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Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The six nuclear reactors at Pickering would be closed down permanently in 10 years time, according to a new plan put forward by Ontario Power Generation (OPG).  Meanwhile, the four nuclear reactors at Darlington would be refurbished to extend their lifetime until 2050.  Whether a new reactor would be built is still uncertain.

WISE Amsterdam - Canadian OPG (Ontario Power Generation) announced that it will spend Can$300 million (US$284m or 210m Euro) to keep the Pickering [B] nuclear station open for another decade before it's mothballed, and will spend an undisclosed amount to refurbish the Darlington nuclear station. Darlington supplies about 20 per cent of Ontario’s power, with Pickering at roughly 15 per cent. Pickering is divided into the older “A” plant, where two of four reactors are still operating after recent upgrades and two others are shut down, and four reactors at the newer “B” plant, which is nearing the end of its operating life and needs modernization to keep going. The four Pickering A reactors were shut down in 1997 (along with three of the four Bruce A reactors) to allow time for the nuclear division of Ontario Hydro (as it was then called) to deal with thousands of unresolved safety-related maintenance problems that had accumulated.

Six years later, the decision was made to restart the four Pickering A reactors.  The entire restart was to cost Can$800 million and take about six months. But after Can$1,200 million and 18 months of effort, only one of the four reactors (Unit 4) was successfully restarted. After much angst, further delay, and another billion dollars, a second Pickering A unit was restarted (Unit 1). At this point it was decided to mothball Units 2 and 3 of Pickering A permanently.  The two restarted reactors have been operating poorly, producing only about 60 percent of their rated electrical output. Thus, after spending over two-and-a-half times as much money as projected for the entire Pickering A restart project, only  30% of its electrical output was restored. (See also: Canada: Restoring reactors more expensive than estimated, in WISE News Communique 482, December 4, 1997.)

For Pickering B, an environmental assessment has already been done and the commission is completing its end of the safety review. OPG said it’s not cost-effective to do a full refurbishment at the Pickering plant because of its smaller reactors and older, first-generation CANDU design. The four reactors in the Pickering A plant were designed in the 1960s and came on stream in the early 1970s, with the four in Pickering B dating to the early 1980s. Critics and anti-nuclear activists have long been after the original owner, Ontario Hydro, and its successor company Ontario Power Generation, to close Pickering because of all the troubles, related high-costs and concerns over safety. Anti-nuclear activists likely will be pleased at the prospect of the plant's closing but question why it won't happen sooner. The answer is partly simple; jobs. Ontario has about 12,000 high-paying jobs dependent on the nuclear industry, because it cannot create enough jobs to replace those before 2020.

Costs Darlington unknown

An environmental assessment for the refurbishment at Darlington would be required, along with a safety review by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to define how extensive the work would be and better pin down costs. The next phase of the process will include Integrated Safety Review and an Integrated Improvement Plan that will define the scope, cost and schedule of the refurbishment project. “The key to a successful refurbishment is having a clear understanding of the scope and cost of the work we need to do well before we start construction,” said Bill Robinson, Executive Vice President Nuclear Projects of OPG. Rough, very preliminary estimates indicate refurbishment of Darlington's four nuclear reactors, to extend their generation capability to about 2050, will cost Can$6 billion to Can$10 billion, said Ontario’s Infrastructure and Energy Minister Brad Duguid

Opposition New Democrats said either the government and Ontario Power Generation were guessing at the estimated cost of the nuclear refurbishment, or were withholding the figures from the public. “People should know what the costs are and what the estimates are.  You don't make a multibillion-dollar decision based on a guess''. Darlington didn’t come on line until the early 1990s and has been the most reliable plant at OPG, producing power 94.5 per cent of the time in its best year, 2008.

Ontario’s Premier Dalton McGuinty said that Ontario “remains on track to keeping half of its electricity generated by nuclear power plants”.  Last year, the government abruptly postponed a decision on building another nuclear plant at Darlington because the best of three bids, from Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., came in at what then-energy minister George Smitherman termed “many billions” of dollars more expensive than expected. OPG now announced that it “continues to proceed with work that supports the construction and operation of a new nuclear station located at the Darlington site. The Environmental Assessment and site license work for a potential new build will continue in parallel with the above investment activities”.

“OPG’s announcement shows the cost estimates used to justify this government's commitment to nuclear power are not credible at all, and we should be revisiting the 2006 commitment to keep nuclear at 50 per cent of the supply over the long term. It'll bankrupt us if we implement that plan'' said Greenpeace energy watchdog Sean-Patrick Stensil.

Sources: The Star, 9 February 2010 / The Canadian Press, 16 February 2010 / Ontario Power Generation (OPG) Press Release, 16 February 2010 /  Durham Business Times,  18 February 2010

Contact: Gordon Edwards,