Friday, April 24, 2015

Negotiations slow on Bruce Power contracts: issues with Ontario's nuclear refurbishment scheduling

Shawn McCarthy wrote a column on slow-moving negotiations regarding the refurbishment of Ontario's nuclear reactors, primarily those operated by Bruce Power. In the week since it was written it inspired 0 comments - and here I am expanding on the topic!

Ontario news these days is on the sale of Hydro One and budgets and cap-and-trade, all of which I'll likely get to at some point, but most of those stories are simply about sleight of hand to hide debt, and grabbing funding for a favoured constituency from unfavoured ones.

The operation of Ontario's nuclear reactors is, in contrast, not simply a flavour-of-the-day story.

Negotiations delay TransCanada’s Bruce Power nuclear reactor updates | Globe and Mail
Bruce Power and the Ontario government are mired in negotiations for a $15-billion deal to refurbish six nuclear reactors, delaying the planned project past a self-imposed deadline and posing new questions about the province’s future energy mix.
The Liberal government insists it remains committed to refurbishing Ontario’s aging nuclear fleet. However, both sides have signalled they are concerned about potential cost over-runs, and Bruce and its shareholders worry about the province’s schedule, which would require the company to take units off-line before the end of their commercial life.
"TransCanada also wants to squeeze as much cash from the existing reactors as possible before having to invest in upgrading them" is the easy way to keep the article newspaper length, but a closer look might point the interest to OPG's Darlington, and question if they operate their reactors to maximize value as Bruce Power does.

Let's start at Pickering to understand the issue, which is the productive life of the generating assets. From last fall and a column by nuclear expert Jerry Cutler.
OPG’s Pickering Unit 6 First in Canada to Exceed 210,000 EFPH | Talk Nuclear | September 2014
OPG’s Pickering Unit 6 first in Canada to exceed 210,000 EFPH
Ontario Power Generation’s Pickering Unit 6 was rapidly approaching its design limit of 210,000 equivalent full power hours (EFPH), the point at which specifications would indicate it be shut down for refurbishment.
But in 2009, OPG, together with industry partners, including COG [CANDU Owners Group], had launched the Fuel Channel Life Management Joint Project to examine evidence that the operating life could be significantly extended. So OPG applied to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for permission to increase that EFPH limit. Receiving the commission’s go-ahead was contingent upon satisfying a number of criteria and clearing a key licensing hold point that Pickering would not operate its pressure tubes beyond 210,000 EFPH until approved by the commission.
“OPG (in partnership with Bruce Power) made a significant presentation to the commission on all the work that had been carried out to demonstrate the high level of confidence that we have in the continued safety and operability of our fuel channels,” said Paul Spekkens, vice president, science and technology at OPG.
Based on results, the presentation, which took place at a public hearing on May 7, 2014, was a resounding success. Less than a month later on June 3, a decision had been reached. Spekkens announced that the commission had accepted OPG’s request to clear the hold point, and Pickering 6 was on track to become the first Canadian unit to operate beyond the 210,000 EFPH limit—up to 247,000 EFPH. It’s a decision that has huge positive implications for OPG’s bottom line, and raises the possibility of similar extensions—and savings—for other CANDU owners/operators.
Pickering 6 is one of four Pickering B units: Ontario's reactors were built in sets of four starting with Pickering A (units 1 and 4 are refurbished, 2 and 3 removed from service), then Bruce A, Pickering B, Bruce B and Darlington - in that order.

I wanted to establish EFPH for all of Ontario's reactors, and the following graphic displays my estimate of that using production data from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Power Reactor Information System (PRIS). The EFPH figures in the graph are simply the PRIS "Electricity Supplied" divided by the currently listed "Reference Unit Power" - which is not without issues, but fine for this post's purposes. Each colour represents a year's EFPH
View this as an interactive web page at
I've stuck to IAEA PRIS data, but this chart shows why it's somewhat problematic. I show the average hourly 2015 output for  Bruce units 3 and 4 exceeding the PRIS "Reference Unit Power," which contributes to its accumulation of EFPH. Regardless  Bruce 3, which first produced power in 1978 is older, and has greater output, than Pickering 6 (1983). Because all 4 reactors at Bruce A were idled for a number of years, both these units now show a little over 210,000 EFPH (Bruce 4 is just behind).

Bruce Power feels they have extended the periods Bruce 3 and 4 can operate, and there's no evidence the regulator disagrees.

From Bruce Power Written Submission - Application for the Renewal of the Bruce A and Bruce B Power Reactor Operating Licence
West Shift program: West Shift, a six-month outage in Unit 3, allowed crews to move fuel channels back to their original positions compensating for the elongation which occurs after many years of operation. Each channel was cut free from the reactor and re-welded into place to ensure the operation of the reactor through at least the end of the decade. 
Pressure Tubes
As discussed in the previous submissions noted above and in earlier Commission Hearings and Meetings research and development efforts examining pressure tube health and longevity have been sponsored by industry over many years. The research demonstrates pressure tube robustness will continue to meet requirements over the next five year licence period. These research efforts continue and are expected to demonstrate acceptable pressure tube performance for several years beyond the next licence period. The fitness for service predictions provided by the research are verified during each outage by in core inspection and sampling activities, thus ensuring the current pressure tube condition is well known and as expected. The results of these inspections are submitted to CNSC staff for review. Bruce Power and the industry in general have collected large amounts of information on all aspects of pressure tube health over the 30 plus years of pressure tube operations across the industry. This large library of data and experience has supported the development of the current sophisticated monitoring programs that measures all aspects of pressure tube health 
The Ontario government's Long-Term Energy Plan, released late in 2013, displayed a schedule for refurbishments.
Image from page 30 of 2013 LTEP

Bruce Power could predictably find the scheduling of reactor 4 for refurbishment next year problematic as it finds pressure tubes acceptable for "several years" beyond the five-year license extension it is now seeking. Reactor 3 is a better situation, as it's scheduled to begin refurbishment in 2019, but that's still within the period of the license extension. Considering these are the only refurbishments scheduled prior to 2022 on the reactors operated by Bruce Power, it's not surprising there's been a lack of urgency in the negotiations.

What is surprising is that Bruce B's four reactors are expected to operate 5-7 years beyond 247,000 EFPH prior to refurbishment (using the figure from Pickering as guideline), while the newer four Darlington reactors are scheduled to operate 3-8 years less than it would take to acquire 247,000 EFPH.

The Darlington refurbishments do look to be on a similar schedule to what was followed for CANDU 6's at Point Lepreau and Wolsong 1. Perhaps the ministry is suspicious of Canada's engineers and operators.

I might accept an explanation of the difference between finding Pickering B eligible to operate longer but not Darlington in the size difference between CANDU 500B and CANDU 850 units is significant, except Bruce B's CANDU 750 B shouldn't be much different and those are being scheduled for refurbishment after operating for about 40% more equivalent full-power hours than the Darlington units will have operated for prior to their refurbishments as scheduled in the LTEP.

That is a difference of many years.

An earlier LTEP led to a directive from the Minister of Energy to the now defunct Ontario Power Authority on February 17th, 2011:
...the OPA shall continue to work with Ontario Power Generation (OPG), Bruce Power, and the Ministry of Energy to ensure that the Plan includes an updated coordinated refurbishment schedule.
It appears the "coordination" simply involved pushing up Darlington's refurbishments and ignoring the life-extension engineering work of operator Bruce Power; it wouldn't be the first time the Ontario government devalued Darlington for suspect reasons.

Note: here is the spreadsheet with data and charts 

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