Going renewable means phasing out our aging nuclear reactors.
Ontario is the 2nd most nuclearized jurisdiction in the world – we get 60% of our electricity from 18 nuclear reactors. But accidents happen, and when nuclear accidents happen, they’re catastrophic.
What would happen if a serious nuclear accident, similar to what took place in Fukushima, Japan in March 2011, were to occur at the Pickering Nuclear Station just east of Toronto?
We asked UK radiation expert Dr. Ian Fairlie to model such a scenario. He found that an estimated 26,000 cancer cases would arise over subsequent years, of which roughly half would be fatal.
Large areas of the Greater Toronto Area, including potentially Pickering, Markham, Newmarket, Aurora and Scarborough, would need to be evacuated affecting 650,000 residents, and 154,000 homes. These homes would become uninhabitable for 30 to 100 years or more, resulting in a $125 billion loss in the value of single family homes.
Homeowners would not be fully compensated for their losses since Ontario Power Generation’s liability is capped at $1 billion and home insurance policies do not cover losses in the event of a nuclear accident.
Assurances that “it can never happen here” should be contrasted with the surprising regularity of nuclear accidents, with one major accident occurring roughly every 10 years worldwide. This unfortunate history started with a major accident at the Chalk River reactor in Ontario in 1952, and then again in 1958.
The good news is that all 18 of our nuclear reactors come to the end of their lives in the next decade – giving us plenty of time to go renewable.
The gov’t of ON, however, has other plans. They’re committed to rebuilding all 8 reactors at the Bruce station (the largest nuclear station in the world), rebuilding all 4 Darlington reactors, and extending the lives of the 6 geriatric Pickering reactors – locking us into high cost nuclear power for another 5 decades.
The Pickering Nuclear Station is the fourth oldest nuclear station in North America and one of the largest. It relies on systems — including computer systems — designed in the 1960s and ‘70s. Many experts have noted that the station has fundamental design flaws that would be unacceptable in newer facilities.
Meanwhile, the Pickering Station is surrounded by more people (within 30 km) than any other nuclear plant on the continent. It is highly questionable whether such a plant would ever be built in a location like this today. This is partly because we also understand the growing range of threats to such high-risk facilities, including cyberattacks.
The Pickering Nuclear Station also has the highest operating costs of any nuclear plant in North America. So the fundamental question becomes: is it worth the risk of continuing to operate this aging plant when we have safer and lower cost options such as Quebec water power?
The Province of Quebec has made it very clear that it is interested in making a deal to supply Ontario with safe, renewable water power. In the summer of 2017, it was reported that Hydro Quebec had offered Ontario power for 20 years at a cost of 5 cents a kilowatt hour (kWh). This is roughly half of Pickering’s current operating cost per kWh and roughly a third of what Ontario Power Generation is seeking to be paid for power from re-built Darlington reactors (16.5 cents per kWh)
The Pickering Nuclear Station’s operating licence expires on August 31, 2018. But Ontario Power Generation is seeking a 10 year licence extension.
We are calling for the Pickering station to be shut down in August and immediately dismantled and decommissioned. This is international best practice according to the International Atomic Energy Agency and would create 32,000 person-years of employment between now and 2030.
The consequences of a major accident at the Pickering Nuclear Station would be severe. Safer and less expensive options for meeting our power needs are readily available. There is no good reason to continue operating a high-risk and high-cost facility that has already surpassed its design life. It is time to stop risking lives and turn to safer and lower cost alternatives.
Posted by Ian Whyte for invited guest contributor:
Angela Bischoff, Director