N.B. premier threatens to sue Ottawa over nuclear power plant refurbishment

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FREDERICTON - New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham has delivered an ultimatum to the federal government - cover the cost overruns on the refurbishment of the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant or his government will sue Atomic Energy of Canada Limited.
"We feel that we have a very strong case to make before the courts if we have to go that route," Graham said in an interview.
"And when the federal government is looking to sell off the assets of AECL, this would be a terrible time for them to have a court challenge brought forward from the province of New Brunswick."
The $1.4-billion overhaul of Atlantic Canada's only nuclear power plant is being done by AECL, a federal Crown corporation.
The project was supposed to have been completed last September, but it is running 18 months behind schedule.
The cash-strapped province is paying close to $1 million per day to buy replacement power while the reactor is off-line and provincial Energy Minister Jack Keir estimates it will cost about $400 million for replacement power if the project remains a year-and-a-half behind schedule.
Graham believes New Brunswick is being unfairly saddled with these costs and said he raised the issue in a meeting Friday with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He said Harper agreed to have federal and provincial bureaucrats begin discussions in an effort to find a solution.
"At this time we want to sit down and negotiate with good faith with the government of Canada that NB Power, by the extension of the province of New Brunswick, be kept whole for any losses resulting from AECL's current or future delays," Graham said.
The Prime Minister's Office declined comment.
The Point Lepreau generating station provides about a third of New Brunswick's energy needs. The refurbishment is intended to extended the life of the facility by 25 years.
This is the first refurbishment of a Candu-6 reactor and AECL is hoping to use Point Lepreau as a showcase for the refurbishment of similar reactors around the world.
"New Brunswickers shouldn't pay for AECL to get up the learning curve at Point Lepreau when they're going to do it better in Romania, China and Argentina," Keir said recently.
The completion date for the Point Lepreau project has been pushed back a number of times.
"This has elevated New Brunswick's concerns and has also brought into question AECL's ability to meet their revised completion date of October 2010, and I stressed the importance with the prime minister that those dates need to be met," Graham said.
Point Lepreau is included in the proposed $4.75-billion proposed sale of NB Power to Hydro-Quebec.
The two provinces hope to complete the deal by the end of March, but under the memorandum of understanding signed last fall, New Brunswick won't be paid for Point Lepreau until the refurbishment is complete and the reactor is producing electricity again.



Organizations: Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, NB Power, Hydro-Quebec

Geographic location: New Brunswick, Ottawa, Atlantic Canada FREDERICTON Romania China Argentina

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