Quebec Utility Mulls Restart of Mothballed Nuclear Reactor

A government-run Canadian utility said it is considering restarting a nuclear reactor that was shut down more than a decade ago, in an effort to support the supply of energy in Quebec.

Hydro-Québec on August 10 said it could bring Gentilly-2, Quebec’s only nuclear power plant, back online to support electricity production. The reactor was taken offline in 2012.

“Concerning the Gentilly-2 station, an evaluation on the current state of the station is underway, to evaluate our options and to feed our reflection on Quebec’s future energy offering,” Maxence Huard-Lefebvre, a spokesperson for the utility, said in a statement to the Montreal Gazette. The company said it wants to “inform our thinking on Quebec’s future energy supply,” which includes increasing the supply of power while also supporting decarbonization efforts in the province.

“The analysis Hydro-Québec is conducting at Gentilly-2 is simply preliminary,” the statement said. “The idea is to get an update on the state of the site and the reactor. There is no project underway [to re-open the site].”

Need for Electricity

Huard-Lefebvre said, “Given the anticipated situation of energy in Quebec in the next few years, it would be irresponsible at this time to exclude certain energy sources and premature to draw any conclusions.” Officials said the assessment of Gentilly-2, which was first reported by the Journal de Montréal, was requested by Michael Sabia, Canada’s former Deputy Minister of Finance who took over as Hydro-Québec’s CEO in May of this year. Sabia after being appointed CEO said he would support nuclear power in Quebec.

The Gentilly-2 nuclear power plant operated in Quebec from 1983 to 2012. Officials on August 10 said they were assessing the 675-MW facility, and could possibly restart the reactor to support Quebec’s supply of electricity. Source: Hydro-Quebec

Provincial officials in 2012 decided to shut down Gentilly-2, a 675-MW facility that had operated since 1983. Officials made the decision to decommission the plant after the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011. The plant, which employed about 800 workers, provided about 2% of the electricity produced in Quebec at that time.

Officials on Thursday said the total cost of decommissioning Gentilly-2 is $2 billion over 50 years. The reactor in December 2014 completed the transition to a safe storage state, with its fuel stored in used fuel pools (known as wet storage) or in CANSTOR modules (dry storage).

Four Operating Nuclear Plants

Canada is home to four operating nuclear power plants. Three of those facilities—in Darlington, Pickering, and Bruce—are in Ontario. The fourth, Point Lepreau, is in New Brunswick. Government officials are working with groups to support construction of small modular reactor technology in the country.

About 15% of Quebec’s power comes from the Churchill Falls contract with Newfoundland and Labrador, which since 1969 has provided low-cost hydropower to the province. The contract ends in 2041. Quebec’s Premier, François Legault, has said he wants to develop alternative energy sources should tariffs imposed in a new contract no longer be favorable to the province.

High Costs for Hydropower

Legault earlier this year—just a week after then-Hydro-Québec CEO Sophie Brochu resigned without warning in January—said Hydro-Québec should build a new dam to help the province meet its growing need for electricity. Questions about building more hydropower dams, though, have been asked after costs for the province’s latest project, La Romaine 4, rose to $7 billion, and brought higher costs for electricity.

Provincial officials have acknowledged that Quebec’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 means the region must find more clean energy resources. The province is looking at installing more solar and wind power, and began building the 200-MW Apuiat wind farm last year. That project, a partnership between Innu communities and Boralex, is being built in Port-Cartier in the Côte-Nord region.  It is expected to come online in 2024.

“In order to decarbonize the Quebec economy, the demand for clean electricity will increase significantly,” Huard-Lefebvre said in Thursday’s statement. “It is an immense challenge.”

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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