Canadian Underwriter

Toronto executive committee defers motion asking for 2018 shutdown of Pickering nuclear plant

July 4, 2016   by Canadian Underwriter

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A motion by two Toronto city politicians, to ask the Ontario government to order an early shutdown of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station, was recently deferred by the city’s executive committee meeting.

The Pickering plant is less than 10 kilometres east of the Toronto city limits.

Ontario’s ruling Liberals previously said they have approved a plan, by Ontario Power Generation, to “pursue continued operation of the Pickering Generating Station beyond 2020 up to 2024.”

City Hall - Toronto

Two Toronto city councillors put forth a motion that “City Council request the Government of Ontario to direct Ontario Power Generation to close the Pickering Nuclear Station on August 31, 2018 when its existing Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission licence expires.”

A majority of the executive committee – comprised of 13 of Toronto’s 44 city councillors – voted June 28 to defer the motion indefinitely.

That motion was moved by Glenn De Baeremaeker (whose Ward 38 – Scarborough Centre is about halfway between downtown Toronto and the Pickering plant) and seconded by Gord Perks, who represents Ward 14 Parkdale-High Park.

Neither Perks nor De Baeremaeker are on the executive committee. They noted in their motion that more than two million people live within 30 kilometres of the Pickering nuclear power plant.

The majority of insurance for Canada’s nuclear operators is written by Nuclear Insurance Association of Canada (NIAC), an association of insurers that form liability and property damage pools for nuclear installations.

The Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act – a federal law passed in 2015 – makes nuclear operators liable, without requiring claimants to prove fault or negligence, for injury or damage to third parties resulting from the fissionable or radioactive properties of the material that they hold. The absolute liability, for nuclear power plant operators, is set at $1 billion, though that level of liability has yet to take effect. The NLCA replaced a 1976 law that set absolute liability at $75 million.

Pickering is one of four nuclear power plants currently producing electricity in Canada. Two of the others (Bruce and Darlington) are in Ontario while Point Lepreau is near Saint John, New Brunswick. Hydro Quebec’s Gentilly plant stopped producing power in 2012 and has yet to be decommissioned.

The motion to ask the province to close Pickering in 2018 was supported by the Canadian Environmental Law Association in a letter dated June 24.

“We need a careful, detailed emergency plan because if there were a catastrophic accident at one of Ontario’s nuclear power plants, widespread health, safety and environmental consequences would be expected unless immediate and effective steps were taken for public protection,” the association wrote to Toronto City Council’s executive committee.

Opposing the motion was the Power Workers’ Union.

In a letter dated June 27, Power Workers’ Union president Don MacKinnon noted that Ontario Power Generation has proposed to extend six of Pickering’s units to 2020, at which time two units will be shut down and other four would continue operating until 2014.

“There are several ways to safely shut down the reactors, and in the unlikely event of a serious incident, multiple safety barriers are in place to prevent any harmful release of radiation,” MacKinnon wrote. “When the province approved OPG’s plan to pursue the continued operation of Pickering beyond 2020 to 2024, it noted that final approval would required from the [Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission]. OPG has stated work on a licence application seeking CNSC approval in 2018. The proposal will also be subject to an economic review by the Ontario Energy Board.”

The executive committee also heard from the Canadian Nuclear Association.

In a letter to the committee, CNA president and CEO John Barrett noted that the proposed plan to continue operations at Pickering to 2024 still needs the approval of both federal and provincial regulators before going ahead.”

Barrett added: “It is counterproductive to remove an emission-free source of energy in a province that is proud of its environmental records and has invested so much to create a low-emission electricity grid.”

Eleven of the executive committee members were present to vote June 28 on the motion. Mayor John Tory was among the seven who voted to defer it indefinitely. Four (Paul Ainslie, Ward 43 Scarborough East, Michelle Holland, Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest, Mary-Margaret McMahon, Ward 32 Beaches East York and David Shiner, Ward 24 Willowdale) voted against deferring the motion.