Renewed debate: Point Lepreau’s 10-year nuclear extension gets reaction from all sides

It wasn’t the 25 year extension NB Power was asking for, nor the three years others wanted.

With days to go before the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station’s current license expired, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission settled on a 10-year lease extension at the site, located about 35 minutes west of Saint John, NB

The decision followed a series of public hearings in January and May, and a total of 243 interveners commenting on Point Lepreau’s future.

“It deserves to have much more regular public oversight and engagement than 10 years provides,” said New Brunswick Green Party leader David Coon. “But, it certainly is far superior to the 25 years NB Power was seeking, which was just absurd.”

NB Power declined a CTV News interview request. Instead, releasing a written statement making note of how the utility was “pleased” this was the longest license-extension to date at Point Lepreau.

A 25 year license extension would have been unprecedented for any nuclear generating facility in Canada. The Point Lepreau CANDU nuclear reactor began producing electricity in 1983 and was operating on a five-year license.

The Atlantica Center for Energy supported NB Power’s bid for 25 years, but president Michelle Robichaud said 10 years would provide stability on New Brunswick’s energy grid.

“There is going to be a lot of transition that is going to happen in our energy sector. And to know that we have this reliable baseload energy source here in New Brunswick to support that transition for the next 10 years is excellent,” said Robichaud.

In its decision, the commission said a renewed 10-year license would allow NB Power to continue “the need to advance reconciliation with Indigenous Nations and communities.”

Passamaquoddy Recognition Group Inc. was one of the first interveners to present at public hearings in Saint John last month. At that time, the group argued for a renewed license of no more than three years, with discussions about decommissioning being central to the timeframe.

“Though we do believe we had some influence on the decision, given that NB Power’s request was for a 25-year license, our efforts did not result in Canada meeting its own legal and related obligations to the Nation,” said Peskotomuhkati Chief Hugh Akagi , in a written statement. “We should not be put in the position of having to point this out.”

New Brunswick’s Department of Natural Resources and Energy Development deferred all comments on the CNSC decision to NB Power, saying the utility was more “appropriate” to offer remarks.

At the public hearings, a total of 10 New Brunswick municipalities submitted comments regarding Point Lepreau’s license renewal: Belledune, Campobello Island, Dalhousie, Grand Bay-Westfield, Quispamsis, Riverview, Saint John, Shediac, St. Andrews, and St. George.

All of the municipalities offering submissions gave support to NB Power’s license renewal, however, two specifically suggested a five-year renewal instead of NB Power’s 25-year request: Belledune, and St. Andrews.

The decision this week also directed NB Power and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to provide a “comprehensive update” by 2027 – five years into the renewed license – addressing concerns raised at public hearings.

For example, concerns about the release of tritium from the plant into the environment was acknowledged by NB Power to be “significantly higher than our peers in Canada.” Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. According to a CNSC fact sheetexposure “can pose a health risk if it is ingested through drinking water or food, inhaled or absorbed through the skin in large quantities.

At the public hearings, NB Power said tritium levels were monitored daily at Point Lepreau and were within regulatory limits.

Coon said there was nothing he saw in the CNSC decision making the 2027 review directive a binding requirement of Point Lepreau’s license extension.

“It would’ve been much better to have simply said ‘we’ll do license renewals after five years,’ and go from there,” said Coon.

Robichaud said the 10-year extension of Point Lepreau’s operating license would be significant to supporting development of the province’s energy labor force.

“Especially in the nuclear space as we really explore our opportunities in nuclear, and New Brunswick really becoming that important space as we look at small modular reactors,” said Robichaud. “Although this decision doesn’t have anything to do with that particular space, it is important in the development of that labor force for the future.”

Several interveners mentioned the possibility of future small modular reactors at Point Lepreau. The commission said any new development on the site would be subject to a separate hearing process and review.

Leave a Comment