Nuclear pivotal for clean-air Ontario

01 December 2014

Nuclear generation has played a pivotal role in helping the province of Ontario meet its aims to improve air quality and meet climate change targets, according to a report co-authored by Bruce Power and the Asthma Society of Canada.

Since 2003, Ontario's energy policy has focused on phasing out coal. The report, entitled Clean Air Ontario, looks at the implications of world use of greenhouse gas-intensive energy sources such as coal and their contributions to air quality and poor human health, and highlights the success of Ontario's program to shut down its coal plants.

Nuclear energy has played a key part in the province's efforts. Ontario is home to all but one of Canada's 19 currently operating nuclear power reactors, but by the end of the 1990s all four of Bruce A's nuclear units had been laid up by then-operator Ontario Hydro. Four units at Pickering where also laid up. By 2000 coal accounted for 29% per cent of the province's energy mix, resulting in a high number of summer smog days and increased lung-health problems, including asthma exacerbations, the report notes.

Fast forward to 2013, with refurbished nuclear units back on line and nuclear accounting for over 59% of Ontario's electricity supply. "A coal-free electricity supply mix has led to a significant reduction in harmful emissions, contributing to cleaner air and a healthier environment," the report notes. The number of smog days in the Greater Toronto Area dropped from 48 days in 2005 to zero in 2014, it adds.

Asthma Society of Canada president and CEO Rob Oliphant said that the province's improved air quality correlated with increased reliance on nuclear energy and the phasing out of coal. "Every step we take towards a cleaner electricity supply mix and a reduced reliance on fossil fuels for energy and transportation, the better the air quality in the province. As we reduce carbon emissions with the help of Bruce Power, we increase the quality of life for our residents, especially those who suffer with asthma," he said.

Ontario's electricity generation officially became coal-free in April this year when the Thunder Bay power station burned the last of its supplies of coal before being converted to a biomass-fuelled plant.

The report highlights the long-term energy plan released by Ontario's Ministry of Energy in December 2013, which found refurbished nuclear to be the most cost-effective option available to meet Ontario’s baseload requirements while producing no greenhouse gas emissions. The plan assumed the refurbishment of unrefurbished Bruce Power units at Bruce and Darlington, with Pickering remaining in operation until 2020. This would see a nuclear share of Ontario's energy mix of 45-50%.

However, the report warns that future refurbishments must be coordinated to ensure continued system reliability and stable electricity prices. "If it is determined that some incremental nuclear capacity is needed beyond the 9800 MW from the refurbishment programs at Bruce and Darlington, there is also an opportunity to look at options to further increase the output from these units through technological advances," it adds.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News