[Date Prev][Date Next]
[cdn-nucl-l] Editorial: Ottawa must help with new reactors
Posted in the Toronto Star on June 19, 2006 and at:
Editorial: Ottawa must help with new reactors
Jun. 19, 2006. 01:00 AM
The Ontario government's decision this week to build one or two new reactors
to meet the province's power needs over the next 20 years was obviously a
tough one because of the political implications for Premier Dalton McGuinty
and his Liberal party. But the next decision will likely be even more
difficult because it involves the fate of one of Canada's highest profile
industries and the future of thousands of jobs in this province.
Simply stated, will Ontario select homegrown Candu technology developed by
federal-owned Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. for its next generation of nuclear
power reactors? The answer is complex, involving money, expertise,
reliability of the reactors - and sheer political reality.
Energy Minister Dwight Duncan hinted at all that when he said it is the
government's "preference to use Canadian companies and technology, but our
first responsibility is to the people of Ontario. We must ensure we are
providing the best technology at the best price to Ontario ratepayers."
Team Candu, which is comprised of AECL and its partners Babcock and Wilcox
Canada, GE Canada, Hitachi Canada and SNC-Lavalin Nuclear, faces stiff
competition. Its main rivals are France-based Areva SA, General Electric Co.
and Westinghouse Electric Co. LLC.
The Canadian nuclear sector is one of the best examples of the kind of
high-tech, knowledge-based industry this country will have to rely on for
its future success. The 12,000 Ontarians who now work in the industry
include highly skilled, highly paid scientists, engineers and technicians.
And thanks to growing concerns over global warming, it is an industry with
vast export potential in an increasingly power-hungry world.
But AECL and its Candu technology have left Ontario ratepayers and taxpayers
with a bitter taste, given cost overruns and construction delays,
particularly at the Darlington nuclear facility. AECL executives say the
Crown corporation is not to blame for the delays and overruns, and that its
performance record is among the best - if not the best - in the world.
Because of the earlier Ontario experience, Duncan had no choice but to make
"the best technology and the best price" the ultimate criteria for choosing
a supplier to build the new reactors. But if Ontario were to choose a
foreign supplier over the Candu team, it could irreparably damage Canada's
future in the nuclear field. What nation would buy a reactor from Canada if
Ontario decided to buy from the U.S. or France?
Adding to the conundrum is the fact that AECL would like to sell Ontario an
untested reactor, the ACR-1000, which exists only on paper at this time.
That's the reactor the consortium is betting its future on. If Ontario were
to buy this reactor, and if it lived up to its billing by Team Candu for
reliability and cost effectiveness, the Canadian consortium would have a
showcase for sales to the rest of the world. The payoff in terms of jobs for
Canada, and Ontario where AECL is headquartered, would be enormous.
Still, the financial risks are high - too high indeed for Ontario ratepayers
to take on by themselves. In fact, it is asking the impossible of the
Ontario government to get the best deal for ratepayers in a staggering $40
billion project and to take on the risks of promoting Canada's nuclear
That's why it is critical that Ottawa underwrite the risks of this venture.
As the owner of AECL, and the government that bears the main responsibility
for keeping Canada at the forefront of the global economic race, Ottawa
should be prepared to protect Ontario power users from having to pay
unforeseen costs for giving AECL's untested technology a chance.
Without such federal guarantees, Ontario would be foolhardy to take on a new
untested technology and provide a meaningful assurance to Ontarians that
they are getting the best deal possible. And without that assurance, it is
difficult to see how Team Candu could get the showcase it needs to capture
the export sales it believes it can win in the future.
What Prime Minister Stephen Harper must do now is step forward and give
Canada's nuclear industry a fighting chance to show the world its new
technology is safe, cheap and reliable. If he doesn't, then our nuclear
design and construction industry as we know it today could well vanish,
taking with it thousands of jobs and leading to yet another a "brain drain"
of some of our best and brightest scientific and technological minds.