Where will Ontario’s new Reactors be built – Darlington or Bruce?

Location is not only important in real estate but also in the reactor business.

To start by pointing out the obvious, the Bruce site is leased by Bruce Power, a private company and the Darlington site is operated by Ontario Power Generation OPG), a provincial government organization. Both sites are owned by OPG.

It’s clear that the best location for the first new reactors would be at an existing nuclear site. Pickering is probably too small to comfortably accommodate new reactors and that leaves Bruce or Darlington. Both have vigorous local boosters promoting the large economic benefits sure to flow to the surrounding communities. Darlington is located closer to the GTA and there are potential problems building more transmission lines from Bruce to Toronto. However, these should not be the decisive issues.

The more fundamental question is where would the construction of the new reactors be more successful?

On the basis of their recent performance in refurbishing existing CANDU reactors, Bruce Power has been the more successful organization. The cost overruns in returning Pickering units 4 and 1 to service and the consequent permanent shut down of units 2 and 3 did not inspire confidence in the project management capability of OPG. On the other hand, Bruce Power was able to return Bruce units 3 and 4 to service relatively quickly although without re-tubing and its multi-billion dollar project to bring back units 1 and 2 appears to be more or less on track with so far only moderate cost overruns.

The peremptory shutdown of seven CANDU units (Bruce unit 2 was shut down earlier) by Ontario Hydro in 1997 was the definitive end point in what had started out as a technological love affair between Hydro and AECL’s CANDU reactor. It was the culmination of a long period of increasing recriminations between the two companies. The reason for the abysmal performance of these reactors is still not fully explained but I’ll take a shot at it in a forthcoming post. Suffice it to say for the purposes of this discussion that the culture at OPG still tends to blame what they regard as the high maintenance CANDU design as the root of their problems whereas AECL types vehemently defend their reactor and attribute the problems to managerial incompetence at Ontario Hydro.

The point of this much over-simplified history is that Darlington is unlikely to be a hospitable site for building ACR’s in spite of the all-is-forgiven noises OPG and AECL executives emit from time to time. This would not be the case at Bruce Power where my guess is that an attractive deal would trump any history.

Let’s suppose for the moment that Darlington was selected as site for the new build reactors. Would this mean that Ontario had essentially chosen to build Areva EPR’s or Westinghouse AP1000’s in preference to ACR’s? Certainly Areva or Westinghouse could come in and build turn-key light water reactors and then train the personnel to operate them which would probably be OPG’s preference. However, if the business terms were right, Bruce Power could lease part of the Darlington site and collaborate with AECL in building and operating ACR’s or other CANDU’s.  

We’ll just have to wait to learn how Ontario views the relationship between site selection and reactor selection.  To date their policy has been to deny any relationship between the two as evidenced by their concept of the generic environmental assessment as a way to speed up reactor approvals. 

As H.L. Menken said “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.”



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