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The Pickering Nuclear Power Generating Station on April 17, 2019.Carlos Osorio/Reuters

Ontario is proceeding with a massive, multibillion-dollar refurbishment of four aging nuclear reactors at its Pickering power plant east of Toronto, according to two provincial government sources.

The decision will be formally unveiled by Ontario Energy Minister Todd Smith at the facility in Pickering on Tuesday, a senior government source said. This would mark the government’s latest major move to preserve and expand the province’s reactor fleet.

Another government official said the province has approved a $2-billion budget for Ontario Power Generation, the plant’s owner, to complete the necessary engineering and design work and order crucial components, which can require years to manufacture. The Globe and Mail is not naming the sources, because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the decision.

No full cost estimate for the project has been revealed. Refurbishments under way at OPG’s Darlington nuclear plant in Clarington, and at Bruce Power’s station in Tiverton, have cost between $2-billion and more than $3-billion a reactor.

Mr. Smith’s announcement had been expected. In 2022, the province asked OPG to study the feasibility of refurbishing the four Pickering “B” units, which entered service in the mid-1980s and had previously been passed over for refurbishment 15 years ago. Mr. Smith received OPG’s report last summer, but his ministry rebuffed a request from this newspaper to release it under the province’s freedom of information legislation.

The Pickering station, situated on the shore of Lake Ontario about 30 kilometres from downtown Toronto, generates about 15 per cent of Ontario’s power. It also includes the four 1970s-era Pickering “A” reactors, which are not currently being considered for refurbishment. Two have been dormant for decades after an aborted refurbishment, and the remaining two are scheduled to shut down permanently this year.

OPG’s current licence for Pickering B allows its reactors to operate only to the end of this year. OPG has applied to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which regulates the industry, for permission to operate them until late 2026. CNSC approval would also be required for a refurbishment.

Refurbishment involves replacing major components to extend reactors’ operating lives by 30 years, although the list of required upgrades varies from station to station. Subo Sinnathamby, OPG’s chief projects officer, told The Globe earlier this month that, if the project were approved, OPG would begin Pickering’s refurbishment in 2028, with the goal of returning its reactors to service by the mid-2030s. Previous refurbishments have unfolded over longer periods.

“It is a compressed timeline,” she acknowledged. But she added that this time OPG will benefit from the experience it and its contractors and suppliers gained during previous refurbishments.

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