Bruce reactors will return to service on time, Ontario says

Sep. 7, 01:00 EDT – Toronto Star
Bruce reactors will return to service on time, Ontario says
Area residents concerned about financial troubles
John Spears and Kate Harries staff reporters

Ontario Energy Minister John Baird says he’s seen no signs that the financial trouble of Bruce Power’s majority owner will delay plans to bring two nuclear reactors back into service next year.

In an interview from Ottawa yesterday, Baird said he’s spoken with Bruce Power’s chief executive, Duncan Hawthorne, twice in the past two weeks.

Bruce Power’s majority owner is British Energy PLC, with an 82.4 per cent stake. British Energy said Thursday it’s seeking a bailout from the British government and that it could go broke if it doesn’t get the help.

Bruce Power, which holds an 18-year lease on the Bruce nuclear station near Kincardine, is in the midst of a $340 million project to refit two reactors at its Bruce A generating plant and return them to service by spring.

Bruce Power hasn’t answered questions about the impact of British Energy’s woes.

Hawthorne, who was in Britain this week, released a statement yesterday saying that in his talks with British Energy’s directors, “I received no change in direction with respect to our activities at Bruce Power.”

“On that basis, we continue with our Bruce Power business plan. My prime focus at this time is to ensure that Bruce Power’s employees are not distracted by this situation and that we continue to operate the Bruce reactors in accordance with the excellent performance we have delivered to date.”

Ontario’s power supply was stretched to the limit this summer and the province had to rely on imports. The province has said its electricity reforms will encourage private investors to add generating capacity.

Baird said yesterday he’s not worried about Bruce Power’s plans to restart the Bruce A reactors, although “obviously there are challenges in the U.K.” for its parent.

“There’s been no indication whatsoever at this stage, because of the financial issues, that it’s going to have an effect on the timing” of getting the two laid-up Bruce reactors back in service, he said. Baird, who took over as energy minister last month, said he’s already acquainted with Bruce Power’s Hawthorne.

“I talked to him personally last week, and I talked to him by telephone on Monday. We’re in close contact. We’ll watch it closely.”

Market planning documents prepared by the agency that runs the Ontario power grid show the Bruce A project is by far the biggest project among any near-term expansions of the province’s power grid.

The latest projection by the Independent Electricity Market Operator (IMO) shows 2,371 megawatts of power coming on stream by next September. Of that, the Bruce project is supposed to deliver 1,500 megawatts.

Tom Adams, executive director of Energy Probe, was skeptical of Baird’s confidence. The IMO’s most recent projections underestimated peak demand this summer, Adams said.

Ontario had record-setting demand of more than 25,000 megawatts on several occasions. The IMO projections showed demand running about 23,000 megawatts or less.

In Inverhuron, a community of about 1,000 people a few kilometres from the massive Bruce nuclear complex, unease greeted news of British Energy’s difficulties.

“I think the first concern is safety when any corporation is struggling with cash-flow problems,” said Norm Chevrotiere, a member of a residents’ watchdog group.

“Will they cut corners?” he asked.

Kincardine Mayor Larry Kraemar said he doesn’t think so. “With the nuclear industry one always has to be extra cautious, but at this point I have no undue concerns,” he said, noting Bruce Power is said to be properly financed and profitable.

Chevrotiere said the fact the Bruce plant is privately owned has made it hard to monitor safety concerns, because freedom of information legislation does not apply.

“I’m still trying to figure out how to get significant event reports,” Chevrotiere said. These reports of radioactive releases would come several times a year when the facility was owned and operated by Ontario Hydro.

“It does make you wonder how economically viable nuclear energy is in a deregulated environment,” he added, “especially when these corporations keep on having to go to the government cap in hand asking for more money.”

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