Ontario extends Pickering operations

30 September 2022

The Government of Ontario has announced its support for the continued operation of Ontario Power Generation's (OPG) Pickering plant beyond its previously planned closure date. It has also told the company to reassess the feasibility of refurbishing four of the site's six units, which could enable them to operate for a further 30 years.

Todd Smith greeting workers at Pickering as the extension of the plant's operations was announced (Image: @ToddSmithPC)

Units 1 and 4 at the site - referred to as Pickering A - had been scheduled to shut in 2024, with units 5-8 - Pickering B - ending electricity production in 2025, as major refurbishment of nuclear units at the Bruce and Darlington sites progresses. At the government's request, OPG has now reviewed its operational plan and concluded that the facility could continue to safely generate electricity. Under the new plan, the Pickering B units will operate until September 2026. Units 1 and 4 will still retire at the end of 2024 as planned.

Keeping Pickering operating will provide clean, low-cost, and reliable electricity to support economic growth and jobs, Ontario Minister of Energy Todd Smith said. "Nuclear power has been the safe and reliable backbone of Ontario's electricity system since the 1970s and our government is working to secure that legacy for the future. Our leadership on small modular reactors and consideration of a refurbishment of Pickering Nuclear Generating Station are critical steps on that path," he added.

As well as reducing CO2 emissions - by 2.1 megatonnes in 2026 alone - and protecting thousands of jobs, continued operation of the Pickering units will also ensure a stable supply of cobalt 60. According to OPG, the plant currently provides around 20% of North America's and 10% of the world's supply of the medical radioisotope.

Operating the plant beyond September 2026 would require a complete refurbishment, a major - and very expensive - undertaking but one which could result in an additional 30 years of generation from the plant. OPG's last feasibility study on a possible refurbishment of the plant took place between 2006 and 2009. "With significant economic growth and increasing electrification of industry and transportation, Ontario has asked OPG to update its feasibility assessment for refurbishing Pickering B units at the Nuclear Generating Station, based on the latest information, as a prudent due diligence measure to support future electricity planning decisions," the Ontario government said.

The company will be able to draw on its experience of refurbishing units at its Darlington plant.

"In 2009, OPG reviewed the environmental and safety case for refurbishing units 5-8, and although there was community support for the refurbishment, a decision was made to not pursue the project due to the challenging economics, stagnant electricity demand, and anticipated supply chain issues and costs," President and CEO Ken Hartwick said.

"We have learned a lot about refurbishment since 2009 and through our Darlington project, which remains on time and on budget, and will apply these learnings to our feasibility assessment of Pickering."

Securing consent

OPG said it is already working to secure regulatory consent from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to continue operating units 5-8 until the end of 2026. It plans to complete the assessment requested by the province and submit a final recommendation on refurbishment by the end of 2023, the company's President and CEO Ken Hartwick said.

The current 10-year power reactor operating licence for Pickering expires in 2028, but to operate the plant beyond the end of 2024 the company must submit a written request by the end of this year, the CNSC said. The request will require a public hearing. OPG will also be required to submit a reassessment of periodic safety review results for CNSC staff to review.

The units making up Pickering A were the first commercial Candu reactors in the world to begin operations, in 1971, although a large prototype operated commercially at Douglas Point from 1968 to 1984. Pickering 1-4 were laid up in 1997; units 1 and 4 were subsequently refurbished and restarted in 2005 and 2003 respectively. Pickering 2 and 3 were not restarted.

The CAD12.8 billion (USD10.1 billion) project to refurbish OPG's Darlington units passed the half-way mark earlier this year. The first refurbished unit at the site - Darlington 2 - returned to service in June 2020; work is currently under way on units 1 and 3, and refurbishment of unit 4 is scheduled to begin in the third quarter of 2023.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News