We need to keep our fingers crossed that Ontario doesn’t get hit by a major heatwave this summer.

It was recently announced that two reactors at the Pickering nuclear station will be offline all summer for repairs, meaning that we’re short about 1000 Megawatts of power for the summer. If we get hit by a prolonged heatwave and Ontarians turn up the air conditioning, we’re going to be in an electricity crunch and forced to turn up or import more coal-fired electricity from the United States.

What makes the situation all the more vexing is that Ontario just spent over two billion dollars to repair these two reactors. Now they’re not working when we need them.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, however. Ontario’s nuclear stations have a long history of poor performance.

Most notably, the province’s reactors were promised to operate for forty-years when they were built, but in 2003 Ontario Power Generation admitted that Ontario’s would only be able to operate for twenty-five years.

The result? Ontario’s going to lose about 50% of its electricity supply between 2010 and 2025 without risky and expensive repair projects. Talk about unreliable.

After billions in repairs, the failure of the two Pickering reactors to perform this summer should be a warning that nuclear mega-projects are no guarantee of reliable power.

Are our politicians listening? Nope. The Liberal McGuinty government has committed to spending $46 billion on repairing old nuclear stations and even building new nuclear stations. John Tory, the Conservative leader of the opposition, has promised to out-nuke the Liberals.

Meanwhile, the nuclear lobby and many politicians dismiss renewable energies as ‘too small and too unreliable’ to be a reliable foundation for our electricity system. But as the Pickering nuclear station’s operational woes highlight a major problem with our electricity system is our reliance on big, unreliable nuclear stations.

Sure renewable energies are small, but that’s an advantage. When your electricity system is dependent on big, centralized nuclear plants, it is thrown into crisis when a few of them break down. What happens when our nuclear plants break down? We turn up big, polluting coal or gas plants.

If we are to effectively fight climate change and keep the lights on, we need to build a different type of electricity system. Instead of a few big, centralized plants, we need to build a diverse mix of smaller energy supply options.

A climate-friendly energy system will look a lot like the internet with many sources of local supply unlike our current industry system build on a few large plants far away. Our homes, school and factories, should not only consume power, they should produce power.

Meanwhile, our politicians keep promising nuclear mega-projects to electricity problems. This gives them the appearance of doing something, but given it takes 10 – 15 years to build a new nuclear plant, nuclear mega-projects will contribute nothing to addressing our electricity needs for over a decade.

And even then the Pickering nuclear station’s shut down this summer reminds us that nuclear mega-projects projects regularly undergo delays and cost over-runs and there’s no guarantee they operate well once started.

Reliable nuclear power. I think not.

Links to external sites:


Hydro supply feels the heat - Toronto Star

2 Pickering reactors out for the summer - Toronto Star