Ontario minister confirms Pickering refurbishment plans

31 January 2024

The provincial government is supporting Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to go ahead with the refurbishment of units 5-8 at the Pickering nuclear power plant. OPG will now begin the initiation phase of the project.

Todd Smith announces the refurbishment plans at Pickering (Image: X/Todd Smith)

Announcing the government's support for the plan, Ontario Minister of Energy Todd Smith said refurbishing the four Candu units would enable the plant to produce "at least" another 30 years of safe, reliable and clean electricity while creating thousands of new jobs. "With global business looking to expand in jurisdictions with reliable, affordable and clean electricity, a refurbished Pickering Nuclear Generating Station would help Ontario compete for and land more game-changing investments," he said.

The government is supporting OPG's CAD2 billion (USD1.5 billion) budget for the initiation phase of the project, which will include engineering and design work as well as securing long-lead components to ensure materials are available when needed and to help keep costs down. OPG and its business partners will also identify potential Indigenous engagement opportunities in contracting, employment and other economic benefits related to the project, the government said.

OPG's current licence for the Pickering nuclear generating station expires in August 2028 but does not allow commercial operations for any of the units beyond 31 December 2024. The provincial government has previously supported OPG to extend the operating period beyond that date: the company earlier this year applied to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to extend operation of units 5-8 until the end of 2026.

OPG is more than half-way through a CAD12.8 billion project to refurbish the four units at its Darlington plant, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2026. The "thousands" of lessons learned from that, and from Bruce Power's ongoing major project to refurbish six Candu units at its plant, are a "major advantage" to help ensure the project's success, OPG President and CEO Ken Hartwick said.

"Our experience refurbishing Darlington, a highly complex project that remains on time and on budget, will be invaluable as we begin the work necessary so Pickering can continue to help meet the growing electricity demands of this thriving province for another three-plus decades," he said.

OPG's preliminary schedule anticipates completing the refurbishment of the Pickering units by the mid-2030s. Preliminary analysis by the Conference Board of Canada says the project is expected to increase the province's GDP by CAD19.4 billion during the 11-year refurbishment project, create about 11,000 jobs per year during that time, and create and sustain more than 6000 jobs per year during operation after refurbishment.

"We are thrilled that Pickering, a workhorse of the Canadian energy system, will be refurbished and given the opportunity to provide us with another 30 years of affordable, sustainable, clean energy," John Gorman, president and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association, said. "This project ensures that we are maintaining and growing the skills and expertise that we have invested in over the past decade with the refurbishment and major component replacement projects at Darlington and Bruce."

The government said it will follow a multi-phase approvals process to ensure the Pickering refurbishment "only proceeds if it is in the best interests of Ontario and its ratepayers". The refurbishment will also require regulatory approval.

The Ontario government is also supporting pre-development work for potential new large-scale nuclear development at Bruce Power and three additional small modular reactors at Darlington as part of its plan to taking to meet electricity demand and reduce emissions by supporting the electrification of the province's economy as set out in Powering Ontario's Growth which it published last year.

Historic performance

Pickering is home to six currently operating Candu units supplying around 14% of Ontario's electricity. The plant produced 21.5 TWh of electricity in 2023 - its second-highest output as a six-unit station. The plant also produces around 20% of the world's supply of the medical radioisotope cobalt-60, used to irradiate and sterilise single-use medical devices.

The four units that are to be refurbished, sometimes referred to as Pickering B, began operations in the mid-1980s. The other currently operating reactors - units 1 and 4 - are part of the four-unit Pickering A plant which began operations in the early 1970s and was laid up in 1997. Units 1 and 4 underwent refurbishment before returning to service in the 2003 (unit 4) and 2005 (unit 1), but remain scheduled for closure by the end of 2024. Units 2 and 3 did not return to service after being laid up.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News