around the earthquake tolerance of Point Lepreau has followed suit.

The Conservation Council of New Brunswick (CCNB) has opposed Point Lepreau at regulatory hearings since the station was originally proposed. At Point Lepreau’s recent re-licensing hearing, the CCNB argued that NB Power is missing the mark on plausible earthquakes at the station.

“Our analysis shows that NB power underestimated the extent of seismic risk to Point Lepreau,” said David Coon, Executive Director of CCNB. “Therefore, in our analysis, it could not withstand plausible earthquakes.”

The CCNB’s argument is based on comments of Dr. Robert Kennedy, the consultant who originally developed the seismic risk methodology that NB Power uses for Point Lepreau.

After reviewing NB Power’s risks assessments last year, Dr. Kennedy concluded that “seismic risk estimates reported … are likely conservatively biased.”

CCNB is thus appealing to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to have an independent review of the seismic risks for Point Lepreau before the rebuilt reactor potentially goes online in the fall.

“That risk analysis needs to be externally reviewed to determine whether we’re right or wrong. If we’re right, then there needs to be remedial work done to bring Point Lepreau up to snuff with respect to being sound in the face of plausible earthquakes. If we’re wrong, then we’ll all rest easier.”

The CNSC has thus far not recommended an external review of earthquake risks at the station.

Gentilly 2: All that risk for 3 per cent of Québec’s energy?

Québec’s lone reactor, Gentilly 2, is situated on the St. Lawrence in Bécancour, approximately 120 km from Québec City and 150 km from Montreal. The station is nearing the end of its safe operating life, and while Hydro Québec has won regulatory approval to rebuild Gentilly 2, the Crown corporation is still awaiting a decision from the Charest government on the $2 billion refurbishment.

Contributing less than 3 per cent of Québec’s electricity, Gentilly 2 was a largely obscure element in the province’s infrastructure. Since Fukushima however, it has received a lot more public attention.

Greenpeace Canada activists have done two arrestable Gentilly 2 actions since Fukushima — locking down Hydro Québec Montreal offices in April of 2011, and occupying Premier Charest office on March 5.

While Greenpeace has been working on stopping the life extension of Gentilly 2 in spectacular fashion, Michel Fugère, from the grassroots group, Mouvement Vert Mauricie (MVM), has also been working for years to stop the life extension of Gentilly 2.

Fugère opposes the Gentilly 2 extension for many reasons, including accident risks and bad economics.

“Gentilly 2 sits on a fault line and wasn’t built to withstand a serious earthquake. The risk is too great compared to the rewards of the project,” said Fugére.

“Plus, shutting down Gentilly would actually be helpful for Québec’s economy, because energy efficiency is a much better path for jobs and the environment.”

Bad prospects: The fate of Gentilly 2 post-Fukushima

Though MVM has been building a strong opposition to Gentilly for years (See Sortons Le Québec Du Nucléaire, a public network of Québec artists, celebrities, organizations, and municipalities that oppose the project) after Fukushima, it seems MVM’s message is starting to gain a lot of traction.

Premier Charest has delayed a decision on rebuilding the reactor until after a probable 2012 election while, in an astonishing turn, the Parti Québécois have changed their mind on Gentilly 2 and now advocate shutting it down.

“Charest’s delay is good for us. And the Point Lepreau refurbishment, I believe, has been very harmful to the prospects of doing a similar project at Gentilly 2.”

Steve Cornwell is an MA candidate at York University. He is interested in the interactions of social movements, science and technology. Steve has worked on energy issues with Greenpeace Canada, Environmental Defense, and Safe and Green Energy Peterborough.