The Darlington Nuclear Generating Station on Lake Ontario is the second-largest clean energy centre in the Western Hemisphere (the largest is the Bruce nuclear plant on the east shore of Lake Huron). A multi-unit station consisting of four 860-megawatt reactors, Darlington has been providing bulk electricity, with zero carbon emissions, almost continuously for more than two decades.
In 2015, its oldest unit will be up for refurbishment. How, and whether, this should be done will be discussed in a four-day public regulatory hearing in Courtice, Ontario in early December. The matter at hand is the environmental assessment of Ontario Power Generation’s application to pull old components and pipes out of Darlington Unit 1 and replace them with new ones.
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), Canada’s nuclear regulator, will run the hearing. You can view the hearing agenda here.
Refurbishment will extend the reactors’ operating lives for another 30 years or so. Given that Darlington is at this moment cranking out 3,480 megawatts of carbon-free electricity, more than enough to power the entire City of Toronto, the December public hearing is of paramount importance. Without Darlington, Ontario would be generating those 3,480 MW of electricity with coal or natural gas, two extremely carbon-heavy fossil fuels.
For an idea of the environmental impact of that, consider that a natural gas-fired generator dumps 550 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal man-made greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere for every kilowatt-hour it generates. So if Darlington’s annual output were provided instead by gas-fired generators, those generators would dump nearly 16 million metric tons of CO2 into our air. (0.00055 tons CO2 x 3,480,000 kW x 8,870 hours in a year x 95 percent capacity factor = 15,928,308 tons CO2.)
This point underscores the decisive importance of nuclear energy to human society. We simply cannot continue to dump CO2 into our air in the current quantities. But without nuclear energy, that is exactly what we will do.
The upcoming CNSC hearing in Courtice will include attendees who have been for decades professionally dedicated to replacing nuclear with fossil-fired energy. For decades, the anti-nuclear crowd—working in lockstep with the fossil fuel lobby—has been very visible at these kinds of hearings, and for decades their predominance at these hearings may have given the impression that there is an anti-nuclear consensus among the public.
But as the health of the natural environment has attained stature as a public issue, others have become concerned about the future of our energy supply. These others have applied critical examination to all of the claims of the anti-nuclear lobby and have found them laughably deficient on all fronts. And they have gotten busy and savvy with social media. One of the best blogs on the internet, Rod Adams’s Atomic Insights, publishes very well presented and almost-daily analyses of the political economy of energy. One of Rod’s recurring themes is the role of cui bono—who benefits?—in energy advocacy. He has over the years built an extremely convincing case that the fossil fuel industries are the chief beneficiaries of the trumped-up anti-nuclear hysteria that has accompanied casualty-free events like the Fukushima meltdowns of March 2011. This kind of analysis is nearly absent from the mainstream media, which in the internet era is increasingly forced to swap glowing pro-fossil coverage in return for lucrative advertising revenue from fossil industries.
When you consider cui bono as Rod Adams presents it, you realize the motives, and resources, underpinning much of the anti-nuclear lobbying seen at public regulatory hearings.
I mentioned last week the tireless efforts of Meredith Angwin, who has fought tirelessly in Vermont to rally support for the state’s largest clean energy source, the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. The pro-nuclear side scored a recent coup at a public meeting where it outnumbered the anti-nuclear side. This is the kind of ground game the pro-nuclear side needs to fight.
How exactly was this ground game executed? Howard Shaffer, a longtime member of the American Nuclear Society who has fought alongside Meredith through the Yankee wars, spells it out in a very interesting piece at the ANS Nuclear Cafe. After describing the meeting, Howard says this:
Nuclear power supporters are out there. With organization and support, they will come forward and join in the political fray.
Plant employees are the best advertisement there is. One employee spoke of living in Vernon, and having his wife teach at and his child attend the school (about a half mile from the plant). Over the past decade, several scientific public opinion polls in Vermont have consistently shown that 65 percent of the public feels “people who work at the plant” are the most credible and trusted source of information about plant safety and operations.
Supporters need to gather and socialize. Refreshments or food is needed for morale (to prevent the “brownie deficit” syndrome). Anti nukes always have food.
A great deal can be accomplished with management support, at minimal cost.
All of these points are being covered in anticipation of the Courtice hearing on Darlington. Let’s look forward to a good four days. Ontario’s electrical future, and Canada’s role as an energy superpower, hang in the balance.