Nuclear powers Toronto, cheaply and with no carbon

Yesterday I pointed out that nearly a quarter of Toronto’s 24.7-billion-kWh-per-year demand for electricity comes from the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), the company that runs the city’s subways, streetcars, and buses. And more than three-quarters of the TTC’s electricity, a whopping 4.4 billion kWh, is used to move electric-powered subways and streetcars. Where does that electricity come from?

This city is nuclear-powered. Most of the electricity lighting up Toronto—and powering its subways, streetcars, government buildings, hospitals, newspapers, and sports facilities—comes from nuclear plants, which provide cheap, zero-carbon energy.

Mostly from nuclear plants. Table 1 on the left-hand sidebar gives the sources feeding the Ontario grid in the last hour. As you can see, nuclear is by far the biggest single electricity provider; it usually out-performs all the other sources—hydro, gas, coal, wind, “other” (mostly biomass but some fossil)—combined. And as you can also see, nuclear comes with no emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main manmade greenhouse gas.

When you get on the TTC subway, you pay $3 if you’re an adult, $2 if you’re a senior or student, and 75 cents if you’re a child. That small amount of money will carry you out to or within easy striking distance of pretty much anywhere in the city.

Given that electricity is such a big part of the TTC’s business, it is imperative that the cost of electricity remain affordable. Otherwise, the fare for using TTC subways, streetcars, or buses would have to go up. Fewer people would then use the TTC to get around Toronto. And the enormous environmental benefits, which I outlined yesterday, would be reduced.

Ontario nuclear power, by far the biggest single contributor to the electricity that makes Toronto run, is very cheap. Prices for nuclear power come in several varieties. The publicly owned generation company, Ontario Power Generation, sells nuclear electricity at a regulated rate of around 5.6 cents per kilowatt-hour. Bruce Power, the privately owned generator, sells it at just over 6 cents.

This is why the Toronto subway is affordable.

6 comments for “Nuclear powers Toronto, cheaply and with no carbon

  1. James Greenidge
    February 26, 2013 at 20:54

    I applause this and the other subway article! Wish they could be posted around the Toronto mass transit system. This article pops a question for a street survey; How many in Toronto know the city IS nuclear powered? To see their responses as well as their answers would be worth a million! (as well as that of antinuke British Columbia!)

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

    • February 26, 2013 at 21:01

      James, thanks: great idea — poll subway riders as they enter or leave stations. Or, put up real-time ads in subways or streetcars that give the hour by hour breakdown of grid sources (together with contracted/regulated prices): “nuclear is bringing you home” or something better.

  2. March 1, 2013 at 03:42

    Send me a flyer and I can hand it out when I’m on the subway. I can put the text together and maybe a little artwork.

  3. Bas Gresnigt
    March 13, 2013 at 08:17

    With ~10.000 nuclear reactor years (~450 reactors during ~22years) we had two accidents with a damage each of ~$500billion. Thanks to favorable circumstances (wind, etc) the damage became not much more (>1000billion).

    This implies an insurance premium of ~$200milion per reactor per year.
    However the power plant operator has no such insurance. So government & citizens in the surroundings have to pay in case of disaster.

    Same applies for radio-active waste storage.
    While reservations for >100.000years are needed, reservations for only a hundred years are made!

    If these huge invisible subsidies are corrected, nuclear is one of the most expensive forms of electricity generation!
    Even more expensive than wind mills!

    • March 13, 2013 at 08:32

      Bas, where are these figures coming from? They look like they’re from Greenpeace. Greenpeace has never, to my knowledge, put a dollar figure on the cleanup cost for landfilled compact fluorescent lightbulbs, which contain a stable isotope of mercury, a highly toxic chemical. Stable isotopes, as you may know, have infinite half-lives. i.e., when all the radioactive used nuclear fuel has decayed away, that toxic mercury will still be toxic mercury.

      The same goes for the lead in the batteries that will store your wind power. What measures are being taken to ensure that the lead, which is another toxic element, does not poison humans fifty zillion years from now? Factor that in, and wind power goes from ridiculously expensive to obscenely expensive.

      • Kyle
        January 11, 2015 at 11:43

        Well you could use all that lead to cool fast reactors to burn up nukes and nuclear waste. I hate the idea of sodium fires beside a bunch of radioactive stuff. Of course greenpeace doesn’t like solutions to nuclear waste and weapons problems.

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