Pickering Out of Steam

A recent report prepared for the Ontario Energy Board found that the Pickering nuclear plant near Toronto has among the worst performance of all nuclear plants in the world. This comes on the heels of a report that found that 48% of the rise in consumer’s electricity bills was attributable to nuclear, and only 6% to new renewable energy.

The Pickering plant has 8 units. Pickering A has four units, built in the late 60’s/early 70’s, two of which have been permanently shut down, as the cost of refurbishment was deemed excessive. The other two, units 1 and 4, have atrocious operating results. They have a “forced loss rate” of 37.9% over the 2009/10 period. This means they were not operating 37.9% of the time when they were supposed to be operating. And those outages would be on top of any scheduled outages required for routine maintenance. Pickering B’s forced loss rate was 18.2%.

With nuclear, typically the unit is either on, or it is off. You either get full production, or no production. Critics of wind often describe wind as intermittent. But a given wind farm will typically produce at some level 70-80% of the time, with varying output depending on the wind speed. This means that wind is less intermittent than Pickering A, and similar to Pickering B.

The report also compares the staffing level at OPG’s nuclear unit with world standards, and found that it is overstaffed, and over paid compared to the rest of nuclear operators.

Needless to say, when the operating assets perform poorly, and are overstaffed with overpaid workers, the costs are higher. In Ontario’s case, much higher.

But these are only the visible costs. The cost of storing radioactive waste, the cost of decommissioning toxic nuclear facilities, and the risk of release of nuclear material or theft make the invisible costs and liabilities even worse. The report didn’t even talk about these future costs and liabilities. The lack of transparency of costs, and the impossibility of knowing future costs is perhaps the biggest problem with reliance on nuclear power.

The cost of wind, and the transparency of its future costs (the costs to the ratepayer rise by only 20% of the increase in inflation for 20 years) make wind a competitive energy source indeed.

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