Are Ontario's nuclear reactors safe from a disaster?
Published Sunday, March 13, 2011 6:25PM EDT
Ontario Power Generation says the risk of the province's three nuclear power plants being damaged by an earthquake is remote, but one energy consultant says power outages pose a greater danger.
Thousands of people live beside one of Ontario's major nuclear power plants in Pickering, and the nuclear crisis in Japan has some them wondering about their own safety.
The Pickering plant is believed to sit on a geological fault line. But officials at the province's publicly-owned utility say the risks are much smaller.
"We just don't have the earthquake possibilities that they do in Japan," said Ted Gruetzner, a spokesperson for Ontario Power Generation. "We don't have earthquakes of the same magnitude, and that in itself keeps us very safe."
But energy consultant Tom Adams said the same thing that crippled three Japanese nuclear power plants could happen here.
"It doesn't require an earthquake to cause a blackout -- any kind of disruption to the power supply is a threat to nuclear safety," he said.
In Japan, the earthquake and tsunami knocked out power at the nuclear plants. Back-up generators at some reactors failed and the cooling liquid that regulates the reactors' core could not circulate.
Two power plants have had partial meltdowns, and radioactive leaks are prompting mass evacuations.
"Days after the initiating event, they still can't get the reactors under control," Adams said. "All of that I think should bring a new level of humility around how we manage this technology."
Ontario has three nuclear power plants, one in Pickering and another in Darlington. The last plant, in Kincardine, is the second biggest facility of its kind in the world.
Officials say a number of safeguards are in place to prevent nuclear emergencies.
"There's very thick reinforced steel, very deep foundations which make them incredibly strong," Gruetzner said. "We've got multiple backup safety systems, backup generators, so they're very safe."
But as the emergency in Japan escalates, the nuclear power industry is watching closely, with many anticipating a renewed look at safety measures.
Already the situation is having global implications. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has ordered an emergency safety check of her country's 17 nuclear power stations.
With a report from CTV Toronto's Sneha Kulkarni