The Ontario government is supporting Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) plan to proceed with the next steps toward refurbishing Pickering Nuclear Generating Station’s “B” units (units 5-8). Once refurbished, Pickering would produce a total of 2,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity, equivalent to powering two million homes, helping to meet increasing demand from electrification and fuelling the province’s economic growth.

“With global business looking to expand in jurisdictions with reliable, affordable and clean electricity, a refurbished Pickering Nuclear Generating Station would help Ontario compete for and land more game-changing investments,” said Todd Smith, Ontario’s Minister of Energy. “The refurbishment of Pickering would create thousands of new jobs and help produce at least another 30 years of safe, reliable and clean electricity to power the next major international investment, the new homes we are building and industries as they grow and electrify.”

OPG will now proceed with the Project Initiation Phase of refurbishment which will last through the end of 2024. The government is supporting OPG’s $2 billion budget for this phase which includes engineering and design work as well as securing long-lead components that can require years for manufacturing. By placing orders in advance with key suppliers, OPG will ensure materials are available when Ontario needs them and help keep costs down. OPG and its business partners will also identify potential Indigenous engagement opportunities in contracting, employment and other economic benefits related to the project.

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On January 30, 2024, Todd Smith, Ontario’s Minister of Energy announces the Ontario government is supporting Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) plan to proceed with the next steps toward refurbishing the Pickering Nuclear Generating Plant. (Credit: Government of Ontario.)

“With new investments and jobs coming to Ontario and the population growing rapidly, our province needs clean and affordable energy that all communities can rely on,” said Peter Bethlenfalvy, MPP for Pickering-Uxbridge. “To meet this growing electricity demand, we are expanding Ontario’s generation capacity, conducting Canada’s largest clean energy storage procurement, and expanding energy efficiency programs.”

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Based on OPG’s preliminary schedule, the refurbishment of Pickering Nuclear Generation Station is anticipated to be completed by the mid-2030s. According to independent preliminary analysis by the Conference Board of Canada, the refurbishment of Pickering is expected to increase Ontario’s GDP by $19.4 billion over the 11-year project period. The project is also expected to create about 11,000 jobs per year, supporting a growing labour force across the province through existing and new good-paying jobs in the nuclear and supporting industries. Post-refurbishment operation of the facility would also create and sustain about 6,410 Ontario jobs per year for decades to come.

“Today’s announcement is a testament to the highly skilled Pickering Nuclear team, whose focus on safety and performance allows the station to reliably power the equivalent of more than two million Ontario homes,” said Ken Hartwick, OPG president and CEO. “Our experience refurbishing Darlington, a highly complex project that remains on time and on budget, will be invaluable as we begin the work necessary so Pickering can continue to help meet the growing electricity demands of this thriving province for another three-plus decades.”

The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) concluded that the Pickering refurbishment would provide better overall ratepayer value in terms of costs and risks, when compared against non-emitting generation alternatives. This, combined with Pickering’s outstanding operational performance and Ontario’s thriving economy driving electricity demand, factored into the government’s decision to support OPG’s work toward extending the life of this long-time clean energy workhorse.

The refurbishment of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station is just one part of Powering Ontario’s Growth, the government’s pragmatic plan which outlines the actions the province is taking to meet electricity demand and reduce emissions by supporting the electrification of the province’s overall economy over the long-term.

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In 2023 the Pickering plant recorded its highest generation output since 2019 and its second-highest output ever as a six-unit station.

However, critics from the environment industry are voicing their concerns.

“There is not a chance that the cost of power from these rebuilt reactors will be competitive with the current cost of solar and wind power. And given that solar and wind power costs just keep dropping, this plan is going to look like an even worse bargain for the people of this province a decade from now,” said Angela Bischoff, director of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance.

According to the Alliance, the Pickering Nuclear Station is a dangerously outdated facility surrounded by more people (within 30 km) than any other nuclear plant in North America. “Its deadly radioactive waste is stored in conventional commercial warehouses on the shores of Lake Ontario, the source of drinking water for millions of people. And that waste isn’t going anywhere for decades – if ever,” adds Bischoff.

“A smart government would be focusing on tripling Ontario’s wind and solar capacity and reaping the benefits of low-cost climate-friendly power that doesn’t create radioactive waste or endanger millions of people. That’s what BC and Quebec are doing. Great Lakes offshore wind power alone could meet all of Ontario’s current power needs.”

The Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) is also disappointed about the decision. CELA has participated for many years in licensing matters related to the Pickering site. In particular, CELA has undertaken in depth analysis of emergency planning readiness and has expressed very high concern for the protection of the surrounding communities in the event of a severe offsite nuclear accident.

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“The population density around the Pickering plant is far too high for the continued operation of a nuclear power plant,” stated Theresa McClenaghan, executive director of CELA. “If such a proposal was brought forward today it would never pass the siting guidelines of the International Atomic Energy Agency that Canada says it follows. Putting a major commercial nuclear power plant in the midst of a high population area is unconscionable.”

As for Pollution Probe, the oldest environmental organization in Ontario, it released the following statement:

“Ontario announced the first phase of the Pickering nuclear plant refurbishment. Nuclear power has an advantage as it can provide Ontario with a lot of  low carbon power. We will work with the Province to ensure that the environment and human health continue to be protected.”

Featured image credit: OPG

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