The Ontario government has authorized Ontario Power Generation to begin reactor upgrades at Canada’s oldest nuclear power plant in Pickering.
Energy Secretary Todd Smith granted OPG an initial budget of $2 billion to begin ordering long-lead components and begin engineering and design work on the project, which will allow it to be completed by the mid-2030s. Four reactors are expected to return to operation. He said early work needed to be completed before cost estimates could be published.
“It would be irresponsible to release numbers at this time,” Smith told reporters at the facility Tuesday. “Ontario is currently experiencing an increase in electricity demand for the first time in 18 years, and we need to do better.”
The renovation work aims to replace major parts and other equipment of the reactor, extending its service life by 30 years. The overhaul includes only the four Pickering “B” reactors, which began operating in the mid-1980s. Two older Pickering “A” reactors still in operation are scheduled to be permanently shut down this year, and two others were broken down decades ago.
Pickering B has a capacity of more than 2,000 megawatts. The Independent Power System Operator, which operates Ontario’s power grid, considered building new nuclear reactors and building wind farms combined with battery storage in an evaluation of alternatives provided to the government.
IESO concluded that Ontario would need to build as much as 18,000 MW of wind capacity to replace Pickering B’s capacity, more than three times the current amount installed in the province. .
“What they discovered was this made the most sense ever,” Smith said of the renovation.
IESO said it chose the combination of wind power generation and energy storage based on the low “capacity factor” of wind turbines. This refers to the amount of electricity a facility is expected to generate, taking into account factors such as weather and maintenance needs. (Nuclear reactors typically produce electricity much more consistently and predictably than wind turbines.)
“The most cost-optimal combination of wind power and storage is because less wind power is built, more storage is needed, and the net cost is higher,” spokesman Andrew Dow said in an email. wrote.
But Mark Winfield, a professor at the University of York who specializes in energy policy, said IESO’s estimate of 18,000 megawatts of wind power to replace Pickering B seemed too high.
“The short answer is no. It’s not a valid comparison,” he wrote.
Clean Energy Canada, a climate and energy think tank, praised the government for supporting nuclear power over “polluting” natural gas power generation. (IESO purchased natural gas-fired power generation in a recent procurement.)
“New natural gas would be a last resort,” said Rachel Dolan, vice president for policy and strategy. “And many commentators, including the Canadian Energy Regulator and the International Energy Agency, recognize the role of nuclear power in the long-term net-zero energy mix.
“But nuclear power is the only tool in the toolbox, and we’ve seen globally that renewables and storage are increasingly poised to play a role.”
Chris Kiefer, president of the Canadian nuclear energy advocacy group, began lobbying for the upgrade four years ago, when the possibility was barely being discussed. He said the growing influence of unions on provincial government, Ontario’s growing demand for electricity, and OPG’s success during the renovation of Darlington Station in Clarington, Ont., all contribute to the government’s commitment to extending the station’s lifespan. He said he contributed to the decision.
“Despite the coronavirus pandemic and supply chain challenges, we delivered the last unit to Darlington six months ahead of schedule,” Keefer said. “This is unprecedented for any mega-project.”
The project requires approval from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. OPG CEO Ken Hartwick said he was confident his company would make the acquisition. He noted that Ontario’s nuclear industry has gained considerable experience through the refurbishment of the eight-reactor Bruce Station in Darlington and Tiverton.
“Over the past 10 years, we have learned a lot about what it takes to retrofit a nuclear power plant the right way,” he said. “We have a strong nuclear supply chain that is already in place and operational.”
The NDP wants OPG to release the results of its feasibility study on the project, but said the government has refused to release them to the Globe and Mail under the province’s Freedom of Information Act.
“The Conservative Party must be fully transparent and publish the feasibility study and financials of this project,” the party’s energy critic Peter Tabns said in a written statement. “Without these details, we cannot evaluate this project.”
Ontario last considered upgrading Pickering B about 15 years ago, but decided against it. According to a 2010 OPG statement obtained by anti-nuclear group Greenpeace Canada through the province’s Freedom of Information Act and provided to the Globe, the cost of the upgrades at the time was “approximately $10.7 billion, or $2 billion per reactor. It is estimated that “contingency funds have been added.” ”
The cost of electricity produced by the refurbished units was 9.6 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to 8 cents per kilowatt-hour for the refurbished Darlington reactor.
“It is likely that deficiencies will be discovered that may make refurbishment impossible,” the document added.