Candu looks overseas after Ontario nixes new nuclear plants

Though Ontario has announced it will build no more nuclear plants, Canada’s nuclear industry is still hopeful it will sell a new reactor overseas within the next year or two.

Nuclear industry says Harper government supportive of its sales effort abroad

NDP MP Peter Julian, shown in the House of Commons in February, says he would oppose government-supported export credits for the nuclear industry. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Though Ontario has announced it will build no more nuclear plants, Canada’s nuclear industry is still hopeful it will sell a new reactor overseas within the next year or two

Candu Energy, the former AECL, said the Harper government has been supporting its sales pitch in overseas markets.

“We very much appreciate, I would call it, the government's political support,” Ala Alizadeh, vice-president of marketing for Candu Energy, told CBC News.

“We're not expecting financial support other than perhaps the engagement of export credit.”

Many countries put their plans for nuclear projects on hold, after the tsunami damaged the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan.

Markets reopen after Fukushima

But key markets are opening up again, from China and India, to Romania, Argentina and the U.K., where Candu Energy is on a short list for an upcoming project.

The big hurdle for many countries is financing as a new reactor costs billions of dollars. 

Canada used export credits the last time it sold Candu reactors overseas — in Romania beginning in 1996 and in China, beginning in 2003. 

To finance export credits, taxpayer dollars are put into an account at Export Development Canada, then used as loans to help pay the costs of building a new reactor.

That kind of incentive helps the industry, said Ron Oberth, head of the Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries, representing the supply chain that makes many of the reactor parts from pipes and valves to seals.

Oberth said Canada eventually makes a profit with export credits, through interest on the loans and royalty payments from the sale of Candu.

Minister of International Trade Ed Fast said there currently are no formal requests from the nuclear industry for money, but didn't shut the door on the possibility of using them in the future.

“If Candu has a proposal to make, they're welcome to make that proposal. It will be evaluated on its merits on a case by case basis,” he told CBC News.

NDP critic Peter Julian said the federal government sold the Candu division to SNC-Lavalin for $15 million in order to get out of the business of subsidizing the nuclear sector and he thinks it should not underwrite its costs. 

“Why are they thinking about possibly putting more taxpayers' money into investments that may end up triggering taxpayers’ liability,” he said.

With files from Susan Lunn

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