AECL bows out of British reactor development to focus on Canadian projects
Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. has withdrawn from the competition for a new nuclear reactor design in Britain, effectively pulling out of a key foreign market to focus on winning contracts to build a number of new reactors being proposed for Ontario and Alberta.
The nuclear technology developer announced Friday it is exiting the British market and "is focusing its marketing and licensing resources for the advanced Candu reactor on the immediate needs of the Canadian domestic marketplace."
The 4,800-employee federal Crown corporation said it has notified British nuclear regulators that it will suspend participation in their assessment of new reactor designs, "but may re-enter at a later date."
It had been expected the Canadian nuclear company would lose the competition for the new contract, even though British health and environment agencies ruled last month that AECL's advanced Candu had met safety, security and environmental requirements.
"We want to dedicate our resources for the ACR [advanced Candu reactor] to the markets in Canada," AECL chief executive Hugh MacDiarmid said.
The announcement comes at a critical time for AECL, whose future is under review by the federal government and amid reports that the Crown company may be spun off into private hands or sold to a foreign company down the road.
As well, the company is recovering from a furor caused by the shutdown of an AECL research reactor for 27 days in November that stopped the supply of vital medical isotopes for Canada and the world.
The Chalk River, Ont., reactor shutdown, which caused a political flap in Ottawa, stemmed from a safety dispute between the Crown company and its regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Eventually, the federal government fired the head of the commission, who is suing in court for wrongful dismissal.
In turning its attention to Canada, AECL will focus on a major contract in New Brunswick and opportunities to build new reactors in Ontario and Alberta, work that could generate billions of dollars in badly needed new revenues for the company.
In New Brunswick, AECL is involved in a $1.4-billion refurbishment of the Atlantic province's aging nuclear power plant at Point Lepreau.
In Ontario, AECL is one of four companies in the running to win contracts to build the province's first new nuclear reactors in more than a decade.
Ontario is planning to close its coal-fired power plants by 2014 and wants to add new capacity — up to four reactors — at either the existing Darlington or Bruce power plants in southern Ontario.
Besides AECL, other companies asked to submit proposals to the Ontario government are French giant Areva NP, U.S.-led joint venture GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy and Japan's Westinghouse Electric Co.
In Alberta, Ontario power plant operator Bruce Power, a TransCanada Corp. and Cameco Corp. joint venture, said last month it wants to build a four-reactor nuclear complex near Peace River, Alta., at a cost of more than $10 billion.
Possible bidders include, once again, AECL, Areva, GE Hitachi and Westinghouse.
In the Friday release, AECL's MacDiarmid said "we continue to actively pursue opportunities for our Candu 6 product in several international markets."
The company is advancing its technology in Romania, Argentina and elsewhere.
At the same time, "the nuclear renaissance has taken hold in Canada as several Canadian provinces are currently considering the ACR as the technology of choice for the next generation nuclear technology," MacDiarmid said.
"We believe very strongly that our best course of action to ensure the ACR is successful in the global market place is to focus first and foremost on establishing it here at home."