10/23/2012 11:14 EDT | Updated 12/23/2012 05:12 EST

Hydro-Québec could lose millions on nuclear parts

Hydro-Québec has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on equipment for refurbishing the province's sole nuclear power plant, components that will likely have to be sold at a steep loss following the government's decision to cancel the project, CBC's French-language service has learned.

The equipment includes the replacement pressure tubes that would have been used to rebuild the reactor core, as well as components for the generator's turbine and computer systems.

Hydro-Québec has also already built a facility for handling nuclear waste and purchased an air-filtration system from the French nuclear company Areva, sources told Radio-Canada.

Guy Marleau, a professor of nuclear engineering at École Polytechnique in Montreal, said the acquired parts are almost all that is needed to refurbish the Gentilly-2 reactor.

Instead, Hydro-Québec is now looking to sell the equipment — but its prospects are dim. The vast majority of nuclear reactors the world over that use the same components aren't in need of a refit.

"I think it will be a pretty difficult task to resell this equipment and, in the best case, if it's sold, it would certainly be at a loss," Marleau said.

Refurbishment plans well advanced

The province's electricity utility had already disclosed millions of dollars in spending toward refurbishing Gentilly-2 before the project was axed.

Hydro-Québec CEO Thierry Vandal said last spring that money was just for preliminary work, such as safety studies, and "only some advanced equipment."

But the Crown corporation has actually acquired the majority of the important systems laid out in its original refurbishment plan.

The former Liberal provincial government decided in 2008 to rebuild Gentilly-2 at a projected cost of about $2 billion, but stopped work after the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011 and in the wake massive cost overruns and delays at New Brunswick's Point Lepreau reactor.

The new Parti Québécois provincial government announced Sept. 11 that the plant would instead close. Hydro-Québec subsequently said that a refurbishment would have cost closer to $4.3 billion and that it simply wasn't economical.

Gentilly-2 has been in commercial operation since 1983, and its operating licence runs out at the end of the year. Refurbishing it would have extended that by up to 30 years.