Union applauds Pickering nuclear plant refurbishment

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Mike Lewis

Special to CaDCR

The union representing more than 9,000 energy workers in Ontario is welcoming the province’s announcement that it will support Ontario Power Generation’s plan to refurbish the 38-year-old Pickering B Nuclear Generating Station. 

“Today’s announcement protects good union jobs, and will help our province produce low-cost, emissions-free power as we electrify our economy into the future,” said Michelle Johnston, president of the Society of United Professionals, which has long advocated for a lifestyle extension for the Pickering plant.

Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) estimates that to meet the province’s net-zero targets by 2050 Ontario will need to triple the installed capacity of nuclear power. Currently, approximately 93 per cent of Ontario’s energy output comes from nuclear, hydro, and renewables. The end of operations at the PNGS would have reduced the province’s baseload energy capacity by 3,100 megawatts, a deficit that would have had to be replaced by natural gas, the union said in a statement.

Demand projections show that if the province is forced to rely on natural gas for baseload generation, Ontario’s carbon emissions from electricity generation would nearly triple over the next two decades, returning to levels equivalent to when the Nanticoke coal plant was still in operation.

Along with the planned expansions of the Bruce Power and Darlington nuclear sites, extending the life of the Pickering plant brings the province significantly closer to reaching net-zero goals, the Society says.

Ontario Energy Minister Todd Smith announced the Ford government’s support of OPG’s plan to proceed with the next steps toward refurbishing Pickering’s B units, all CANDU reactors that date back to the early 1980s that would produce a total of 2,000 megawatts of electricity, equivalent to powering two million homes once refurbished.

The minister did not disclose the refurbishment cost but a similar refurbishment of four units at the nearby Darlington plant is about midway through completion with a total budget of $12.8 billion. 

The Pickering refurbishment plan is subject to approval by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which is considering extending the operating licence of Pickering B’s existing units until 2026. That would allow the plant, just east of Toronto, to keep generating power until the refurbishment shutdown.

The Pickering announcement adds to Ontario’s plans to almost double production at Bruce Power, already the largest nuclear generating station in the world and to add three more small modular reactors to the one in the works at Darlington.

But Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner in a statement said the nuclear push does not consider other lower-cost, clean energy solutions, adding that the Pickering plant is expensive and has performed poorly. The Ontario Clean Air Alliance, which campaigned to phase-out Ontario’s coal-fired power plants, in a statement criticized the lack of cost transparency for the Ontario plan to refurbish what it called an outdated Pickering facility.

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