Gaëtan Thomas on why building Point Lepreau was “visionary” by New Brunswick

Gaëtan Thomas on why building Point Lepreau was “visionary” by New Brunswick

The NB Power lifer, and current CEO, remembers the dawning of the nuclear age in New Brunswick

It’s very easy for me to remember when my career started. It was the year that Point Lepreau came online. I had just started as a junior engineer in northern New Brunswick with NB Power. At the time the power load was growing in New Brunswick and industry was booming. There was more power required and our province did not have any known oil reserves, so we were fully dependent on the price of the world market. There were worries about significant oil price increases.

We had some indigenous coal but it was relatively low grade and we had also tapped our hydro potential. The only other options would have been power purchases from Hydro Quebec or the United States We had about the same energy mix as Ontario and it had made the decision to go nuclear. The premier and the leader of NB Power at the time, Richard Hatfield and Art O’Connor, respectively, had vision about bringing power price stability to New Brunswick.

When you look at it in retrospect, it was very visionary, and I believe the project delivered significant socio-economic spinoffs, which was one of the goals. Nuclear power is high tech and it was going to help diversify our economy from a resource base to a need for highly-skilled workers. That really helped advance our universities. Thousands of workers were employed in building Point Lepreau. There were big benefits for local contractors, construction trades and the building of transmission lines to connect this plant to the U.S. Having the plant also created close to 500 highly educated skilled workers in the province, and these were good paying jobs.

The plant came online in 1983. There were some delays and cost overruns, and this was not long after the nuclear reactor accident at Three Mile Island in the U.S. There was also a fairly large earthquake in the early 1980s in the Miramichi. A lot of effort was required to explain the advantage of the CANDU 600 nuclear reactor design Point Lepreau used. We placed a high value on having a good relationship with local communities and the First Nations and it’s still going on today.

If you could go back in time and know what we would be facing today for carbon reduction targets, people would say we were not only visionary but predicting the future. This was done without having the benefit of looking at carbon the way it’s looked at today. I think there are very few people who have opposed Point Lepreau in New Brunswick, and it has generated a lot of pride. I’m told the latest survey shows over 80 per cent of our residents support nuclear power.

I think that’s because we were able to provide benefits. When you have a plant that produces no carbon emissions and we are the fourth-best jurisdiction in regards to power rates in the country, the proof is in the pudding. Our customers are enjoying very competitive rates. They would not be able to do that without Point Lepreau.

Please note: an earlier version of this story identified Art O’Connor as Hart O’Connor. Natural Resources Magazine apologizes for the error.

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