Ottawa must get deal quickly on AECL: minister
The gauges of the control room of Atomic Energy Canada Limited plant are seen in Chalk River, Ont., Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2007. (Fred Chartrand / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, January 18, 2011 6:13AM EST
TORONTO - With the sale of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. possibly in jeopardy, Ontario's energy minister is calling on Ottawa to move quickly in deciding the fate of the Crown-owned company.
Two major bidders for AECL have apparently bowed out, which leaves Ontario's plan to buy two nuclear units in limbo.
The federal government put AECL's troubled CANDU reactor business up for sale in 2009, which delayed the province's ability to move ahead with the purchase, Brad Duguid said Monday.
"We feel the federal government has an obligation here to ensure that it gets this together quickly," he said in an interview.
"They have a responsibility to Ontario and Ontario families to get their act together on this file."
The Conservative government also needs to get behind Canada's nuclear industry and the 70,000 workers it employs, Duguid added.
"What's been frustrating for us is that in most other countries with a nuclear industry, their national governments take a much greater level of commitment towards ensuring that that industry is viable," he said.
"We're not sure we're seeing that level of commitment from the federal government in the nuclear industry."
His comments come in the wake of reports that Bruce Power and SNC-Lavalin Group are no longer interesting in buying the heavily subsidized Crown corporation.
A source confirmed to The Canadian Press late last week that Bruce Power walked away from the table after the union representing scientists and engineers raised a red flag in a letter to its members.
The Society of Professional Engineers and Associates suggested that SNC had also pulled out.
The union said it was "extremely concerned" that talks had collapsed and feared the government would allow AECL to die a slow death or sell it off piecemeal.
It urged its members to contact their local MPs and put pressure on the government to allow AECL to seek new business opportunities while the restructuring process is underway.
A spokesman for Bruce Power refused to comment Monday, while SNC spokeswoman Leslie Quinton said she couldn't talk about the process due to a confidentiality agreement.
Another offer for AECL was reportedly submitted by Toronto businessman Andrew Day.
The pullout by Bruce and SNC shows that even the nuclear industry doesn't want to take on the financial risks of building high-cost new reactors, said Greenpeace Canada spokesman Shawn-Patrick Stensil.
"It's quite telling when two of the major nuclear utilities in the country aren't willing to take on the risks of building and refurbishing reactors," he said.
"AECL has been around for 50 years, but the private half of the industry has always required federal backstopping to cover the risks."
But it's not just the future of Ontario's nuclear industry that's now in doubt, said Ontario New Democrat Peter Tabuns.
Even in the United States, private companies don't want to build nuclear plants unless governments are willing to back them up, take the risks and pass on costs to their ratepayers, he said.
Ontario residents are dealing with enough economic hardship already without adding extra costs, he added.
"Why are we going down this path of an extraordinarily expensive option that needs all this government money for it to function at all, and one that continually gets more expensive as time goes by?" Tabuns said.
Many analysts believe if AECL doesn't secure new builds in Ontario it won't attract any new international customers, and will be left with only the business of repairing its old reactors.
Ontario is the biggest customer of CANDU technology and the province is also home to the bulk of the AECL supply chain.
The agency submitted a bid for the two new reactors Ontario wants to build, but the province put off the decision, saying the bids were too costly.
AECL's bid for the two new Ontario reactors was reportedly $26 billion -- the entire budget for the province's nuclear program, which was also supposed to refurbish 10 older reactors.
Ontario's governing Liberals say they want to move ahead with the project, but have continued to voice their frustration in waiting for Ottawa to make a decision on AECL's future.