Ontario leaves door open for full-scale build at Bowmanville’s Darlington nuclear plant


Published July 7, 2023 at 1:44 pm

Friday’s announcement that the provincial government and Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is building three new Small Modular Reactors (SMR) at the Darlington nuclear plant is “great news” for Canada but the man leading the charge to bring nuclear power back to prominence in this country believes the Bowmanville site is capable of much more.

“This is a very positive announcement,” said Dr. Chris Keefer, the President of nuclear advocacy group Canadians for Nuclear Energy. “But Darlington is our most precious nuclear site and this uses just one-quarter of the capacity.”

Keefer’s group issued a report – The Case for CANDU – earlier this year calling for Ontario to approve at least ten full-scale nuclear plants to meet the surging need for energy and to help the country meet its clean energy commitments.

That commitment got off to a great start Wednesday when Ontario Energy Minister Todd Smith announced that the Province will build a new plant at Bruce Nuclear on the shores of Lake Huron – already the world’s second largest nuclear station – that will be the first new, large-scale nuclear plant in Ontario in 30 years.

Since Darlington started producing for the grid in 1993, in fact.

The new plant at Bruce, which will be online sometime in the next decade, will be capable of producing 4,800 megawatts of power: enough to power 4.8 million homes.

The SMRs are each capable of producing 300 megawatts of power. With the three future SMRs and the small nuclear reactor now under construction at Darlington – Canada’s first – Ontario has added 6,000 megawatts of future power in just two days.

“The nuclear renaissance is on and Canada and Ontario are leading it,” said Keefer.

Dr. Chris Keefer with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last December in Ottawa

His hope, however, was that Ontario would be approving a new CANDU reactor at Darlington, Canadian technology that would have meant thousands of local jobs in the supply chain for decades to come.

“This is great news, especially for our European allies,” he said, with Poland’s Ambassador to Canada in attendance at the announcement. “But it may not be the best use of our resources.”

Adding the BWRX SMR design comes with a risk that Canadians could eventually be “squeezed out” out of future work, he pointed out, because the technology is not Canadian.

Still, he added, sometimes it’s good to “start small” and he was happy to hear Smith say in today’s press conference that the door would be left open for full scale nuclear reactors to be added to Darlington in the future.

“It makes sense to put the SMRs here,” Smith said in response to media questions. “But we are going to need 18 Gigawatts (in the future) so we’ll have more to say.”

That was certainly music to Keefer’s ears. “That would be fabulous – as a nuclear advocate that’s what I am hoping for.”

The Darlington announcement, along with Smith’s promise made Wednesday that the refurbishment of the nearby Pickering ‘B’ nuclear plant would be a definite go, was all good news for Canada’s energy future and for jobs in Durham Region.

“Our government’s open for business approach has led to unprecedented investments across the province – from electric vehicles and battery manufacturing to critical minerals to green steel,” said Smith. “Expanding Ontario’s world-leading SMR program will ensure we have the reliable, affordable and clean electricity we need to power the next major international investment, the new homes we are building and industries as they grow and electrify.”

Ontario Energy Minister Todd Smith

Subject to Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) regulatory approvals on construction, the additional SMRs could come online between 2034 and 2036, he said. This timing would allow OPG to apply knowledge from the construction of the first unit to deliver cost savings on subsequent units.

Building multiple units, noted OPG President Ken Hartwick, will also allow common infrastructure such as cooling water intake, transmission connection and control rooms to be utilized by all four units instead of just one, reducing costs even further.

“A fleet of SMRs at the Darlington New Nuclear Site is key to meeting growing electricity demands and net zero goals,” Hartwick said. “OPG has proven its large nuclear project expertise through the on-time, on budget Darlington refurbishment project. By taking a similar approach to building a fleet of SMRs, we will deliver cost and schedule savings, and power 1.2 million homes from this site by the mid-2030s.”

Supporting new SMR development and investing in nuclear power will help Ontario prepare for electricity demand in the 2030s and 2040s and maintain its position as an energy leader, noted Clarington Mayor Adrian Foster, who called Durham Region the “energy capital of the world.”

“The world is watching what is happening here,” he said. “And it’s not just pronouncements. We’re taking tangible steps towards a clean environment.”

Forecasts are showing that Ontario could need to more than double its electricity generation capacity by 2050 – an additional 17,800 MW of nuclear power would be required to meet that increased demand.

Nuclear power currently provides about 50 per cent of Ontario’s electricity supply.

indurham's Editorial Standards and Policies advertising