Starting Monday at a church in Courtice, near Oshawa, Ontario Power Generation will make the case for performing a multi-billion-dollar mid-life refit of its Darlington nuclear generating station.
It’s a massive undertaking to overhaul the station’s four reactors, work that will extend the life of the station until mid-century. Two years ago, Ontario’s ministry of energy gave a ballpark cost estimate of $ 6 to $ 10 billion.
Since the plant’s four reactors produce about 20 per cent of Ontario’s power, everyone in Ontario who uses electricity has a stake in the overhaul.
The scope of the work is massive.
A nuclear reactor is a big steel drum or calandria, lying on its side, and pierced by 480 double-walled horizontal tubes.
The tubes piercing the calandria contain the uranium fuel pellets. They also contain heavy water that carries heat from the nuclear reaction to a steam generator; the steam ultimately turns the turbines that power the generators.
In the refit, each of the 480 tubes will be removed and replaced, as will the feeder tubes that circulate the heavy water to the steam generator and back.
OPG is building a full-scale mock-up of a reactor near the plant so work crews can rehearse their tasks.
But not everyone is as enthusiastic about the project as Mitchell.
Traditional opponents of nuclear power have signed up to give their views, as well.
Greenpeace, a venerable campaigner against nuclear energy, is one.
It will also limit Ontario’s ability to develop renewable power, he said.
The scope of next week’s hearings don’t provide for discussion of alternative supplies, he said.
“The project comes with a lot of risks, but we never have a discussion about the alternatives.”
Safety is likely to be big issue at the hearings, especially in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.
OPG insists it has done its homework since Fukushima, improving both procedures and equipment to cope with catastrophic events.
But two decades of successful operation, it says, “has demonstrated that the station is safe and operates within a small overall environmental footprint.”
Others aren’t so sure.
The Canadian Environmental Law Association, for example, says OPG’s planning hasn’t considered the possibility of severe accidents with a wide-spread release of radiation.
“The province of Ontario must develop detailed evacuation plans for at least 20 to 30 km areas around Darlington – not just 10 km – until 2055, as well as more detailed plans for 50 to 80 km,” it says in its brief.
“To advocate or authorize the building of new or extended nuclear reactors at the Darlington site, knowing what has happened at Chernobyl and at Fukushima, it is not only unwise but could be seen as a crime against current and future generations,” the club warns in its brief.
Other submissions, from individuals, are short and to the point:
“Accidents are bound to happen, whether they be human error or one of a natural disaster engulfing a nuclear plant. For the sake of the next generation, it is time we turned our attention towards energy conservation and green alternatives.”
But there’s plenty of support as well, especially from the community around the plant.
Darlene Brown, executive director of Big Brothers and Sisters of Clarington, writes wholeheartedly in favor of the project.
“Whenever we have needed them, they have been there to lend a helping hand,” says her brief.