Decision on refurbishment of Pickering Nuclear coming soon

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Published January 25, 2024 at 5:46 pm

Pickering Nuclear Generating Station

The Ontario government is keeping their lips tightly sealed as to the future of the Pickering nuclear plant but one nuclear advocate who deserves as much credit as anyone for getting nuclear energy back into public favour believes the Province will have little choice but to say yes to refurbishment.

Dr. Chris Keefer, who has been lobbying the federal and provincial governments for several years to bring nuclear back as the best option to meet net zero climate goals, said he is not surprised Queen’s Park is taking its time in deciding if a refurbishment of the four Pickering ‘B’ reactors will happen.

“It’s a big decision to make so they want to do a lot of due diligence,” said Keefer, who is the president of Canadians for Nuclear Energy. “But I’m very confident.”

Dr. Chris Keefer, President of Canadians for Nuclear Energy

Pickering is Canada’s oldest nuclear power plant but the four ‘A’ reactors, which were built in the 1970s, are not being considered for refurbishments. Two of those reactors have been shut down since 2003 while the other two will mark the end of their useful life later this year.

The four ‘B’ reactors, built in the late 1980s, are still going strong and ran for 100 days straight last summer – “right through peak demand,” Keefer noted – until a planned outage in October.

“There performance has never been better, despite being ‘old,” Keefer added.

In fact, the nuclear workhorse recorded its highest generation output since 2019 and its second-highest output ever as a six-unit station during that period.

Taking the six reactors out of commission, Keefer noted, would be like “taking the equivalent power of the Canadian side of Niagara Falls off the grid.”

It’s worth noting, he added, that Pickering’s power will be sorely needed to power up the steel plants and the massive factories coming online soon to produce electric batteries.

“You can’t run those on wind and solar,” he added. “You can build an infinite number of wind turbines but they don’t show up when you need them. They’re fairweather friends.”

“Nuclear is reliable, long-lived and like a good friend, they are there when you need them.”

The provincial government extended the life of the Pickering plant until 2026 two years ago and asked Ontario Power Generation – now headquartered in Oshawa – to explore the feasibility of a refurbishment that would begin in 2028 and return the four ‘B’ reactors to service in the mid-2030s.

 

An operating engineer at the Pickering nuclear plant

OPG told Energy Minister Todd Smith this past summer the refurbishment was a no-brainer, leaving Smith and his experts mulling over the decision, with that announcement expected weeks, rather than months away.

Cost is an issue with naysayers who point to major cost overruns when OPG tried to refurbish Pickering A nearly two decades ago. But the refurbishment of Darlington Nuclear Generating Station a few miles to the east of Pickering is nearly complete and on time and on budget.

The station’s four-unit, $12.8 billion refurbishment, which began in 2016, is expected to be complete by the end of 2026, providing carbon-free power for thirty more years. The refurbishment project, together with the station’s (and North America’s) first fleet of grid scale small modular reactors now under construction, will generate approximately $90 billion in economic benefits for Ontario and create an average of 14,200 jobs annually across the province.

“This is a beautiful example of how big things can get done. Worthy of study and emulation,” said Keefer. “Nuclear in Ontario is in good hands with OPG.”

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland toured the Pickering plant last April

Thanks to lobbying efforts by Keefer and his organization the federal government is also on board with refurbishment and the international community has made a dramatic turnaround in recent years with the realization green, nuclear technology is the only way to achieve net-zero status and climate change goals.

And with power demand on the way up, reliable power is needed more than ever, he added.

“We’re going to need more juice. Shutting off power is not a good idea. Bringing power back online IS a good idea.”

“What else can we do? We don’t have a lot of options.”

 

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