Canadian Nuclear Association President Dr. John Barrett says the "decision by the Ontario government to keep Pickering operational through 2024 was the right one."


June 12, 2014: CNA - headshots. Photo by Dave Chan.

Ontarians and their government are completing a review of the province's Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP) to guide energy decision-making over the next three years to 2019. As anticipated in the previous LTEP (2013-16), the government of Ontario announced in December 2015 plans for the refurbishment of 10 power reactors at the Darlington and Bruce Nuclear Generating Stations over the coming 15 years. This was followed by the announcement that operations would continue at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station to 2024 to meet Ontario's clean-power needs during the early refurbishments.

There is a fundamental logic in the decision to extend Pickering to 2024. It is the linchpin of the refurbishment process, which in turn underpins the LTEP. It optimizes an existing asset, reduces electricity system costs for Ontario ratepayers, avoids a substantial increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and supports thousands of highly skilled, full-time jobs. Moreover, its 3,100 megawatts of power help to keep emissions down and pollutants out of the air during the important early stages of the Darlington and Bruce reactor refurbishments. This in turn preserves the integrity of the refurbishment project, which will give us another 25 to 30 years of positive clean energy, environmental and economic impact. In short, the Pickering extension is part and parcel of Ontario's long-term energy future.

So Pickering matters for the long term. But it also matters for today's Ontarians over the next few years.

One in seven homes and businesses in Ontario is powered by the Pickering nuclear station, just east of Toronto.According to a 2016 report from the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), nuclear power costs approximately seven cents per kilowatt hour, making it one of the most cost-effective, clean electricity sources.

In fact, during the most recent speech from the throne, the government of Ontario acknowledged the financial importance of Pickering, citing a cost-savings to ratepayers of $600 million simply by keeping the reactor running through 2024.

Next, environmental benefits. Nuclear power generation is zero-emitting when it comes to greenhouse gases. Continued operations at Pickering will therefore mean cleaner air and a healthier environment for the people of Ontario. How so? The numbers are substantial. Over the next eight years, power from Pickering will avoid approximately 17 million tonnes of climate-altering GHG emissions. This is the equivalent of taking 3.4 million cars off Ontario's roads, making Ontario's nuclear fleet the largest contributor to the province's 2020 emissions-reduction target. If you take the emissions avoided thanks to the work of Pickering, and couple this with the benefits of the Darlington and Bruce refurbishments, the result would be like eliminating the GHG emissions generated by almost every building in Ontario.

Recently, critics of nuclear have advocated for the early closure of the Pickering nuclear station. Their argument - that the power from Pickering could be easily replaced through imports of hydro from Quebec - misrepresents the claimed ease with which Quebec imports can substitute for Ontario's own clean electricity system and infrastructure. It would replace a reliable non-emitting source of energy with a blind faith - that Hydro Quebec will invest billions in transmission and generation to make it happen.

In fact, the 2013 LTEP concluded that, by shutting down Pickering in 2020 rather than 2024, electricity-sector emissions would rise by a staggering 60 per cent. Ontario would have to replace a large amount of carbon-free nuclear power with natural gas, resulting in GHG emissions and a dramatic move away from the government's climate commitments. Then there are questions over Quebec's ability to supply the 3,100 megawatts, which would come at a commodity price higher than that of Pickering today. Quebec would need new hydro-generating capacity if it's to replace Pickering, with many regulatory and environmental approval hurdles to surmount. And new transmission infrastructure would have to be built by both Ontario and Quebec, with Ontario's share being at least $2 billion and requiring seven to eight years to build. Importing Quebec hydro is therefore not a viable option as a substitute for Pickering.

By contrast, the continued operation of Pickering through 2024 gives Ontario a stable, reliable, affordable and non-emitting foundation for future de-carbonization of the province's energy system. At the same time, Pickering is a vital asset to Durham Region's economy, providing 4,500 full-time jobs to the community and over a billion dollars in local economic benefits. These highly skilled workers come directly out of Ontario's own population and institutions such as Durham College and UOIT; they belong to the Power Workers Union, Steelworkers, IBEW and Building Trades; they're your neighbours.

As Ontario looks to balance the immediate and longer-term needs of the economy with protecting the environment and the electricity consumer, while adapting to emerging trends and technologies - the "triple E" (clean energy, clean environment, economic benefit) contribution of Ontario's nuclear power generation will become all the more important to the well-being of Ontarians.

The decision by the Ontario government to keep Pickering operational through 2024 was the right one. At a time when Ontario needs affordable, reliable energy to keep the lights on - when businesses and homeowners are depending on the province to provide clean energy and keep the air free of pollutants - we need to be open about the benefits of nuclear power. Nearly 60 per cent of Ontario's daily electricity comes from clean nuclear. That is the reality. That is why Pickering matters.

Dr. John Barrett is the president and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association