The aging Darlington reactor

Aging Darlington reactors dangerously close to Toronto

There are safer options than refurbishment

by Gordon Edwards,

Darlington Nuclear Generating Station • A recent Action Alert by Fawn Edwards of Greenpeace is deserving of close attention.  It has to do with the proposed re-licencing of the four large nuclear power reactors at the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station, following public hearings scheduled for November.

While Ontario Power Generation (OPG) plans to permanently shut down the 8 nuclear reactors at Pickering by 2020, they are seeking an unprecedented thirteen year operating licence for the 4 nuclear reactors at Darlington. The Darlington reactors – the largest in Canada’s nuclear fleet – are sited on the north shore of Lake Ontario, between Toronto and Port Hope.

The Darlington reactors are seriously degraded and will require extensive rebuilding of the core and primary heat transport system to continue operating, a dirty and dangerous refurbishing job that will cost at least ten billion dollars. Thousands of highly radioactive pressure tubes and calandria tubes will have to be removed robotically and packaged for safe storage for a period of hundreds of thousands of years, along with tens of kilometres of radioactively contaminated “feeder pipes”. These dangerous radioactive wastes will be trucked north to the shore of Lake Huron near Kincardine to join the growing volume of radioactive waste that is currently stored there.

Previous experience with refurbishment of CANDU reactors at other locations in Ontario and New Brunswick has been characterized by years of delay and billions of dollars in cost over-runs. During a refurbishment operation at the Bruce site, on the shore of Lake Huron, over 500 workers were exposed to plutonium-contaminated airborne dust for over three weeks in 2009 due to the incompetence or disregard of overseers. Managers neglected to provide their men with respirators, failed to heed a radiation alarm, ignored company records that plainly revealed the presence of contamination in pipes that were being removed and subjected to a grinding operation, and neglected to properly test the air for contamination.

Anyone can intervene in the November licensing hearings by sending in a letter or a brief, with the option of appearing in person at the hearings and making a 10-minute oral presentation.  It is even possible to testify by telephone using a tele-conferencing setup that the Commission has made available for intervenors. One only has to request it.

The Ontario Government, the sole owner of OPG, can decide not to refurbish the Darlington reactors by instead buying replacement power, investing in community-based energy conservation, and accelerating the installation of alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, and industrial cogeneration facilities. The province of Quebec has a very large surplus of water-generated hydropower for the foreseeable future, and calculations have shown that the entire output of the Darlington reactors could be replaced if Ontario purchased excess power from Quebec. A fair price for that power could be mutually advantageous to both provinces, and be much less expensive than the Darlington refurbishment option.

Darlington: It's not worth the risk

Although the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission staff promised to publish a report outlining the consequences of a severe nuclear accident at Darlington, they have instead produced a report that describes a release of radioactivity that appears disproportionately low – at least 10 to 100 times less than what would be reasonably anticipated in the event of a severe nuclear accident involving up to four reactors. The Commission therefore risks misleading both the public and government authorities who are responsible for emergency planning measures.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently published a report on the Fukushima triple meltdown in Japan. The following paragraph, taken from the first page of the IAEA report, is particularly applicable to the attitude of Canadian nuclear authorities who simply do not want to communicate the results of their own internal calculations to the public and to decision makers.

“A major factor that contributed to the accident was the widespread assumption in Japan that its nuclear power plants were so safe that an accident of this magnitude was simply unthinkable. This assumption was accepted by nuclear power plant operators and was not challenged by regulators or by the Government. As a result, Japan was not sufficiently prepared for a severe nuclear accident in March 2011.”  [2015 Report of the IAEA, Foreward, written by the IAEA Director General,]

Dr. Gordon Edwards has acted as a consultant to governmental and non-governmental bodies, including the Auditor General of Canada and the Ontario Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning. He was awarded the Nuclear-Free Future Award (Education Category) in 2006.

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