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About 40 contract workers at the Bruce Power nuclear station have been fired or temporarily suspended for violating the company's code of conduct regarding Internet use.

The contractors, all of whom were working on the multibillion-dollar refurbishment of reactors at Bruce Power's generating station on the shores of Lake Huron, were dismissed last Friday, Duncan Hawthorne, the company's chief executive officer, confirmed yesterday.

"We had some Internet abuse among some contractors," Mr. Hawthorne said in an interview. "It's inappropriate use of e-mail. You can fill in the blanks yourself."

He declined to comment on speculation that the contractors were using Bruce Power's computers to e-mail pornography. But he did say that if an employee of Bruce Power had engaged in similar activities, it would have been a firing offence.

However, he sought to distance the company from the contractors, saying it is up to their employers to take action against them.

"You wouldn't expect me to confirm what people are doing," he said. "It's a private matter."

Mr. Hawthorne also declined to say precisely how many contractors were shown the door. Industry sources said the number is about 40, a mixture of some who were fired and others who were suspended for a short period.

He said the departures of the contractors will not slow down the refurbishment project. The Bruce generating station has eight reactors, including six that are in operation. Bruce Power has a $4.25-billion deal with the provincial government to refurbish three reactors, including two that are idled, and replace steam equipment in a fourth.

Industry officials yesterday criticized Bruce Power executives for not being more forthcoming about the departure of so many contractors - an event that did not go unnoticed in the small community of Tiverton, near Kincardine, about 250 kilometres northwest of Toronto. One industry source said Bruce Power fielded more calls from the media yesterday than it did when it recently announced that it was dropping plans to build new reactors in Nanticoke and in Bruce County because of declining demand for electricity.

Shawn Patrick Stensil, an anti-nuclear campaigner with Greenpeace, said officials at Bruce Power have an obligation to be upfront with the public. Since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, he said, digital security has become a top concern for nuclear plant operators, as has securing the physical premises.

"The lack of transparency isn't comforting at all," he said. "If it's simply a matter that contractors are surfing for porn or Facebooking, they should have the guts to say that."

Ross Lamont, a spokesman for Bruce Power, told The Canadian Press that there was no threat to the operation of the site, its security or safety.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission said in a statement last night that it has received information on the event from Bruce Power and is satisfied that it is an internal issue.