By Christopher Williams

Hundreds of people were out early on the mornings of January 19th and February 2nd to witness the largest vehicles to ever drive on a New Brunswick highway. Escorted by police, a 200-foot-long, 19-axle trailer pulled by a transport truck, transported two massive turbine rotors to the Point Lepreau Generating Station (PLGS), 50 kilometers west of Saint John.

“There are only two of these large-scale trailers in North America and this job was the first time one was used in New Brunswick,” said Kathleen Duguay, NB Power head of nuclear communications. “The complex moves took months of planning and about a year to get all of the necessary permits.” But the tricky logistics were entertaining for transportation fans, many of whom followed the convoy taking pictures. Some residents even doubted the trailer could make a particular 90-degree turn where shorter trucks had tipped before.

Transport began when equipment manufacturer Siemens Canada Ltd. shipped the cargo from an overseas plant to the port of Saint John, last July. “Arriving aboard the heavy-lift ship M.V. Merwedegracht, the 130-tonne rotors were discharged with ship’s gear and the port’s two 80-tonne cranes,” explained Bruce Harding, General Manager of Logistec Stevedoring in Saint John. “A system of axles and support beams were assembled around the turbines allowing the trailer to pick the units off raised wooden mats.”

Highway transportation to Point Lepreau was carried out by Ontario-based Equipment Express Inc. which specializes in the movement of heavy cargo, from transformers to machine tools. Last year, Equipment Express transported a replica of the iconic Canadian fighter jet, the Avro Arrow, in Toronto, and also moved the heaviest load ever permitted on Manitoba’s highways.

From Saint John, each turbine rotor trip took about six hours at an average speed of 17 km/hr, through West Saint John, along Route 1, to Route 790. The second turbine rotor was scheduled to be moved on January 26th but the day before brought heavy snow, postponing the maneuver for a week. “The equipment made it in perfect condition thanks to all of the stakeholders who pulled together,” added Duguay. She said the logistics team included Bell Aliant, Rogers Cable, police and emergency response organizations, N.B.’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, Transfield Dexter Gateway Services Highway Services, and NB Emergency Measures.

The new turbine rotors are now stored at PLGS until roughly 2017 when they will replace two units now in service. Those $10 million units are deemed to be unsuitable to perform for the full 27-year life of the refurbished nuclear plant, having been damaged when they toppled into Saint John Harbour in 2008 while being transported to the station by barge.

Fortunately, there is no cost to NB Power for the new equipment as Siemens and its insurance company are footing the bill. This comes as a relief to New Brunswickers already faced with refurbishment cost-overruns at PLGS. In 2000, NB Power estimated a reactor re-fit would cost $750 million and take only 18 months. But technical problems including damaged calandria tubes in the reactor core extended the project three years longer than expected, and final costs are estimated at $2.4 billion.

Point Lepreau is the only nuclear generating facility in Atlantic Canada and began generating power in 1983. It comprises one CANDU nuclear reactor with installed capacity of 705 megawatts. The plant has recently operated at 99.8 per cent efficiency and is expected to produce enough electricity to power more than 333,000 homes per year for the next 25 to 30 years.