January 20, 2011 - Toronto Star - Federal government must back nuclear industry says Bruce Power chiefFederal government must back nuclear industry says Bruce Power chief
Canada risks losing the scientists and engineers needed to sustain its nuclear industry if the fate of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. remains uncertain, says the chief executive of Bruce Power.
Duncan Hawthorne told the Empire Club Thursday that the federal and Ontario governments should make it clear they’re going to build two new AECL-designed reactors at Darlington.
The nuclear industry needs a new project because the biggest current job – overhauling two reactors at Bruce Power – will wind down, Hawthorne told his audience.
“There’s a dry period coming if there isn’t some commitment to the next piece,” he said.
“That’s when it becomes a challenge: How do you keep those people gainfully employed both financially and academically if you don’t place an order for the new build?” he asked.
Canada’s nuclear industry is centred in Ontario, he said, but reactors are being built or refurbished around the world.
“Let’s be clear, this nuclear program worldwide is going to happen with or without Canada, and if we’re not in it these people are very, very marketable,” he said. “Shame on us if we just let them drift away.”
That means a prompt decision on new reactors is needed:
“I think the decision needs to be made this year on new build.”
Currently, AECL and its Candu reactors are in limbo. The federal government has put it up for sale. While the process is mired in secrecy, sources have said that both Bruce Power and SNC-Lavalin, the two original bidders, have walked away from the table.
Hawthorne said choosing AECL as the designer doesn’t mean it should be the builder, any more than an architectural firm that designs a skyscraper is hired to do the construction.
“You can buy a design from AECL tomorrow with confidence,” he said.
“Maybe you don’t trust them to build it. I wouldn’t trust them to build it. AECL themselves wouldn’t build it. Because that’s not what their expertise is.
“But that doesn’t stop a deal from being done between the province of Ontario for a Candu design – and once that design deal is made – then go out and competitively bid the construction. Every one of those companies is private sector,” he said
“If there was a good meaningful dialogue between the federal and the provincial government just on selecting the design, then you’d already stabilize AECL,” he said.
“You can then have a commercial discussion about who builds it.”
Currently, Canada’s competitors are using AECL’s uncertain status as a weapon against it, he said.
“Your competition is saying: Why are you going with those guys when they might not be there tomorrow?” Hawthorne said.
He urged the federal government to show visible support for Canada’s nuclear industry, arguing that the French nuclear firm Areva gets unqualified backing from the president Nicolas Sarkozy.
“Wherever Areva go, Sarkozy’s been before them,” he said. “That political support is clear, visible and obvious to all. I don’t think Canada have shown that leadership for a long number of years.”