Shutdown at Canadian nuke highlights cost of maintenance, and then leads me down some weird pathways

I know that I focus primarily on nuclear power plants in the United States, but I try to pay attention to the rest of the world, too. Yesterday, there were a couple of stories about nuclear power problems affecting Our Neighbor to the North.

CBC News New Brunswick reported yesterday:

The Point Lepreau nuclear generating station is temporarily offline, after a problem with one of the turbine system pumps on the non-nuclear side over the weekend.

“The non-nuclear side” is usually an indicator that a news report is actually just a thinly-veiled rewrite of a nuclear industry press release. More evidence of this is provided in the next paragraph of the CBC report, which is standard nuclear industry boiler-plate:

All safety systems functioned properly during the incident Saturday night and there was no impact on staff, the public, or the environment, NB Power officials said in a statement.

It’s fluff like this that has led me to say that the seven most frightening words in the English language are: “The public was never in any danger.”

Of far more interest to me was this paragraph, hidden toward the end of the report:

The plant returned to service in November 2012 after undergoing a refurbishment that took 37 months longer than expected and cost $2.4 billion — $1 billion more than anticipated.

I’ve often reported on the escalating cost of building new nuclear power plants, but this is interesting because it suggests that the same cost overruns affect maintenance, a cost not often mentioned when discussing the price of nuclear power. Also, the CBC fails to mention how long Point Lepreau was closed for repairs. The refurbishment closed the plant from 2008 to 2012.

I don’t like to rely on Wikipedia as a primary source, but I had read that the rotors at the Point Lepreau facility has spent some time at the bottom of Saint John Harbour, after falling off a barge. In addition to confirming this, Wikipedia also contained this odd report:

In 1990, assistant plant operator Daniel George Maston was charged after he took a sample of heavy water from the moderator system and loaded it into a cafeteria drink dispenser. Eight employees drank some of the contaminated water. One individual who was engaged in heat stress work, requiring alternating work, rest, and re-hydration periods consumed significantly more than the others. The incident was discovered when employees began leaving bio-assay urine samples with elevated tritium levels, one with particularly unusually high levels. The quantities involved were well below levels which could induce heavy water toxicity, however, several employees received elevated radiation doses from tritium and activated chemicals in the water. It is believed that Maston intended the exposure to be a practical joke, whereby the affected employees would be required to give urine samples daily for an extended length of time.

Perhaps I don’t understand the Canadian sense of humor.

Here’s a link to the CBC article: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/point-lepreau-offline-after-turbine-system-pump-problems-1.2601243

And here’s a link to the Toronto Star article about the heavy water gag: http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/thestar/doc/436277306.html?FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&type=current&date=Oct%2003,%201990&author=(CP)&pub=Toronto%20Star&edition=&startpage=&desc=Co-workers’%20drinks%20spiked%20with%20radiation%20as%20’a%20joke’

 

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About Robert Singleton

By day, I work for a call center. In my spare time, I try to save my hometown (and planet) from a nearly constant onslaught of greedheads, lunatics and land developers. I live in a fictional town called Austin, Texas, where I go to way too many meetings.
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