Hundreds of people told the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) it shouldn’t approve Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) plan to rebuild the four aging Darlington reactors during public hearings last week. People overwhelmingly repeated the same concern: it’s just irresponsible to spend billions on Darlington without first considering other safer and cost-effective energy options. As astonishing as this may be, OPG is not required to show the Darlington refit is cost-effective. This needs policy needs to change in 2013.
At the opening of the hearings last week, CNSC president Michael Binder acknowledged the public had resoundingly asked the Commission for a public review of alternatives to Darlington. He told attendees, however, it is Ontario's job and not the Commission’s job to make decisions on energy policy.
So the hearings proceeded, but the need for a review of alternatives came up as often as the Fukushima disaster. This association makes sense. Calling for a review of alternatives to Darlington is a reasonable response to Fukushima.
Japan, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland all decided to close their reactors and expand the use of renewable energy following Fukushima. With a major nuclear accident happening once a decade somewhere in the world, these countries decided nuclear risks weren’t worth it when they could develop green energy options.
In Canada, however, both the CNSC federally and the McGuinty government provincially seem intent on shielding the nuclear industry from any scrutiny. This needs to end.
Under the McGuinty government’s current energy policy, OPG isn’t required to show the Darlington refit is cost-effective. There’s no independent review of this multi-billion dollar project and the province’s energy planners were specifically told not to even consider alternatives to Darlington.
This is insane.
Every nuclear project in Ontario’s history has gone massively over budget and Darlington was $10 billion over budget when it went online in 1992.
Keeping Darlington running will be no small feat. OPG says it will take a decade and $8 to 14 billion to repair the four Darlington reactors. This is almost commensurate with the time and cost it took to build Darlington in the first place.
And while OPG claims the Darlington rebuild will be cost-effective, it refuses to release its cost estimates for public scrutiny.
I filed a complaint last week with the provincial Information Commissioner because OPG had refused release its cost estimates for Darlington.
If the project is cost effective, why is OPG refusing to release its full estimates?
Good question. I will venture to guess that it’s because OPG’s internal risk assessment of Darlington differs significantly from its public statements.
I also have a hunch OPG is pretty scared of the competition. Renewable energy is now a major player internationally and replacing nuclear generation in other countries.
So I understand why OPG is trying to shield itself from scrutiny. It’s trying to protect itself.
What I can’t understand is why the McGuinty government is protecting OPG instead of electricity consumers and the environment.
The repeated calls from interveners last week for a public review of alternatives to Darlington is a reasonable one.
Every nuclear project in Ontario has gone over budget. Renewable energy costs are dropping. Electricity demand in Ontario is declining. And while the province’s has already maxed out on its renewable energy targets the world’s third and fourth largest economies – Japan and Germany – are replacing nuclear with massive investments in renewable energy.
If current energy policy doesn’t change, Ontario could find itself stuck with an expensive, unneeded, and outdated nuclear station when OPG finally completes the Darlington refit around 2025. Meanwhile, the rest of the world will have probably opted for less risky and affordable green energy.
OPG wants to start ordering parts for the Darlington overhaul in 2014. Before that happens, Ontario's political leaders, in particular our Premier, need to step up to ensure electricity consumers are protected.
Ontario will have a new Premier by the end of January 2013.
By then Quebec will have permanently shut down its only nuclear reactor, Gentilly-2.
Quebec decided to shut down Gentilly-2 after the newly elected Parti Quebecois government finally released Hydro-Quebec’s cost estimates for rebuilding the station.
Notably, Hydro-Quebec’s cost estimates for rebuilding Gentilly-2 reactor differ dramatically from OPG’s estimates for Darlington. Something doesn't add up.
Hopefully Ontario’s new Premier will heed public concern as well as common sense and require full public review of Darlington before any decision can be made on the station’s future.