On Thursday, July 27, Pickering unit 8 rejoined the fray following ten days off. Right now (Monday July 31) it’s producing power—and Cobalt-60, an essential material in Canadian healthcare—at capacity.
All other Pickering CANDUs are also producing power at or close to capacity. That’s over 3,000 MW, carbon-, nitrogen-, sulphur-, particulate-free MW, just down the road from Toronto, Ontario’s and Canada’s biggest electrical load centre.
Also free of foreign interference. CANDU’s entire fuel cycle occurs inside Canada. Don’t think that matters? Ask European countries how important energy security is, in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Suddenly, after February 23 2022, EU countries that heat with gas in winter had to find another gas supplier. By a stroke of huge luck, North American LNG suppliers were able to increase production, and EU importers, especially Germany, were able to quickly build regasification terminals. Plus, Winter 2022/2023 was fairly mild. It could have been a nightmare. And Winter 2023/2024 is coming in a few short months. It might be a cold one.
Friendly fire kills you just as dead
And it doesn’t take hostile governments to disrupt your energy security. It could be a friendly government from a neighboring country. Ask Canadian federal cabinet ministers, who had to re-write a critical trade agreement with the U.S., after the American president decided he didn’t like the existing one. That president’s successor, who occupies the White House today, didn’t drop America’s newfound trade protectionism. He doubled down on it.
He also has largely stayed away from the Line 5 dispute between the State of Michigan and Enbridge, the gas pipeline operator. Michigan’s governor wants the pipeline system decommissioned. Line 5 is absolutely critical for Ontario’s supply of light crude, synthetic crude, and natural gas liquids; see Enbridge’s fact sheet. And there is no guarantee that should the president get involved in the Line 5 dispute, he would want to settle it in Ontario’s favour. He already nixed Keystone XL, owned by another Canadian company, for allegedly environmental reasons.
CANDU is totally protected from this kind of thing. Keeping nuclear reactors running on CANDU fuel has nothing whatsoever to do with any non-Canadian politician, and whatever political agenda they find it convenient to pursue. An electrified economy based on CANDU nuclear is utterly shielded from foreign capriciousness.
The plot below is — literally — the picture of energy security. Those high, flat curves are what keep the lights on in Ontario, schools and hospitals running, and water available in Ontario homes. Get a good look. The whole plant—all six of these output curves, each of them representing 480 to 510 megawatts—might disappear from the scene if it doesn’t get refurbished. The decision on that, yes or no, is coming in a few short months.
And yes, the curves are flat. Note the y-scale on the plot. There’s about 10 MW variation through each day. It looks like a pattern, and that’s because it is a pattern. These generators vary output, to some degree, with net demand.
The new picture of Ontario electricity might not be as pretty.