Ontario still wants to buy two nuclear reactors from Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. but can't because the federal Conservatives are standing in the way, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Wednesday.
The province's efforts to move ahead with the purchase have been stymied by Ottawa's decision nearly two years ago to put AECL's nuclear reactor business up for sale, he said.
That sale may be in peril now that two major bidders have apparently backed out. But McGuinty insists there's still time to salvage a deal with AECL before the province is forced to go elsewhere.
"The offer that we made to them is still open," he said. "We're still prepared to sit down with them any time and negotiate the sale. We still have some breathing room."
The problem is that the federal government won't come to the table, McGuinty said. Last June, he wrote to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and asked him to allow AECL to make a deal with the province, which he said would have enhanced the Crown corporation's value.
"We're at a table, and we want to negotiate the sale of reactors with AECL," he said.
"Well, there's nobody sitting on that side of the table, because they're elsewhere trying to make a sale of the entire asset itself to some third parties.
"As long as they do that, they're putting our discussion in abeyance."
Ontario not interested in AECL
But that doesn't mean Ontario wants to jump into the nuclear business. McGuinty said he has no intention of putting in a bid for the heavily subsidized agency.
"When we're talking about buying AECL, we're talking about buying a big responsibility, and we're not ready to enter into that kind of arrangement," McGuinty said.
What McGuinty failed to mention is it was his government who put off a decision on buying the new reactors because the bids it received were too high, said Shawn-Patrick Stensil of Greenpeace Canada.
"Premier McGuinty's nuclear fixation is blocking the expansion of more affordable green energy in Ontario," he said in an email. "Harper is right to deny McGuinty billions in federal taxpayer subsidies when Ontario should be developing more affordable clean energy options on its own."
Before AECL was put up for sale in 2009, it submitted a bid for the Ontario reactors. It was reportedly asking $26 billion for the reactors — the entire budget for the province's nuclear program, which was also supposed to fund the refurbishment of 10 older reactors. The provincial government made it clear it would prefer to buy Canadian technology but put off the decision in the hopes of lowering the cost.
Ontario is the biggest customer of CANDU technology and the province is also home to the bulk of the AECL supply chain. Many analysts say if AECL doesn't secure contracts to build new reactors in Ontario, it won't attract any new international customers and will be left with only the business of repairing its old reactors.
Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis wasn't immediately available to comment Wednesday. But Finance Minister Jim Flaherty fired back at the province earlier this week, saying the Ontario Liberals put off plans to build two more units at the nuclear power generating station in Darlington, Ont., which uses CANDU reactors.
"The big picture needs to be sorted out not only with respect to the work that Minister Paradis is doing but also with respect to the intentions of the province of Ontario with respect to nuclear development in the province," Flaherty said Monday.