Liberals would help pay Point Lepreau overruns

NEW BRUNSWICK - The federal government has a responsibility to help cover some of the estimated $1 billion in cost overruns on the Point Lepreau refurbishment project, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said.

In an interview with CBC News, Ignatieff said that New Brunswick should receive some compensation for the cost overruns associated with refurbishing Atlantic Canada's only nuclear reactor.

The upgrade of the nuclear reactor is three years behind schedule. It's costing about a million dollars a day for replacement power.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has repeatedly said that Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., which is overseeing the refurbishment project, would honour its contractual obligations, but it would not pay any additional costs.

Ignatieff said if he's elected May 2, he would sit down with Premier David Alward to discuss possible compensation for the New Brunswick government.

"I know that a lot of New Brunswickers feel they are stuck with the Point Lepreau problem and it potentially adds millions and millions and millions of dollars to New Brunswickers' energy costs," Ignatieff said.

"This is not a problem the federal government can walk away from. AECL is a Crown corporation so we have some responsibility. I don't know all the details. I do know that I will sit with the premier when we get into office and say what do we do, how do we dig this one out together."

When pressed on how much Ignatieff thought the federal government should ante up to cover the cost overruns, the Liberal leader would not offer a specific figure.

Progressive Conservative MLAs voted in favour of the Liberal motion asking the federal government to cover all cost overruns at the project.

Energy Minister Craig Leonard said the government may have some leverage given the election campaign.

"If there's an opportunity to enter into a dialogue with the federal government as a result of the election, we're certainly not going to pass that up. So as a result of the opposition motion, we felt we had to agree with it, as we would anyways, regardless of an election or not, because it simply says what we've been saying all along," said Leonard.

The reactor was supposed to be generating power again in September 2009. It is now expected Point Lepreau will not be running again until fall 2012.

The delays were caused when dozens of calandria tubes flunked air tightness tests after being fused with special inserts designed to hold them in place.

The calandria tubes — made to house smaller nuclear pressure tubes, which in turn contain radioactive nuclear fuel bundles — were the first major pieces of equipment to be installed in the reactor as part of Point Lepreau's much delayed refurbishment. The tubes had to be taken out and then reinstalled.


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