What you need to know about Darlington's reactors

Publication - August 31, 2012
These are the frequently asked questions about Darlington Ontario’s nuclear reactors. If this information leaves you concerned and you want the government to re-consider their plan, sign up below.

Why “Stop Darlington”?

The biggest threat to building a green energy sector in Ontario is the $36 billion earmarked to build two new, and re-build four outdated, risky nuclear reactors at Darlington, 60 kilometers east of Toronto.

Spending billions to rebuild old reactors and to build new ones at Darlington comes with unnecessary accident risks, damages Lake Ontario, and burdens future generations with stockpiles of radioactive waste.

What’s being proposed at Darlington?

The provincial government has directed Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to build two new reactors and rebuild the four existing reactors at the Darlington site. OPG needs approval from the federal government to proceed with these projects.

How much would it cost to build two new reactors at Darlington?

The costs continue to skyrocket.

In 2007, Ontario’s electricity planning agency, the Ontario Power Authority (OPA), said it would cost $ 6 billion to build two new reactors at Darlington.

In 2009, the McGuinty government suspended the purchase of new reactors when the price was $20 billion more than the original estimate - $26 billion

How the government’s plans for Darlington limit the growth of green energy in Ontario?

The McGuinty government directed government agencies to stop the expansion of renewable energy in 2018. If the new Premier, Kathleen Wynne, reverses that one decision, green energy could continue to grow. Renewable energy could then replace Darlington’s reactors.

Isn’t renewable and clean energy too small to replace Darlington?

No. Renewable energy in Germany already produces more electricity than comes from all of Ontario’s nuclear stations combined. Germany plans to keep expanding its use of renewable energy over the next decade to replace its nuclear reactors, Ontario has limited the growth of renewables to justify keepings its nuclear reactors running.

Switzerland and Belgium also plan to shut down their reactors and replace them a range of clean energy options by 2025.

Would it be cost effective to boost green energy over nuclear?

Yes. But over the past 7 years the the provincial government has prevented any public reviews of the need for, or alternatives to, nuclear power at Darlington.

In 2006 the McGuinty government exempted its electricity plan from a provincial environmental assessment to prevent a public review of nuclear power versus other alternatives.

The provincial government also told a federal government panel reviewing its proposal to build new reactors at Darlington not to consider alternatives to new reactors.

Would it be more cost effective to invest in green energy than new reactors at Darlington?

Yes.  Greenpeace and the Pembina Institute released a report showing that it would be cheaper to invest in a portfolio of green energy options at today’s prices, than spend billions on new reactors.

Also, green energy prices are dropping every year while nuclear costs have only gone up. Ontarians are still paying off this debt every month on their electricity bill.

 What is involved in re-building a reactor and how long is that rebuild expected to last?

Unlike other reactor designs, CANDU reactors typically must be rebuilt to operate beyond 25 years. 

This work – often referred to as re-tubing or refurbishment - involves the removal and replacement of the hundreds of highly radioactive pressure tubes from the reactor core, as well as the replacement of other life-limiting components, such as steam generators, and the upgrading of plants systems to meet modern regulatory requirements.

OPG estimates that it will take ten years to rebuild the four Darlington reactors.

How much will rebuilding the Darlington nuclear station cost?

The estimated cost of rebuilding CANDU reactors has ballooned over the past decade from approximately $800 million per reactor in 2002 to $2.5 billion per reactor today.

In fact in 2009 OPG made a decision against rebuilding the Pickering nuclear station because of the increased cost to extend its life.  

OPG publicly claims that the life-extension of Darlington is cost-effective, but the margin of cost estimates in its proposal are very wide ( from $8 to 14 billion,)and  have not been evaluated by an independent third party.

Greenpeace is calling for OPG’s proposal to rebuild Darlington be publically and independently reviewed.  That review should also examine safer green alternative energy options. not just rebuilding the Darlington reactors,

Can we expect the Liberal government’s plan for Darlington to go over budget?

Yes. The existing Darlington reactors were supposed to cost $ 4 billion dollars came in $10 billion over budget.  Ontarians are still paying off this debt every month on their electricity bill.  All other nuclear projects in Canada have gone massively over budget.

Does the Darlington’s nuclear station design meet modern international nuclear safety standards?

No. Darlington’s CANDU reactors share a design flaw with the Chernobyl RBMK reactors. It’s called ‘positive reactivity.’   Most international safety regulators shun reactors designs like that but Canada's nuclear safety regulator has continued to allow positive reactivity because all Canadian reactors in operation have it.

The four Darlington reactors also share one containment system because OPG wanted to save money. Such sharing of safety systems would not be allowed if International Atomic Energy Agency safety guidelines were applied to Darlington.   In the event of an accident at more than one reactor Darlington has a limited ability to contain radiation releases. 

Does Ontario Power Generation believe a Fukushima or Chernobyl-scale accident can happen at Darlington?

Yes. OPG believes nuclear accidents like the Fukushima accident are possible here in Canada.

That’s why OPG has asked for the special legislation – called the Nuclear Liability Act - which protects them from compensating victims in the event of an accident.

But the Canadian nuclear industry says Canadian reactors are safer than other designs and no earthquake or tsunami would happen to trigger an accident like Fukushima.

The Japanese government’s Independent Investigation Commission concluded that the Fukushima disaster was man-made. It was not as a result of an earthquake and the subsequent tsunami.

The Commission also found that the nuclear industry’s significant political influence over Japan’s safety regulator is a barrier to effective safety regulation.   

Reviews of past nuclear accidents, such as Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, have concluded that the failure of government institutions to take nuclear risks seriously is what actually caused those accidents.

Should I be concerned about the independence of Canada’s nuclear safety regulator?

Yes.  In 2008, the Harper government fired Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) president Linda Keen.

Keen says she was fired because SNC-Lavalin, the Quebec engineering firm who sells the  CANDU reactors  was upset because she was imposing modern safety standards on the Canadian nuclear industry. This hurt SNC-Lavalin’s profits.

The decision by the Harper government to fire Keen and side with SNC-Lavalin and sent a strong signal to the nuclear industry and our federal regulator: nuclear safety can be ignored or dismissed.

Was Darlington designed to withstand a terrorist attack?

No. The Darlington nuclear station is a pre-September 11th design and is not designed to resist a terrorist attack.

Can the Ontario government protect Ontarians in the event of an accident at Darlington?

No.  Ontario only plans for accidents involving small radiation releases. The only detailed evacuation plans are for a 10 kilometer area around Darlington. 

To compare, with the Fukushima accident, 150,000 people were evacuated in a 20 kilometer area  around that nuclear station.  

At Darlington, a similar sized accident would require evacuating 477,000 people.

Why doesn’t Darlington have cooling towers like American nuclear stations?

When Darlington was originally designed in the 1970s OPG choose to not to build cooling towers to reduce construction costs. However cooling towers not only cool, they also protect fish and aquatic eco-systems.

Does Darlington harm Lake Ontario?

Yes. The Darlington nuclear station kills millions of fish annually and harms aquatic ecosystems because it uses (and pollutes) water from Lake Ontario to cool the station’s four reactors.

Between 2006 and 2008, OPG estimates Darlington killed between 15,000 and 26,020 fish as well as 15,631,833 eggs and 1,201,943 larvae.

What does Greenpeace want the Ontario government to do?

Drop plans to build new reactors at Darlington and instead invest in green energy.

Since the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan many countries have decided the risk of nuclear power is too high and are abandoning nuclear power.

Japan has abandoned plans for new reactors and is investing in green energy instead. Switzerland also dropped plans for new reactors.

Both Germany and Switzerland are phasing out their existing reactors and ramping up their use of safer green energy.

What can I do stop Darlington and support green energy?

Tell your local Member of Provincial Parliament you want affordable green energy and not more dangerous nuclear power at Darlington.

For updates on our campaign and how you can help, sign up here.