Canada: Lifetime extension for North Americas third-oldest NPP planned at Pickering

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Thanks to its absolute refusal to consider much lower cost renewable sources and energy efficiency, the Ford government in Ontario has landed on the idea of once again dragging out the life of the old and unsafe Pickering Nuclear Station. This terrible idea is where you end up if you ignore better alternatives, like rapidly expanding use of much lower cost solar and wind, getting back to promoting ultra low-cost energy efficiency to lower bills while saving power, and cooperating with your energy rich neighbours in Quebec.

Faced with strong public concern about the climate consequences of a huge surge in the use of gas-fired power plants, the Ontario Ford government has opted for the highest cost and highest risk response: Extending the life of a nuclear station that has long exceeded its engineering life span. As the third-oldest nuclear station in North America, the Pickering Station has a long history of serious accidents, and its poor performance played a key role in requiring Ontario to ramp up the use of coal-fired power plants in the early 2000s.

An even worse idea than extending the life of this trouble prone plant is thinking about rebuilding its ancient reactors. Already, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is forecasting that the rebuilding of its much younger Darlington Nuclear Station will increase its price of nuclear electricity by 30% by 2027. Re-building the Pickering Nuclear Station would cause OPG’s rates to rise even more. This at a time when study after study shows that a strong embrace of renewable sources can dramatically lower energy costs.

As it is, the Pickering station has the second highest non-fuel operating costs for any nuclear plant in North America, with costs that are triple those of the continent’s best-performing plants. Its aging and brittle pressure tube system is a nightmare in the making – economically and for the safety of us all.

Meanwhile, under the Ford government’s plan, the Pickering plant – which is surrounded by more people than any other nuclear station in North America – will continue to produce deadly radioactive waste for which we have no long-term storage solutions. And knowing that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) will review plans for a life extension won’t help us sleep better at night – the CNSC has never turned down a nuclear plant licence application.

In the press conference announcing its dubious plan to once again extend the life of a plant designed in the 1950s and ‘60s, and constructed in the 1960s and ‘70s, no member of the Ford team could bring themselves to say anything positive about energy, efficiency, or cooperation with Quebec. Instead, we got a lot of happy talk about building more nuclear. For a government that prides itself on fiscal responsibility, pie in the sky claims that nuclear energy will reduce costs are laughable at best, alarming at worse. Claiming that the plant has operated “without incident” for 50 years and that we have adequate waste storage solutions is equally baffling. Neither claim is even remotely true.

Instead of indulging in empty talk, the Ford government would be well advised to take another hard look at where its energy plan is taking this province: Toward an outdated 1970s power system based on a mix of high-cost nuclear and polluting gas that will simultaneously raise our electricity rates and climate pollution. This is not a system that will make Ontario economically competitive. Instead, it will leave this province as the big loser when it comes to the global green transition, having bet on the wrong horse while watching others take the lead.

Angela Bischoff, Director Ontario Clean Air Alliance