Why Ontario is at the centre of a nuclear renaissance

After years of flatlined growth in nuclear power, there’s growing interest and investment around the world in building new nuclear reactors. And as it turns out, Ontario is at the centre of that nuclear renaissance. 

The Peak team recently had the chance to see firsthand what that means through a tour of Ontario Power Generation’s nuclear facility in Pickering. 

Afterward, we sat down with Riley Found, a Senior Manager for New Nuclear Growth at OPG, to talk about why Ontario is at the forefront of building new nuclear.

Why has there been a renewed interest in nuclear power after going decades without building any new nuclear?

The first reason is electrification. If we look at our projected requirements to meet electricity demands by 2050. we're looking at potentially doubling the entire electricity grid. In Ontario, the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) released a report that illustrates up to 18,000 megawatts of new nuclear on top of our operating capacity may be required.

Two, the war in Ukraine has really put an emphasis on energy security. And here in Canada, we have the benefit of having the province of Saskatchewan, which is the world's second-largest producer of uranium. So, we have a completely indigenous supply of nuclear fuel here in Canada, and we have operated the CANDU reactors for many, many decades safely and reliably.

Some nuclear builds in the past have gone way over time and budget, but the refurbishment project at Darlington appears to be going well. Why?

Darlington started with 10 years of planning. The important part here is that if you have meticulous planning, it's going to increase your chances of success. So the project team studied other megaprojects around the world—other nuclear builds, large infrastructure, like airports—to understand what went well, what didn't go well, and what we can adapt to our own project.

We actually built a large-scale mockup of a non-radioactive, one-to-one replica of the Darlington reactor. What this allows us to do is confirm that every single piece of tooling, every single person who's going to work on refurb, and every single procedure can be tested in a non-radioactive environment. So when we actually go in and work in the station, everything's going to fit, everyone knows what they're doing, and it's been rehearsed many, many times.

If Ontario decided tomorrow to decarbonize its grid with just nuclear as quickly as possible, how much more would we have to build?

If we use the IESO report as a starting place for that, they estimate 18,000 more megawatts are needed. And if we look at the amount of megawatts that are being produced per CANDU unit right now at Bruce and Darlington, they're just under a thousand megawatts. So that's 18 more reactors. We currently have 18 units running in Ontario. We need another 18. 

And so this is a large opportunity for nuclear. We're going to be building four small modular reactors (SMRs) at Darlington. We're going to be looking at refurbishing Pickering. Bruce Power is looking at adding up to 4,800 megawatts at their site. And so when you add those up, you start to chip away at that 18,000 megawatts. But we do have to build on new sites, and it's going to be probably a combination of SMRs and large, given the amount of electricity that's needed. 

This transcript has been edited for clarity and length. Listen to the full interview with Riley Found here.