OPG says alert about Pickering nuclear plant incident was sent in error

TORONTO — An alert warning Ontario residents of an unspecified incident at Pickering Nuclear Generating Station early Sunday morning was sent in error, Ontario Power Generation said.

OPG sent out a tweet about 40 minutes after the emergency alert, which was pushed to cellphones at about 7:30 a.m., saying it was a mistake.

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A follow-up alert was sent to cellphones nearly two hours after the original notification, and about an hour after the OPG tweet.

"There is NO active nuclear situation taking place at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station," the alert said. "The previous alert was issued in error. There is no danger to the public or environment. No further action is required."

Premier Doug Ford's office said it was working to figure out what happened.

The original alert warned people within 10 kilometres of the facility east of Toronto of an unspecified incident. There was no abnormal release of radioactivity and people near the plant didn't need to take protective actions, the alert said.

Pickering Mayor Dave Ryan called for a full investigation into the error.

"Like many of you, I was very troubled to have received that emergency alert this morning. While I am relieved that there was no actual emergency, I am upset that an error such as this occurred. I have spoken to the province, and am demanding that a full investigation take place," Ryan said in a tweet.

The province's auditor general highlighted issues with Ontario's emergency management in her 2017 annual report. Bonnie Lysyk found that provincial emergency management programs needed better oversight and co-ordination.

Ontario doesn't have a co-ordinated IT system for emergency management, the auditor wrote. The province tried to implement one in 2009, but discontinued the project six years later, "having spent about $7.5 million without it ever going live."

Pickering has been operating since 1971, and had been scheduled to be decommissioned this year, but the former Liberal government — and the current Progressive Conservative government — committed to keeping it open until 2024. Decommissioning is now set to start in 2028.

It operates six CANDU reactors, generates 14 per cent of Ontario's electricity, and is responsible for 4,500 jobs across the region, according to OPG.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2020.

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