Mixed fortunes for Canadian reactors

21 September 2012

As the Bruce A1 reactor sends electricity to the grid for the first time in 15 years following a major refurbishment, Gentilly 2 learns from politicians that it faces closure.

Bruce A1 has been off line since 1997, when its then owner Ontario Hydro decided to lay up all four Bruce A units to focus on other reactors in its fleet. By 2004, Bruce Power had taken over operations and brought units 3 and 4 back into operation. The government of Ontario is committed to phasing out coal-fired electricity generation in the province, and in 2005, faced with impending power shortages, it agreed with Bruce Power that Bruce A units 1 and 2 should be refurbished and brought back into service as a faster option than building new units.

Candu reactors are designed to undergo refurbishment after approximately 25 years of operation, requiring a major outage but allowing reactor life to be extended by another 25 years. The refurbishment is a major infrastructure project, involving the replacement of all the reactor's fuel channels and steam generators, plus upgrading of ancillary systems to current standards.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) gave permission for the unit to restart in June, and the unit was synchronised to the Ontario grid on 19 September. Final planned commissioning activities including safety system shutdown testing can now take place.

Bruce A2 is undergoing a similar refurbishment and is on track to return to operations by the end of 2012. Bruce Power president and CEO Duncan Hawthorne noted that the company is close to achieving eight units of operation at the site, four units each at Bruce A and Bruce B. "This is a big step forward as we work to return the Bruce Power site to its full potential," he said.

According to Bruce Power, the refurbishment is vital to plans to phase out coal generation in Ontario by 2014. Sixteen of Canada's commercial nuclear reactors are in Ontario, where coal generation has fallen by 90% per year over the last decade. Increased generation from Bruce Power has accounted for 40% of that, the company notes.

Gentilly to close

Despite Ontario's commitment to nuclear, the government of Quebec has announced that the province's only nuclear reactor will not undergo refurbishment as previously planned and will instead close.

Newly elected provincial prime minister Pauline Marois confirmed the closure of the plant during the first meeting of her council of ministers on 20 September. "I want this gesture to become a symbol of Quebec's commitment to the environment and to the well-being of future generations," Marois said. She has instructed the province's minister of natural resources and Hydro Quebec to prepare "a full report on the various implications and the conditions under which such a closure would take place," noting that the closure "must be done properly."

Quebec Hydro's Gentilly 2 had been earmarked for a major life-extending refurbishment, and in 2011 the CNSC approved a five-year licence extension for the 635 MWe Candu which would have lasted until the planned completion of the refurbishment by 2016. The licence extension stipulated that the unit must be shut down for repairs or put in a "guaranteed shutdown state" by 31 December 2012, and would need further regulatory approval before it could restart.

Earlier this year Hydro Quebec said that a government decision to abandon the refurbishment and close Gentilly 2 would have a major financial impact on the costs already capitalized. The company is understood to have already spent in excess of $800 million on modernising the plant.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News