Pickering likely to operate to 2026—and maybe well beyond
The government of Ontario has announced its support for extending the operation of Ontario Power Generation’s Pickering nuclear plant for a year past its scheduled 2025 closure date, adding that a much longer extension is also being mulled.
OPG, at the government’s request, has reviewed its operational plans and concluded that the facility can continue to safely produce electricity for an additional year, according to a recent news release.
Under the proposed extension, which still requires approval from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, electricity generation at Pickering Units 1 and 4—both 515-MWe CANDU pressurized heavy water reactors—will cease in 2024 as previously planned, while Units 5 through 8—all 516-MWe PHWRs—will continue to operate until September 2026. (Units 2 and 3 have been in safe shutdown since 1997.)
An additional year of operation at Pickering, the government said, would cut Ontario’s carbon emissions by 2.1 megatons, roughly 20 percent of the electricity sector’s projected emissions. It will also increase North America’s supply of cobalt-60, a medical isotope used in cancer treatments and medical equipment sterilization, by about 10 to 20 percent.
One is the loneliest number: With an eye toward a more substantial extension, Ontario has asked OPG to update its feasibility assessment for refurbishing Units 5 through 8. Refurbishment of those reactors, the government noted, could result in an additional 30 years of electricity production from Pickering.
“Keeping Pickering safely operating will provide clean, low-cost, and reliable electricity to support the incredible economic growth and new jobs we’re seeing, while building a healthier Ontario for everyone,” said Todd Smith, Ontario’s minister of energy. “Nuclear power has been the safe and reliable backbone of Ontario’s electricity system since the 1970s, and our government is working to secure that legacy for the future. Our leadership on small modular reactors and consideration of a refurbishment of Pickering Nuclear Generating Station are critical steps on that path.”
Some background: At a Pickering license renewal hearing in 2013, OPG indicated its intention to end commercial operation at the plant in 2020. In June 2016, however, the Ontario government requested that the utility extend the life of some units to 2024, as several reactors at the Darlington and Bruce stations would be offline for prolonged periods while undergoing major refurbishments. In August 2017, OPG applied to the CNSC for a 10-year license renewal, which was approved the following year (with the commission’s caveat that its decision was based on OPG’s stated 2024 shutdown date).
Then, in 2020, the government announced its backing of an OPG plan to extend the life of Units 5 through 8 to 2025.