Future of Pickering nuclear plant a hot topic in Durham Region
CLICK HERE to watch video
PICKERING - Those who run Canada’s oldest operating nuclear power plant are seeking to keep it running at least another five years.
But some residents who live within a few kilometres of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Plant are not keen on the idea.
When Michelle Simeunovich first moved to her home, she didn’t think much about the power plant on the other side of Frenchman’s Bay.
Japan’s latest nuclear accident — the 2011 Fukushima disaster — changed that for her.
“Would I buy a home this close to a nuclear plant, knowing what I do now? No,” Simeunovich said.
She says she is concerned about living under the shadow of an aging nuclear station.
The Pickering plant — one of the largest nuclear generating facilities in the world with six operating CANDU reactors generating 3,100 megawatts — was built in 1971, produces 15% of Ontario’s electricity, and is located along Lake Ontario’s shoreline, surrounded by 90,000 residents.
Simeunovich agonizes over the difficulty of evacuating hundreds of thousands of people in Durham Region should anything go wrong.
“You combine something where you have toxins in the air, in the water, mass panic — these roads and our infrastructure cannot handle it and you cannot get people out safely and it’s going to be, and it could potentially be, apocalyptic,” she said.
Pickering station’s operating license expires June 30. Half of the units will be at the end of their lifespan in 2016.
Ontario Power Generation recently applied for a five-year renewal with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which held a three-day hearing in May to hear from residents like Simeunovich.
Barbara Pulst, 50, one of over 100 speakers at the hearing, said she didn’t worry so much about the nuclear plant just kilometres away when her family first moved to the area seven years ago. She admitted she wouldn’t let her children swim in the lake for the first three years, though.
But now that the plant is aging, she wants a lengthier discussion on its future, Pulst said.
“I think they should close it because it’s the end of its design life,” she said. “That’s what the engineers back then designed it for and I think the risk is too great because of the dense population.”
It’s “very common” to operate a plant beyond its original assumed lifespan provided it’s safe, said Glenn Jager, the senior vice-president of the Pickering plant.
If they get their licence renewed, OPG plans on running Pickering Station till 2020, he said.
“We would not operate the plant if it could not be done safely,” said Jager. who lives two stoplights away from the Darlington nuclear station in Clarington, roughly 35 km east of the Pickering station.
In fact, 65% of Pickering station’s 3,000 workers live within Durham Region.
In a newsletter distributed locally, the OPG boasts the radiation dose from the Pickering station in 2012 was 0.1% of the regulatory limit. And while the collective worker exposure rate increased by approximately 20% last year, the OPG said individual doses are down and the collective dose only increased due to the amount of work and maintenance performed at the station in 2012.
However, one Kingston physician disputes those statistics.
Dr. Cathy Vakil said “actual emissions” from Pickering and Darlington for 2012 were “remarkably high” according to numbers she said she received through freedom of information requests.
Emissions from both stations sometimes spike “as much as a hundred times the baseline level,” she said.
“There are very high radioactive emissions coming out of those stacks,” Vakil said.
Environmental advocates at Sierra Club Ontario have spoken out against the plant several times.
Spokesman Christine Elwell hopes that if a licence is granted, a public health and environmental assessment won’t be far behind.
“This is the oldest and most troubled nuclear plant in Ontario and indeed Canada,” she said. “So we’ve intervened to raise our concerns.”
Jager said he welcomes any scrutiny.
“It’s clean power, it’s emissions-free, and I think that’s important from an environmental standpoint,” he said.