OPG boss outlines logic behind possible refurbishment of Pickering nuclear plant

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Published October 12, 2022 at 3:15 pm

Sixteen years ago Ontario Power Generation launched a feasibility study on the potential for refurbishing the Pickering Nuclear plant. Three years later, with an approved Environmental Assessment in hand, the utility giant said no.

A new feasibility study is now underway, with a one-year deadline for completion. A positive conclusion, along with approvals from the provincial government and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, could mean another 30 years of operation for the Pickering plant, an outcome that was a million-to-one longshot only a few years ago.

The need for more energy, especially clean energy, has always been critical. So what has changed since 2009?

Ken Hartwick, OPG’s CEO, said they have “learned a lot about refurbishment” since 2009 and the skilled workers required for the job have been soaking up knowledge on best practices while working on a $12 billion refurbishment for the Darlington Nuclear plant in nearby Clarington, which is halfway to completion.

“We will apply these learnings to our feasibility assessment of Pickering,” he said.

The decision made in 2009 not to support refurbishment was due to the “challenging economics, stagnant electricity demand” and supply chain issues, particularly the difficulties in securing long-lead time supply chain products as well as resourcing, Hartwick explained.

Some of the “context” has changed since then, he added.

“The Darlington refurbishment has recapitalized and revitalized the supply chain and well-trained workforce necessary to complete this type of work,” Hartwick said, adding that when the Darlington project is finished in 2026 it will “free up many workers with the skills and experience necessary to refurbish a CANDU nuclear power plant.”

Climate change concerns have also become “a much more pressing issue” in the past dozen or so years as well. “We know we can’t get to net-zero without nuclear energy.”

Hartwick expects the feasibility study to be wrapped up by year’s end in 2023 and will build on previous work completed for the Pickering Refurbishment project. No cost estimate is available at this time.

Ken Hartwick. CEO of OPG

The feasibility study on Pickering refurbishment will focus on several issues, including:

  • Technical assessments of all major components
  • Condition assessments of balance of plant components
  • Technical feasibility and scope
  • Business and economic viability compared to potential alternatives
  • Skilled workforce availability
  • Material availability and
  • Environmental and regulatory considerations

Hartwick said there will be a need for additional electricity through the summer of 2026 and beyond and the energy ministry wants OPG to “make the best use of existing non-emitting assets and reduce reliance on natural gas,” which is a cause for optimism for nuclear supporters in Pickering.

But he cautions that the utility may not know what the future holds but is “preparing for all possibilities.”

“Even if a decision is made to refurbish Units 5 – 8, our organization will change as we remove Pickering units from service, place Units 1 and 4 into safe storage, and layup Units 5 – 8 until we are ready to execute refurbishment scope. OPG’s workforce in coming years, whether Pickering operations are ended or paused, will be different. OPG will continue to prepare the company and our workforce for the future beyond 2025.”

“The programs and processes that we are establishing today, including redeployment provisions, are flexible and will enable us to pivot as our work programs evolve.”

Hartwick called nuclear power “the backbone of Ontario’s electricity system” as it provides 60 per cent of the province’s electricity needs, as well as 10 per cent of the world’s supply of the critical medical isotype COBALT-60. He also noted that the Pickering plant is seeing its strongest performance ever, with Units 4 and 6 ranked among the top 10 CANDU reactors in the world.

“OPG is in a great position to refurbish Pickering. No one knows our station better than our employees, and we have demonstrated our ability to bring in large projects like refurbishment on time and on budget. But it’s also important to recognize that deciding to assess the feasibility of refurbishing Pickering Units 5 – 8 is the first step of a significant and complex undertaking.”

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