Cancellation of Ontario gas plants pales in comparison to nuclear repair costs
Canada's experience on nuclear plant repairs shows that it always costs much more and takes longer than originally budgeted.
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has given the go-ahead for repairs to the Darlington nuclear station east of Toronto. Ontario's energy ministry estimated in 2010 that the repair bill would be $6 billion to $10 billion but it could go even higher.
By: Jose Etcheverry Published on Thu May 09 2013
Concerned about the costs of the cancelled Ontario gas plants? Prepare to be shocked.
On March 16, the Toronto Star reported that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission had decided to give the go-ahead for repairs to the Darlington nuclear station 70 kilometres east of Toronto.
How much that job will really cost is anyone's guess but Ontario's energy ministry estimated in 2010 that the repair bill would be $6 billion to $10 billion.
Before discussing that estimate, it is imperative first to recall Darlington's original 1993 cost, as that key historical fact is remembered today by only a very select few.
The bill for the Darlington nuclear plant rose from the original estimate of $3.95 billion to a final cost of $14.4 billion. Despite the cost, Darlington - like every nuclear plant built in Canada - failed to perform as planned and now demands costly repairs.
Now, let's look at the other repair estimates versus their actual cost. To date, three provinces have built nuclear plants: New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec.
New Brunswick's sole nuclear plant, Point Lepreau, was operational in 1983 and repairs were started in 2008. The original estimate for those repairs was $750 million. However, the final bill reached $2.4 billion and the job took three years longer than forecast.
Ontario's oldest nuclear plant, Pickering, was operational in 1971 and repairs started in 2000. The original repair estimate was $1.3 billion but the actual bill reached $2.6 billion, took five years and yielded only a partial repair.
Ontario's largest nuclear plant, Bruce, was built in stages between 1970 and 1987 and repairs were started in 2005. The estimate for the repairs was $2.75 billion but it ended up costing $4.8 billion by the time the final bill was presented in 2012.
Quebec's only nuclear plant, Gentilly, provides a good cautionary tale. Built in stages between 1966 and 1983, it needed to be fixed in 2012, but the Quebec government recently decided that it was not going to repeat the mistakes of its neighbours and instead pulled the plug on that repair job and shut the plant down.
Quebec's decision to stop nuclear reflected similar initiatives in other nuclear nations such as Belgium, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland.
The accumulated Canadian experience on nuclear plant repairs shows that it always costs much more and takes longer than originally budgeted, and suggests that it would make a lot of sense for Ontarians to consider all our options before committing our children and grandchildren's funds.
So back to the Darlington repair job: should the Ontario government, which is deep in austerity deliberations, commit itself to a bill that could range anywhere from $6 billion to $10 billion and that, based on experience, could end up two to three times higher than expected?
Here is where the real shock starts. The Ontario government is allowing Ontario Power Generation to spend $1 billion so SNC-Lavalin Group and Alstom Power & Transport can develop a plan simply to estimate what it will take to repair Darlington.
Instead of saddling the public with high nuclear bills, the people and the government of Ontario should pause and consider what other civic tasks could be achieved with our money.
Here is a brief list of safer investments to create local jobs: Ontario community wind power at 11 cents per kilowatt-hour; local solar power (made in Ontario) for 35 cents per kWh; a network of combined heat and power plants (with district energy) for about 15 cents per kWh. Those solutions can deliver safer and cheaper energy and can be combined with infrastructure investment so our province can access more reliable hydropower from Manitoba and Quebec.
In a democracy, decisions that will hurt or benefit everyone need to be debated. An honest and open discussion about what to do with nuclear is long overdue in Ontario.
Jose Etcheverry is co-chair of the Sustainable Energy Initiative and an associate professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University. [NB: York in Canada]