Should the Pickering nuclear plant be closed? Not based on cost and performance…

Pickering: working at 95% capacity during the heat wave [Photo: OPG]
July 6, 2018

Wind power a failure during recent high demand during heat wave; dependable power needed

I got a call at 11 a.m. on June 25th from the producer of the Scott Thompson show on CHML 900 AM to appear on the show to discuss the suggestion by NDP leader Andrea Horwath about closing the Pickering Nuclear plant.

Essentially it was about her statement during the election campaign indicating the NDP’s position on Pickering:  “we will begin the decommissioning process immediately, which will bring more jobs to the area — as opposed to the Liberal plan, which is to mothball that facility for 30 years and allow the next generation to figure out the decommissioning”.

Doug Ford, leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, on the other hand stated: “The Pickering plant can continue to safely operate until at least 2024. We can generate 14 per cent of Ontario’s power needs right here”.

The producer suggested Scott wanted to explore the opposing issues with me.

Aware I was scheduled to be on his show at 12:35 p.m., and remembering that a Brady Yauch article a few months earlier in the Financial Post had suggested closing Pickering, I felt I should do more research before the call back.  Brady’s principal point was Pickering was a poor performer and the estimated costs ($300 million) of the extension would prove to be negative for ratepayers.

OPG’s website describes Pickering as follows: “Pickering Nuclear has six operating CANDU® (CANadian Deuterium Uranium) reactors. The station has a total output of 3,100 megawatts (MW) which is enough to serve a city of one and a half million people, and about 14 per cent of Ontario’s electricity needs.”.

Pickering Nuclear traces its roots back to 1971 when it first commenced operation with four units and expanded to eight units in 1983.  Two of the first four units have been in voluntary lay-up since 1997.  The CNSC (Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission) awarded OPG’s Pickering and Darlington nuclear stations its highest safety rating in 2017.

Combined, the Pickering and Darlington nuclear stations generated 10.4 TWh (terawatts) of power for the 1st Quarter of 2018 at a combined cost of 7.2 cents/kWh (up from 5.8 cents/kWh in the comparable quarter).  The 10.4 TWh was sufficient to supply the 4.6 million average residential households in the province.

Directing my research to IESO’s hourly Generator Report I was able to discern Pickering at hour 10 of June 25th had just generated 2,308 MWh out of 10,457 MWh produced by all the nuclear plants in the province.  Pickering nuclear represented 22% of nuclear generation at that hour, 15.6% of Ontario demand and 14% of total demand (including exports).   At hour 10, wind turbines were generating 452 MWh or 10% of their capacity versus Pickering nuclear which was operating at about 74.5% of its capacity.

Both nuclear and wind are classified as “base-load” generation!

As it turned out, when I was on Scott’s show the bulk of our chat was related to his prior guest’s discussions about Premier Ford’s cancellation of the “cap and trade” tax.  Only a couple of questions were raised about Pickering which I responded to.

Interestingly enough, now that the Ontario July heat wave has passed, I felt the urge to look at the performance of Pickering and IWT over the seven days when peak demand was high.  Pickering nuclear performed well generating close to 3,000 MWh each and every hour over the period meaning it was operating at over 95% of capacity.  Wind power generation, however was all over the map reaching a high of 2,769 MWh (62% of capacity) at midnight July 1st and a low of 5 MWh (0.11% of capacity) at 10AM on July 4th!

It is obvious that wind fails miserably as “base-load” generation when needed and the relative cost of generating power (sans back-up costs) is over 17 cents/kWh.

It sure looks like we should keep Pickering nuclear operating, as Premier Ford suggested.

Parker Gallant

Author: parkergallantenergyperspectivesblog

Retired international banker.

10 thoughts on “Should the Pickering nuclear plant be closed? Not based on cost and performance…”

  1. It would appear that the NDP’s opposition to nuclear energy, like its support for wind and solar energy generation, is based on ideology, not analysis of costs and benefits or of how to meet Ontario’s electricity needs most efficiently and securely.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Horwath’s comments also show her ignorance of the decommissioning process. When a station is closed permanently and put into a “safe shutdown state”, as the regulator calls it, it will remain untouched until the radiation inside the reactor core has decayed away until it can be disassembled, hence the 30-year mothballing period. For comparison, the original Douglas Point Candu demonstration plant has been in a safe shutdown state since 1984, and has not been disassembled.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Using the term “green”energy to describe windpower is egregious enough but calling the unreliables “baseload”, when even “power” is delusional, illustrates the need for a full inquiry to expose the corruption entailed in the GreenEnergyAct so there are consequences for such betrayal of the Public Trust.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes, during that heat wave there were days when the turbines were off and it was a major relief for people being harmed.


  4. with the evolution for battery storage continuing and becoming commercially viable, wind and solar power generation need to implement this tech to even out the peaks and valleys.


    1. that is literally not possible. as of 2017 the world total power storage capacity was 10 minutes of daily power usage. the capacity to hold power in caparison to power production is factors off. the strongest power storage devices are not even chemical batteries, but mechanical or gravitational devices. one is highly dependent on materials the 2nd is highly dependant upon geographical options, and they both are capable of very spectacular failure.

      the amount of power your thinking that needs to be held is extremely significant. we are talking about tons of TNT amount of power release from failure of those systems. if you happen to remember when there where that error with the cellphone batteries causing catastrophic failure of the system, its like a small bomb or firework going off in peoples’ pockets.

      for a reference point a ton of TNT releases about 4.2 *10^9 joules of energy, in the article it was stated that a single reactor produces about 3000 MWH of power an hour this is equal to about 1.1 *10^13 joules of power. so each reactor is producing 2581 times more power than 1 ton TNT blast every hour, so roughly a Halifax harbour explosion of 1917 every hour…. and there are 6 of them, and that’s what 14% of our hourly power usage.

      even if one makes the tech, having anything that could release ny on say 1000 Halifax harbour explosions if it fails is a bad idea


      1. John, Not sure why you are referencing “storage” as the above is about “base-load” power which both nuclear and wind have been classified as in Ontario. As demonstrated wind is not dependable due to its intermittent and unreliable nature and as you note cannot be stored using the currently available storage alternatives. The other issue I would point out is that the total capacity of all 6 reactors is 3,100 MW which is slightly over 500 MWh of power per hour. To the best of my knowledge I don’t believe any reactors currently operating are rated at 3000 MW.


  5. In order for intermittent green power to be a viable power source storage of power must be used, or a world wide zero loss power transfer system. I dont know which would be harder to make.

    my previous comment was replying to robby about the exact nature of batteries holding this amount of power. And while i did miss read your point about the power production as 3.1G per instead of .5, of the power plant, my point about the thermodynamics of holding such a large amount of power stands.

    here is the simplistic problem fundamentally with the governments foolish idea. if they wish to replace Pickering with solar cells, and we assume power production would directly replace the other 3.1 GWh of power must be supplied every hour. And for simplicity say solar produces that power over the 12 hours of light each day. this would mean that a storage facility must be built that could house and supply at peak storage (3.1 GWh*12 hours)=37.2 GWh of power. This amount as a marker of pure energy is over twice the power released by the Little Boy nuclear bomb. But to be truly valid as base-load source the power storage facility would would actually have to hold say about 50 times that power (im ball parking the numbers here but my point is still clear). It would probably me more as we would need a safety value, plus we would want to hold a few days of power, in case we dont get full sun for a few days.

    Now one could then make a pass to look at world wide power usage over a year, of 20.9 PWh in 2012, or 21.7 PWh in 2014. resulting in 59 TWh or power usage daily. if one wishes to replace even a fraction of that with intermittent power the storage facilities needed to hold useful power values…

    In not disagreeing with you Parker, but I am trying to show the absolute absurdity of the idea of replacing any type of constant power source with an uncontrollable intermittent source. All of which i only used Wikipedia for, and the slight annoyance that we havent had a minister of energy with a science/engineering background that i have been able been able to find (using wiki) for at least the past 20 years, with the exception of the current Greg who has a degree in nursing (better than nothing).


  6. John, I totally agree. Tesla’s installation in Australia is the largest battery storage facility in the world. “The 100-megawatt battery in South Australia is designed to provide security to the state’s electricity grid.

    It will store enough energy to power 30,000 homes for about an hour.”

    And we have one in Sault Ste Marie: “Convergent Energy has completed construction on its 7MW energy storage project, located on PUC property in the city’s east end at Trunk and McNabb streets adjacent to one of its transmission substations. A seven megawatt battery project would be equivalent to the storage of about 70,000 light bulbs.”
    That 7MW of storage has a price of course: “Ritteshausen said that this facility, with a price tag of between $5 million to $10 million, can be replicated and created across the province to provide better and more cost-effective energy across the grid over time. “We built this for the IESO to study what is needed, how the batteries charge and when it goes back into the grid,” he said.
    The facility itself contains 2,100 batteries, each about 60 lbs.”

    The foregoing suggests the cost to store 3,000MW of power would cost from $2 to 4 billion!


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