Category Archives: coal

Thanks to the Power of Pickering Nuclear Plant We Replaced Coal

Pickering Nuclear plant went from a non-event to pre-event condition back in 2014. The not so “Clean Air Alliance” is trying to close down a perfectly good zero carbon energy source. The Ontario Clean Air Alliance (OCAA) would like to take credit for shutting down coal and now they think they can shut down Nuclear plants. Coal dominated a very large portion of Ontario’s energy mix for many years. The abundance of power was daunting. Nanticoke Coal plant at one time Generated 4000 MW of power. It was the largest coal plant in North America. In 1981 it consumed 35,000 tonnes of coal per day. In 2007 it emitted 17,887,649 tonnes of CO2. Thankfully Ontario’s abundant Nuclear Power and Hydro allowed it to replace all the coal plants (bigger than average) by 2014. Pickering and Ontario’s other nuclear plants are in the habit of reporting such non-events, in effect, practicing for reports of actual incidents with updates – should there ever be a serious incident.

The OCAA thinks the Pickering Plant poses a threat letting irrational fear win over. They support a foolish and potentially disruptive solution to go all renewable. New York State just made an important decision to keep it’s Nuclear Plants alive. How else can the States reach their emission content goals? Why should Ontario be any different. Try replacing 14% if Ontario’s power with renewable energy. It would be terribly expensive and wasteful.

These OCAA people resemble over 200 other green lobby and special interest groups who can’t even look at their shadow without fear.

The worse thing is that their ignorance of science is revealed by the fact that adapting their policies in a time of climate crisis can actually bring on the tipping point even faster.

They also claim they will close down natural gas which is laughable… no coal, no nuclear and now no natural gas. The renewables certainly cannot match that abundant supply of nuclear which runs at about 60% of Ontario’s energy.

What does OCAA claim as the saviour?

Apparently Quebec who has never offered to give Ontario any of their so-called abundant hydro power is supposed to have enough to share with Ontario when in fact they have shortages in winter as it is. The 1998 ice storm cause the worst blackout in Quebec’s history. That was due to lengthy power lines collapse from the weight of the ice caused by the ice storm. The same kind of expensive powerlines would be needed for transmission to Ontario. This hypothetical situation is not sustainable. See Steve Aplin article from 2011.

The hydropower-from-Quebec fantasy resurfaces in Ontario gas-industry propaganda

Steve Aplin:

“Unlike hydropower though, nuclear involves land use that is, by comparison, barely noticeable. For example, Ontario’s 18 nuclear reactors occupy a total of 23.4 square kilometers (Darlington occupies 480 hectares, or 4.8 square km; Bruce occupies 9.3 square km; and Pickering, also 9.3.) Their total installed capacity is 12,530 megawatts. So the Ontario nuclear land-use footprint works out to 0.186 hectares—about a fifth of an average size city block—per installed megawatt…”

“Quebec’s hydropower land use footprint is 177.8 hectares per megawatt (30,230 km2 is 3,023,000 hectares; divide that by 17,000 megawatts).”

“For every patch of land Ontario nuclear power requires, Quebec hydropower needs 952 times that. This, among other reasons, is why Parizeau favoured nuclear power.”

“I mention this because, every now and again, somebody floats the cockamamie idea that Ontario should start importing clean hydropower from Quebec. Some advocates of this fantasy are self-styled environmentalists who haven’t done their homework and crunched the easy numbers like I have done above. Because of an unexamined and comically off-base anti-nukery, they think that the Darlington nucelar station should be shut down and that its 25 billion annual kilowatt-hours of electrical energy output should come instead from the Belgium-sized man-made lake in northern Quebec.”

“Nor do they appear to have considered what it would take, engineering-wise, for the Quebec electric utility, Hydro Quebec, to wheel 25 billion annual kWh of energy into Ontario from that lake. Quebec already wheels huge amounts of that energy out-of-province: to the U.S. northeast. American customers are served with Quebec hydropower on long term contracts; that was why Quebec built the transmission lines to the U.S. in the first place. What about those customers?”

“None of the Ontario advocates of Quebec hydropower appears to have ever taken the matter up with… Hydro Quebec. I’m sure the utility might have interesting things to say.”

“No serious person believes Ontario will ever import such massive amounts of electric power from Quebec. So why the sudden spate of media articles taking it up?”

“Well, it’s all about money. Specifically, the money that can be made by the fossil fuel industry if Darlington, which is slated for refurbishment beginning in less than a year, is not refurbished.”

“The main cheerleader for Quebec-hydropower-to-Ontario is the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, a gas-industry lobby group. The OCAA’s aim is to replace Ontario zero-carbon nuclear plants with carbon-heavy gas-fired plants. Given that the current concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the global atmosphere is just about 400 parts per million (see Item A1, above), you’d wonder why an organization allegedly advocating for clean air would want to add to those 400 ppm.”

“The OCAA knows full well that the Quebec-hydropower-to-Ontario fantasy is just that—a fantasy. The OCAA is not actually advocating for Quebec hydropower to Ontario. What it really wants is business for its gas-industry clients. And those clients will get plenty of business if Darlington does not get refurbished. So it is striving mightily, with the cooperation of a mainstream media that today finds ad revenue increasingly scarce and gas-industry ad revenue increasingly valuable, to get us Ontarians to actually believe this Quebec-hydropower-to-Ontario nonsense. That way, they hope, we will be more amenable to letting Darlington, an enormously valuable clean-energy centre—and revenue generator for the people of this province—go idle. Yesterday the OCAA wanted us to believe that windmills and solar panels could do it. Today it’s Quebec hydropower. Tomorrow, who knows. Maybe a perpetual motion machine.”

“Jacques Parizeau got to see an example of nuclear’s vastly superior land-use footprint, right in his own province, and under his watch as PQ finance minister. During that tenure, Hydro Quebec built and commissioned Gentilly 2, a 635-MW CANDU 6 reactor. It was, until its premature shut-down in late 2012 (by another PQ government, sans Parizeau), Hydro Quebec’s biggest single generator.”

“The premature shutdown of G2 was undertaken by, as I said, a Parizeau-less PQ government. Parizeau disagreed with much of that government’s policies. I wonder if he disagreed with the G2 decision also.”

In a response letter to an article published in the Toronto Star by one of many antinuclear groups in Canada the President and CEO of Ontario Power Generation said this

“Re Too much trust in old nuclear plants, May 30”

“I read with interest the Ontario Clean Air Alliance (OCAA) opinion piece about Pickering Nuclear. The only ‘fact’ in the article that I was able to verify is that ‘Stairway to Heaven’ was released by Led Zeppelin in 1971.”

“The six nuclear units at Pickering were built to very robust standards and are operating safely, to the highest performance standards. The electricity from the six operating units provides about 13 per cent of Ontario’s annual demand, is free of greenhouse gas emissions and comes at a cost lower than almost all other sources of energy. Continued operations will save Ontario customers $600 million and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by eight million tonnes over the 2020-to-2024 period.”

“Both Pickering and Darlington nuclear stations enjoy strong community support, and a recent survey indicated 85 per cent of those polled supported the continued operations of the Pickering station.”

“Ontario relies on nuclear power to provide 60 per cent of its electricity generation. The plants at Darlington, Pickering and Bruce have excellent performance and safety records. Nuclear is Ontario’s best option for cost-effective, GHG emissions-free, reliable, base-load generation and have been a critical resource in ensuring clean air for Ontarians. We look forward to our nuclear fleet continuing to be part of the solution in the battle against climate change.”

Jeffrey Lyash, president and CEO Ontario Power Generation, Toronto”

On the same page is a comment by Don MacKinnon:

“Monday’s anti-Pickering Nuclear Station Extension editorial diatribe by the Ontario Clean Air Alliance (OCAA) is typical of their ‘dreamweaver’-like campaigns — heavy with the spectre of environmental disaster and fast and loose with the facts.”

“The Pickering Nuclear Station is licensed and its operations, including emergency preparedness, are overseen by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), an independent regulator. The CNSC has 70 years of experience and is highly regarded internationally.”

“Additionally, the Pickering Nuclear Station, owned by Ontario Power Generation (OPG), a provincial Crown corporation, routinely provides information and consults with local communities about the plant’s operations.”

“When the province approved OPG’s plan to pursue the continued operation of Pickering beyond 2020 to 2024, it noted that final approval would be required from the CNSC. Pickering would continue to employ over 4,500 people in Durham region and 8 million tonnes of greenhouse gases would be avoided. Yes, extending the operation of the Pickering Station is about clean air.”

“The OCAA claims that cheap, low-carbon electricity imports from Quebec offer a superior option, but those claims have been disproven by a number of highly credible analyses, including Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator. Billions of dollars would need to be invested to build and improve the transmission interties and transmission lines in Ontario and Quebec. Ontario currently exports low-carbon nuclear power to help Quebec meet its winter peak and refill its reservoirs. Even if Quebec could supply, large-scale electricity imports would mean tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars flowing out of Ontario.”

“The only real alternative to base-load 24/7 nuclear in Ontario is fossil fuel generation, and we believe the OCAA knows that. Less nuclear generation in Ontario would mean dramatic increases in greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution at a time when the entire world is transitioning to a lower carbon environment.”

Don MacKinnon, President of the Power Workers’ Union, Toronto”

I believe the OCAA has ulterior motives as both Steve Aplin and Don MacKinnon suggested. When you look at other Clean-Air NGOs such as the Clean Air Task Force they have a logical rational point of view when it comes to nuclear energy. Look at New York’s recent decision to go with keeping the Nuclear Plants in their state alive. All that emission-free energy is just too valuable to pass up.

Additional Reading on the subject:

Perception Versus Reality

If we try to stay current with what’s going on in the world we find ourselves constantly faced with sorting out how others often fail to see the reality of things. But of course, depending on your sources, getting to the truth is harder because in the explosion of information there is deluge of misinformation available. Finding the full truth can set you free. I will limit my writing to my own personal experiences.

A big eye opener, I had not too long ago, was in a Facebook chat with a passionate young man who called himself a human rights activist. I was trying to persuade him that Ontario’s energy bills were higher because of subsidies for renewables such as wind and solar. He was clearly very smart and articulate. Still, he disagreed.

He wanted to inform me that nuclear energy was bad because the uranium mining it required was doing harm to the environment. His take on it was that nuclear power was run by the big bad corporations and that they were interested in profits at the expense of the people, especially the first nations people. I could not help but wonder about the enormous benefit Ontario experiences as a result of our nuclear plants. The good that a nuclear plant does far outweighs the harm the mining does.

But after digging more into the subject I discovered that mines and power plants have consequences and their proximity to valued natural habitat going back just 25 years has a dark history with regard to the wishes of the First Nations people. Consultation has been missing from the process of establishing mining and power plant operations.

As recent as 50 years ago consultation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis regarding mining activities was nonexistent. There has been a significant improvement and in recent years there are clear indications from Ontario Power Group (OPG) that dialogue has improved. But what’s interesting is that the only active uranium mine currently in Canada is in Saskatchewan. The world’s biggest uranium mines are in Kazahkstan, Canada and Australia. Canada’s worst health impacts to the indigenous people go back to the 1930s right up to 1962 in Deline, Northwest Territories.

It is a violation when you show up in someones backyard uninvited. It is invasive when you start digging without permission and without any attempt to educate the people about the dangers or benefits. All of that has changed and the rules were laid out in 1995. Now that protocols have been established and consultation has been started what needs to be communicated more often is that the benefits of uranium mining and nuclear energy far outweigh the costs. That means economically, environmentally and humanely. The risks may be small but when the perception of the risks are high then dialogue is needed and the First Nations groups were not getting that information or communication. Who handles marketing for the nuclear industry?

From the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) website they say (see footnote pdf):

“…Uranium exploration poses the same low risks to public health or the environment, as any exploration methods (such as drilling small core samples). It does not significantly modify the natural environment. Uranium exploration presents a very low risk of increasing radiation or radon exposure to the public and to the environment…”

“…The CNSC ensures streams, lakes and rivers downstream of uranium mining projects are safe for people, plants, fish and other animals…”

“…The CNSC assesses monitors and tracks licensees’ environmental performance to verify that releases to the environment are not harmful and are below regulatory limits. Since 1994, an ongoing monitoring study in northern Saskatchewan has assessed the cumulative impacts of radon, radionuclides and heavy metals on the local environment. Results have shown that uranium mines have no effect on radon levels, and that uranium, radium-226, lead-210 and polonium-210 levels in fish were often below detection levels. When measurable, these levels were no different around mine sites when compared to those at both nearby and remote reference sites…”

In recent years Quebec, British Columbia and Nova Scotia have placed moratoriums on uranium mining after investigations into Uranium Mining practices appeared largely based on pressure from human rights groups. These groups demand inquiries and reports are made but typically lack the scientific inquiry and they ignore the properly conducted scientific studies of already existing reports made by the CNSC.

There has been successful antinuclear activity in affecting change. Canada and the US both have their share of opposition to all things nuclear. The majority of cases where restrictions have occurred are due to emotional reactions based on outdated information and antinuclear rhetoric that ignores the successes in upgrades and regulations that apply to all current uranium mining in North America in effect since the 1990s.

Clearly the discussion with the young activist had a positive effect on me. I researched the topic. But I scored a few points too. He agreed that closing down all the coal plants in Ontario was something to be proud about. The point he did not grasp was that nuclear power was the main reason that stopping coal was even possible. He also failed to realize that Ontario would not be able to maintain its low carbon footprint without nuclear plants. He kept throwing at me the line about keeping this sustainable. I tried to explain that wind and solar farms are not sustainable. That was a tough one to crack.

If the wind stops blowing or the sun stops shining in the idealistic world of renewable energy lovers what energy source comes to the rescue? Well in Ontario it happens to be natural gas. The same is true for other parts of the world especially where natural gas is easy to come by.

What is interesting is that nuclear power could do it all alone. But to humour the pro-renewable camp let’s try to understand why Europe has had load following reactors and North American reactors don’t. The punitive attitude towards nuclear would never let modifications take place without a massive review process. Consequently we don’t even try for new designs. So, carbon emitting natural gas wins by default because our system is still out of date and bases their decisions on a dogmatic approach to radiation dangers that have been proven to be overly conservative.

In Germany coal is winning that role where they foolishly started shutting down their nuclear reactors. But the hardest part to grasp is that if wind and solar were not part of the strategy to start with you would not need to find energy to replace the momentary losses of wind and solar power. So the perception that a significant risk exists outweighs the facts and decisions are made that have serious consequences economically and environmentally.

I noticed that my adversary and I resorted to our areas of expertise and I eventually realized our agendas had completely different foci and prevented us from winning each other over to our own side. It was clear to me that this individual was more concerned about the rights of individuals than about the best way to save the ecology of the planet. I did have a moment where I got him to recognize that nuclear might have a role in keeping things sustainable. I guess that was an accomplishment.

There was a lesson here. If your adversary calls themselves an activist you better be prepared to anticipate their bias and try to frame any new arguments you have from a perspective that they understand. I realized that my argument should have been that clean water and clean air are human rights and that nuclear energy happens to be one of the best ways to accomplish the goals of keeping the air and water clean.