Ontario scolds feds for dithering on AECL's future
Ontario Energy Minister Brad Duguid in the Queen's Park legislature chambers on Monday, Nov. 1, 2010.
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, November 19, 2010 2:48PM EST
TORONTO - Ontario's plan to spend billions of dollars to buy two new nuclear reactors is in limbo because of federal foot dragging on the future of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., provincial Energy Minister Brad Duguid said Friday.
The province wants to "provide as much stimulus as we can to the nuclear industry in Canada," but is getting frustrated waiting for the Conservative government to make a decision on a possible sale of AECL, said Duguid.
"Our biggest challenge has been the federal government's lack of interest in coming onside and standing up for the 70,000 workers (in the Canadian nuclear industry)," he said in an interview.
"Their decision to sell of AECL in the middle of our procurement process was very troublesome to us."
Before the federal government announced it would sell AECL 18 months ago, the agency submitted a bid for the two new reactors Ontario wants to build, although the price, still unconfirmed, was said to be $26 billion.
That was the entire budget for the province's nuclear program, which was also supposed to pay to refurbish 10 older reactors.
"The original estimates were exorbitant, and by holding off we will be able to save billions in terms of the ultimate price that we'll be able to reach," said Duguid.
"Our preference will be to use Canadian technology, and we recognize the potential for Canadian technology in what will be a trillion-dollar nuclear market internationally."
Many analysts believe if AECL doesn't secure the 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.
Premier Dalton McGuinty made a personal appeal to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to confirm AECL's position so the province could buy the two reactors, and keep AECL in business, added Duguid.
"The premier asked the prime minister to hold off and work with us, to do this right, but they refused to go that route and now we have to find out the fate of AECL before we can make any further progress," he said.
Federal Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis said this month he wants a deal to sell AECL completed "sooner rather than later," but he wouldn't confirm whether Bruce Power and SNC-Lavalin Group were the only bidders.
Paradis' office did not immediately respond to requests for reaction to Duguid's comments or provide an update on the status of AECL. Paradis has said the government wants to choose a winning proposal for AECL by the end of the year.
Greenpeace Canada said the "federal government has rightly refused to subsidize" building new reactors in Ontario, and that's got Duguid upset as well.
"Instead of crying about the Harper government getting its financial house in order, the McGuinty government should go back and look at the affordable green energy options that already exist," said Greenpeace spokesman Shawn-Patrick Stensil.
Liberal Senator Celine Hervieux-Payette introduced a bill in the Senate on Thursday "to save" AECL by requiring only 30 per cent of the federal agency be sold off to the private sector.
"The Conservatives want to create another Avro Arrow with AECL," Hervieux-Payette said in a release.
"AECL is part of our heritage, and we must take action now to ensure that it remains at the service of Canadians for generations to come."