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Ontario is proposing expanding the Bruce Power nuclear station near Lake Huron and about 240 kilometres northwest of Toronto. The site is already one of the largest nuclear facilities in the world, and currently provides about 30 per cent of the province’s electricity.ALLISON KENNEDY

Ontario is aiming to get its first new, full-scale nuclear plant in three decades, the province’s Energy Minister said Wednesday, unveiling plans to work with privately owned Bruce Power to study a potential additional facility at the company’s massive existing site on the shores of Lake Huron.

The proposal for the Bruce station, near Kincardine, Ont., about 240 kilometres northwest of Toronto, would enlarge what is already one of the largest nuclear facilities in the world, which currently provides about 30 per cent of the province’s electricity. But its expansion could take more than a decade, must go through a lengthy approval process, and would cost billions.

It must first be subject to public consultations, talks with local Indigenous groups and a lengthy federal environmental impact assessment, before passing muster with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. If given the green light, it would be the first new large nuclear station built in the province since Darlington, in Clarington, east of Toronto, was completed in 1993.

Energy Minister Todd Smith announced the plan at the site on Wednesday, saying the move is a response to the recent report from the province’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), which concluded that new nuclear plants need to be part of a long-term plan to decarbonize Ontario’s power grid amid skyrocketing demand for electricity.

But some environmental critics say Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government, which cancelled scores of wind and solar contracts when it took office in 2018, is ignoring the potential of those cheaper and safer renewable energy sources.

Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada, said Ontario’s approach was outdated, given the plummeting cost of wind and solar energy and facilities needed to store the energy they create.

“This is the equivalent of shopping for a VCR because you want to watch movies,” he said. “Building new nuclear plants is the most expensive way possible to meet our future low-carbon energy needs. Wind and solar power, even with storage, are one-half to one-third the price with no radioactive waste or risk of catastrophic accidents.”

In an interview, Ontario’s Energy Minister would not reveal any projected price for the new facility. When the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty scrapped plans for a new full-scale facility near Ontario Power Generation’s Darlington site more than a decade ago, the bill was estimated at $25-billion.

While Mr. Smith did say new storage systems and other sources of green energy will be part of the government’s future plans, he dismissed the notion that intermittent wind and solar could provide enough reliable power for the province’s system and the growing demand it faces.

“It just has to be there when we need it, otherwise it’s a no-go for powering Ontario’s growth,” Mr. Smith said.

The minister also said he has urged the federal government to speed up the approval process for nuclear power.

Ontario’s power grid is expected to face escalating demand in the coming years as drivers switch to electric cars and the province’s population continues to shoot up. The new electric-vehicle battery plants the province has attracted, as well as the province’s recent moves to help major steelmakers move from coal to electric furnaces, will also put large new demands on the system, Mr. Smith said, requiring the same amount of power the entire Ottawa region uses each year.

The province’s electricity system is more than 90-per-cent reliant on greenhouse-gas-free nuclear and hydroelectric sources. But it is set to expand its use of natural gas in the coming years as many of its aging nuclear plants go offline to be refurbished as part of a multiyear, $25-billion process already under way.

While the proposed Bruce expansion would not come online until the 2030s at the earliest, it could add 4,800 megawatts of power generation to the site, which currently produces 6,300 megawatts. Mr. Smith said it had not been decided whether the new facility would, like the others at Bruce, have Canadian-designed Canada Deuterium Uranium (CANDU) reactors or use other technology.

The plan announced is just the latest pro-nuclear announcement from the province’s PC government, which is also aiming to build what is known as a small modular reactor at OPG’s Darlington site and last fall said it was seeking to extend the life of its half-century-old Pickering nuclear plant.

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