Time to Shut Down the Pickering Nuclear Station

Blog by Greenpeace’s Shawn-Patrick Stencil http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/en/Blog/time-to-shut-down-the-pickering-nuclear-stati/blog/47446/

  • Time to Shut Down the Pickering Nuclear Station

    Blogpost by Shawn-Patrick Stensil – November 19, 2013 at 12:27 Add comment

    Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli has good reason to cancel the proposed life-extension of the Pickering nuclear station when he releases his government’s new Long Term Electricity Plan next month.  Electricity demand is falling while the cost and risks of running the Ontario’s aging nuclear reactors are increasing.   It makes sense to retire Pickering.

    Pickering: Electricity We don’t Need

    Imagine spending billions on something you don’t need.   This is exactly what we’re doing with Pickering.

    Ontario electricity consumers pay Ontario Power Generation (OPG) over a billion dollars annually for Pickering’s output, but as the graph below shows we don’t need Pickering at all.  

    The graph contrasts the Independent Electricity System Operator’s (IESO) projection for overall electricity demand (the blue line) with the projected need for “baseload” supply (the redline). 

    Ontario’s electricity planners consider “baseload” to be the minimum amount of supply to meet constant demand.  Because they run twenty-four hours a day, hydro and nuclear plants are currently used to meet baseload demand (although this could change in the future).

    All of Pickering’s output – the checkered yellow bars – fall above the red line.  

    The take-away message: Pickering’s entire output will be surplus for the next five years.  We’re spending billions on something we don’t need.  

    And while the surplus does drop in 2019 and 2020 as reactors at Bruce and Darlington go offline for refurbishment (this could also change with adjustments to refurbishment schedules), this graph most likely underestimates baseload supply because it doesn’t include production from other baseload sources, such as Combined Heat and Power (CHP) facilities. 

    Indeed if Minister Chiarelli follows through on his government’s promise to put ramp up energy conservation demand will drop even further by 2020.

    Pickering: A Money Pit

    What do you do after buying electricity you don’t need?  Right now we’re typically selling it at a loss to the United States.

    At present, Ontario’s grid operator pays OPG about 5.5 cents a KWh for Pickering’s output and then sells it a rebate to the Americans.   OPG wants more for running its aging reactors and has asked the Ontario Energy Board to increase the payments for its nuclear plants to 6.9 cents KWh – a 30% increase.  This would increase the average Ontarian’s electricity bill by $5.36 a month.

    Indeed, a 2012 review by Ontario Power Authority (OPA) characterized Pickering’s continued operation as a potential $760 million “dis-benefit” to the province’s electricity system. 

    In short, Pickering is a massive money pit.   

    Pickering is operating beyond safety limits

    Continuing to run the agining Pickering reactors also comes with increasing accident risks.

    Even if there’s no need for the power, OPG hopes to get paid for running the Pickering reactors until 2020.  This is highly risky because Pickering reaches the end of its design life next year.

    And despite years of preparation, OPG failed to provide proof it could safely operate Pickering beyond its design life during hearings of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) last May.

    Worse still, Greenpeace submitted evidence to the Commission showing the risk of an accident at Pickering had increased significantly and the station’s operation exceeds safety limits. The evidence was OPG’s own risk studies. 

    In response, the Commission – in an unprecedented move – denied OPG permission to run Pickering beyond its design life.  It instructed OPG to come back next year with a full safety case including “an action plan” for system upgrades if warranted. 

    What would such an action plan entail?  Potentially expensive engineered upgrades.  The cost of these upgrades would eventually get passed onto electricity consumers. 

    Time to Retire Pickering

    Last month, Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli announced he was cancelling plans to build new reactors.   He admitted new reactors weren’t needed due to declining electricity demand. 

    What Minister Chiarelli didn’t say was this decline in electricity demand has also eliminated the need for Pickering.

    New reactors were meant to replace Pickering when it closes.  And the proposed life-extension of Pickering was intended to bridge a perceived electricity gap between Pickering’s end of life in 2014 and when new reactors were hoped to come online in 2020.

    Declining electricity demand, however, has eliminated the need for new reactors and Pickering.

    Minister Chiarelli has good reason, then, to cancel the proposed life-extension of Pickering when he releases the government’s new Long Term Electricity Plan next month.

    Indeed, it doesn’t make any sense to spend billions on something we don’t need.

Refurbished Korean Candu Still Without Operating Licence

There has been a lot of talk about the Korean Candu reactor Wolsong 1 which started its refurbishment after Point Lepreau, and was completed before Lepreau. What a lot of people don’t know is that after 1 year and 4 months of operation after it’s refurbishment, Wolsong’s operating licence ran out because the reactor had passed its design life. The operator of the plant applied for the life extension in 2009, but it has still not got the green light for operation. It has been shut down ever since Nov 2012.

I am glad the Korean regulator is taking the life extension of Wolsong 1 very seriously-despite power shortages due to the shutdown of several reactors. Perhaps they are concerned because several safety documents had been found falsified at other reactors. Charges have now been laid to over 100 individuals including employees of the regulator. Korea is no longer rubber stamping the operations of this geriatric reactor.

This is in contrast to the recent Pickering licence renewal in which the CNSC staff approved the continued operation of the Pickering nuclear reactor beyond its design life. They approved this even without the costly refurbishment process of replacing the deteriorated pressure tubes, one of the main limiting factors for safe operation. Luckily, due to interventions from myself, Greenpeace, the Canadian Environmental Law Association and others, another public hearing is needed before Pickering can be operated beyond its design life.  As well, due in large part to our interventions, a page and a half of additional conditions were also put upon Pickering’s license.

It seems odd to me to be wishing that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission act more like the Korean regulator, especially even after the recent findings of corruption within its ranks. The Canadian government should really take a page from their book, and think very seriously about the safety of operating a nuclear reactor beyond it’s design life.


Chris Rouse

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