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Warning of nuclear power incident in Canada was 'sent in error'

The province of Ontario sent an alert reporting an unspecified "incident" at a nuclear plant near Toronto on Sunday, but later said it was a mistake.
Image: The Pickering Nuclear Power Generating Station near Toronto on April 17, 2019.
The Pickering Nuclear Power Generating Station near Toronto on April 17, 2019.Carlos Osorio / Reuters file

TORONTO — The Canadian province of Ontario sent an alert reporting an unspecified “incident” at a nuclear plant just east of Toronto on Sunday — only to later report the message was sent in error.

The initial emergency message sent to cellphones of people throughout the province said the incident had occurred at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station, though it added there had been no abnormal release of radioactivity from the station and said people didn't need to take protective action.

More than an hour later, Ontario Power Generation later sent a message saying the alert “was sent in error. There is no danger to the public or environment. No further action is required.” The notification message also was pushed onto to television screens.

Pickering Mayor Dave Ryan said he's demanding 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 by Twitter.

Toronto Mayor John Tory joined him, tweeting that “there are far too many unanswered questions" and noting it went out province wide.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general recommended changes to emergency alert system in the United States after Hawaii officials in 2018 mistakenly warned the public about a nonexistent incoming ballistic missile. A Hawaii Emergency Management Agency employee sent the missile alert to cellphones and broadcasters, triggering panic until the agency sent another message 38 minutes later notifying people it was a false alarm.

“It's comforting to know that when the apocalypse does come, we'll all still be snarking on Twitter," Emmett Macfarlane, a University of Waterloo professor, tweeted.

“Last night may have been the wrong night to start watching Chernobyl," tweeted CBC journalist David Common.

Pickering opened in 1971 and had been scheduled to be decommissioned this year, but the province's government committed to keeping it open until 2024. Decommissioning is now set to start in 2028.

It generates 14 percent of Ontario's electricity, and is responsible for 4,500 jobs across the region, according to Ontario Power.

It has experienced several earlier incidents. In 2011, a pump seal failure caused the spill of more than 19,200 gallons of demineralized water into Lake Ontario, though with no significant risks to public health, according to local authorities.

In 1994, the plant automatically shut down after a faulty valve caused 132 tons of heavy water to spill. It was the first time a Canadian nuclear reactor had to use the emergency core cooling system to prevent fuel overheating.