The facility was constructed in stages between 1966-1986 by the provincial Crown corporation, Ontario Hydro. In April 1999 Ontario Hydro was split into 5 component Crown corporations with Ontario Power Generation (OPG) taking over all electrical generating stations and which continues to operate the Pickering station.
The Pickering station is one of the largest nuclear facilities in the world and comprises 8 CANDU nuclear reactors located on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, having a total output of 4124 MW (capacity net) and 4336 MW (gross net) when all units are online. Pickering is only surpassed in Canada by the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, which while also having 8 reactors, has a greater output.
The facility is operated as two distinct stations, Pickering A (Units 1 to 4) and Pickering B (Units 5 to 8). While primarily administrative in nature, the division is not wholly artificial, as there are some distinct differences in design between the two groups of stations. (Example: The Pickering A units employ moderator dump as a shutdown mechanism, a feature not found in Pickering B.) There are, however, a number of systems and structures in common between the two stations; the most notable of these is possibly the shared vacuum building, a negative pressure containment system.
On December 31, 1997 the four Pickering A reactors were shut down by the federal regulator, the Atomic Energy Control Board, because of Ontario Hydro's failure to upgrade the emergency shutdown system at the station. Ontario Hydro committed to restarting the units, but the restart project underwent long delays and large cost over-runs.
Premier Mike Harris asked former federal energy Minister Jake Epp to study and make recommendations on the problems with the Pickering restart. Mr. Epp acknowledged the large cost over-runs and delays attributing blame to bad management. The Epp Review estimated the cost of restarting the remaining reactors at $3 - 4 billion and supported the continuation of the project.
Upon election in 2003 the government of Dalton McGuinty was not immediately prepared to proceed with the restart of Pickering A. On December 16, 2003 the McGuinty government struck the Ontario Power Generation Review Committee to review the structure of Ontario Power Generation and the restart of the Pickering A reactors. The Committee included former federal finance Minister John Manley as chair as well as Peter Godsoe, a former CEO of Scotiabank, and Jake Epp.
On March 18 2004 the OPG Review Committee released its report, attributing the blame for cost over-runs to bad management. The report recommended proceeding with the restart Pickering “A” reactors 1, 2, and 3, sequentially. The report argued that the restart of units 2 and 3 would be contingent on whether “OPG will be able to succeed at the Unit 1 project.”
The Sierra Club of Canada criticized the report for not attributing any blame to the problems of nuclear technology, noting that there were no energy or environmental experts appointed to the panel.
Numerous changes in executive-level staff and project management strategy were undertaken for the follow-on project to refurbish Unit 1. The experience of refurbishing Pickering A Unit 1 was significantly different from Unit 4, with a much tighter adherence to schedule and budget. Unit 1 was returned to service in November 2005 providing 542 MW of generating capacity for Ontario's electricity system.
In August 2005, the OPG Board of Directors announced that Units 2 and 3 would not be refurbished due to specific technical and cost risks surrounding the material condition of these two units.
In 1994 Pickering Unit 7 set a world record for continuous operation (894 days) without a shutdown.
The reactors are as follows:
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