Premier Doug Ford is extending the life of the Pickering nuclear station beyond its planned 2024 closure, the Star has learned.
The Ontario Power Generation (OPG) facility — in the news after provincial emergency officials accidentally sent out a false alarm during a test of the alert system Sunday — will operate until at least 2025.
Opened in 1971, it employs 4,500 people and generates 14 per cent of Ontario’s electricity from six nuclear reactors. Two other reactors there have been shut down for 22 years.
The previous Liberal government, which had reopened two of the four reactors shut down by its Progressive Conservative predecessor in 1998, announced four years ago the station would go offline by 2024.
Sources confide Ford’s cabinet quietly approved the extension just before Christmas.
“This is great news for the community and for the province,” said a senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the government had not planned to make an official announcement until later this month.
Energy Minister Greg Rickford’s office would only say in a statement that the province is “consistently reviewing Ontario’s various energy assets.”
“Announcements regarding the decommissioning of any of our nuclear facilities will first undergo thorough consultation with local leadership, stakeholders and community members,” the office said.
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“Any decisions regarding nuclear assets in Ontario must first be approved and receive licensing through the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.”
The plant’s operating licence was renewed by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) in August 2018 after about $75 million was invested in maintenance.
Environmentalists have long called for the facility’s closure because it’s at the end of its lifespan.
But actually shuttering Pickering will take decades.
OPG said it would be 40 years before the plant is fully decommissioned, starting with a “safe storage period” beginning three years after it stops generating electricity.
All the used fuel will be moved into dry storage within 13 years and removed from the site within 30 years. It will take another decade to dismantle everything.
“OPG’s approach is designed to minimize the total radiation dose received by workers during dismantling and will ensure all the dismantled materials and equipment meet CNSC transport regulations for low radioactivity materials,” the Crown utility said.
“This also allows for the implementation of the facilities required for the long-term storage of both fuel and decommissioning wastes which aligns with the timelines indicated above.”
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Ontario’s Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, meanwhile, said an investigation into the erroneous alert Sunday is being conducted and will be made public.
“It is definitely unacceptable. I want to know exactly what happened on Sunday morning,” Jones told reporters Monday at Queen’s Park.
“I do not anticipate that this will be a long, drawn-out investigation,” she said, adding the findings from emergency management officials will be shared with Ontarians.
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OPG had nothing to do with the routine training exercise conducted by the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre.
“This has never happened in the history of the tests that they do every day — twice a day — but I do want to know exactly all of the issues related to it, whether it was one human error or whether there were a series of things, I don’t want to guess.”
Thousands of Ontarians awoke to the 7:30 a.m. emergency alert on their cellphones — along with their radios and televisions warning of an unspecified “incident” at Pickering.
The mass alert said emergency staff were responding to a situation at the plant but said “there has been NO abnormal release of radioactivity.”
About two hours later, a followup alert clarified there was no active emergency at the plant and that the previous message “was issued in error.”
Mayor John Tory told reporters Monday he has asked the province to include city of Toronto officials in its review of the province’s “poor showing.”
The probe should include “how anybody could possibly accidentally push the button to send out something like this that can cause great fear in people through to the wording of the notice that did go out,” said Tory.
“As usual, communication between provincial officials and city officials wasn’t what it should be,” the mayor said, adding in case of a real disaster the governments need “immediate” communication.
Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy, the local MPP for the area, emphasized the Pickering station has a good safety record and moved to assure Ontarians there was never any danger to the public.
“The safety record is the best in the world. It’s important to get that message out,” said Bethlenfalvy (Pickering-Uxbridge).
The first alert said it applied to people living within 10 kilometres of the station, which is five kilometres from Toronto’s eastern city limits on the north shore of Lake Ontario.
NDP MPP Peter Tabuns said “Ontarians were needlessly left anxious and worried fearing a nuclear incident without knowing what to do next after the government sent out this false emergency alert.”
Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter (Scarborough-Guildwood) said Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé should probe what happened.
With files from David Rider