Sunday’s false alarm should be enough to shutter Pickering plant on schedule

Prince Edward County residents and fellow Ontarians had a rude wake up call on the weekend and it had little to do with the forecasted freezing rain storm that would have paralyzed the province. You know, if the amount of rain and the sub zero temperatures had actually materialized as some of the over eager metrologists had so claimed.

Like you dear reader, in the wee hours of a slumbering Sunday morning, my cell phone started to buzz with a provincial emergency notification. Through the sleep in my eyes and the darkness, I was able to gather something had happened at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station but there had been no abnormal release of radioactivity and “staff are responding to the situation.”

The message was specifically for residents living within 10 km of the reactor site but a blast to Ontario cell phones was certainly less than confidence-inducing and if you had recently started watching HBO’s dramatic and almost entirely accurate retelling of the Chernobyl disaster, you were likely unable to drift back to sleep.

This corner admits to being flippant about the episode, quipping on social media that congratulations were in order for those that had going out as radio-active zombies on their ‘End-of-society’ bingo card. Hey, if you’re going to make jokes about a fallout immediately impacting the lives of 2.2 million people living within 30 km of the Pickering station, you might as well be quick to the punch.

Just under two hours later, we would all get a second notification that there was no situation in Pickering and the previous message was released in error. Good to know.

But the non-emergency has opened the door to discuss Canada’s oldest and largest nuclear power station and its six CANDU (Canadian Deuterium Uranium) reactors. Despite devouring the Chernobyl series and being a 1980’s history buff-you could trace the Chernobyl disaster as the fait accompli that brought down the Soviet Union’s design as a communistic utopia- this corner will still agree with the idea the province’s power grid should maintain a nuclear compilement, at least for the forseeable future.

There are just too many hiccups out there to be found if we lumped all of our energy eggs in the green energy basket at this stage and gas-fired energy, while on its last legs, still provides a decent solution in the short term.

But getting to Pickering specifically, it’s high time the province acknowledged the immediate threat of having a nearly half-century old facility in a location so close to so many millions of people and on top of the drinking water source of tens of millions more. This surely wasn’t what energy planners of the day contemplated when shovels started breaking soil in a mostly rural setting back in the 1960’s.

But urban sprawl took care of the green patched areas and having a potential radioactivity producer next to Canada’s busiest highway and a steady commuter rail system seems like a tempting fate.

While Chernobyl and Fukushima are the bench marks for Level 7 nuclear disaster event, a meltdown or such at an aging Pickering facility in the shadows of the Toronto metropolis and on the shores of Lake Ontario would bring this province to its knees.

Pickering is due to be mothballed by the end of 2024 as mandated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (which is about a decade past its best before date determined by Greenpeace) but on Tuesday, Ontario Power Generation confirmed its hope to deviate from the original ramp down plan and keep four of the six reactors cooking until 2025, a plan Ontario Premier Doug Ford supports.

Jobs are apparently at the core of this request as OPG said the extended phase out would help them ‘Better transition’ its workforce. I wish this too was a joke.

Save extending a few thousand jobs for a year in swing ridings in the Greater Toronto Area, there’s nothing good that can come from keeping Pickering online one second past Dec. 31, 2024.

Premier Ford and OPG need a wake up call of their own and shut Pickering down without delay.

-Jason Parks