THUNDER BAY – POLITICS – The Ontario government has recently announced its support for Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) plan to refurbish the “B” units (units 5-8) of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station. This ambitious project aims to produce a total of 2,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity, capable of powering two million homes. This initiative is seen as a critical step in meeting the increasing electricity demand due to electrification and fueling the province’s economic growth.
Energy Minister Todd Smith emphasized the role of this refurbishment in attracting global business, noting that it would help Ontario compete for significant investments. The project, with a $2 billion budget for its initial phase, is expected to create thousands of new jobs and continue to produce safe, reliable, and clean electricity for at least another 30 years.
Peter Bethlenfalvy, MPP for Pickering-Uxbridge, pointed out the necessity of this project to meet the growing electricity demand in Ontario. This expansion of Ontario’s generation capacity aligns with Canada’s largest clean energy storage procurement and energy efficiency programs.
The Conference Board of Canada’s preliminary analysis predicts that the refurbishment will contribute $19.4 billion to Ontario’s GDP over the project’s 11-year period and create about 11,000 jobs annually. Ken Hartwick, OPG President and CEO, highlighted the experienced team at Pickering and their successful track record with the Darlington refurbishment.
Government Strategy and Environmental Considerations
The refurbishment is part of Ontario’s broader strategy, “Powering Ontario’s Growth,” which includes advancing nuclear power, competitive procurements for non-emitting electricity resources, new transmission infrastructure, and planning for future transmission. These steps are aimed at meeting electricity demand and reducing emissions to support the electrification of the province’s overall economy.
Concerns and Challenges
However, this announcement has also raised concerns. Groups like Northwatch have criticized the plan for its potential environmental impact, particularly regarding the generation of highly radioactive waste. Brennain Lloyd, a spokesperson for Northwatch, expressed concerns about the absence of a long-term plan for managing this waste.
“Rebuilding the four aging reactors to allow an additional 30 years of operation will cost the province’s ratepayers many billion dollars – the Minister refused to estimate the total cost – and will add to the growing stockpile of highly radioactive nuclear fuel waste and refurbishment wastes,” states Northwatch.
“The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), a consortium of nuclear utilities led by Ontario Power Generation, has been working on a plan to construct a deep geological repository for Canada’s reactor fuel wastes for over twenty years, but is still at the “concept” stage and has yet to secure a site for the proposed used fuel processing facility and the underground complex of tunnels where the waste would be placed”.
“There was not a single word of acknowledgement that this refurbishment will generate large volumes of high-level radioactive waste which will require care and containment into the far, far future. The Mayor of Pickering professed that his municipality is a willing host for the refurbishment project, but there is no willing host for the wastes it will generate,” commented Brennain Lloyd, a spokesperson with the northern Ontario based environmental coalition Northwatch.
The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is currently investigating potential sites for a deep geological repository to store Canada’s reactor fuel wastes. The additional waste from the refurbished Pickering reactors complicates this plan, potentially requiring a reassessment of the NWMO’s project and its impacts.
Residents along the transportation routes and near the proposed repository sites are worried about radiation exposure, transportation accidents, and environmental releases from the processing facility and underground storage.
Regulatory Oversight and Future Steps
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) will oversee the regulatory approval process for the refurbishment, ensuring a rigorous and transparent review. The project will only proceed if it aligns with the best interests of Ontario and its ratepayers.
The refurbishment of Pickering Nuclear Generating Station stands at a crossroads of economic growth and environmental stewardship. While it promises significant economic and energy benefits for Ontario, it also poses challenges and concerns that need careful consideration and management. The decision to move forward with this project will have long-lasting implications for the province, both in terms of its energy landscape and its environmental footprint.