The AECL and new nuclear plants in Ontario

2009-05-16

in Canada, Economics, Politics, The environment

It seems that the province of Ontario is leaning towards having Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) build their new nuclear reactors, provided the federal government provides some additional support. The recent history of the company isn’t very impressive, given their failure to get two comparatively simple isotope reactors to work, and giving the contract to a Canadian company makes it even more likely that Canadian taxpayers and ratepayers will end up subsidizing them.

Perhaps it would be wiser to give the contract to a French, American, or Japanese firm, and let their citizens help pay for our gigawatts. It seems plausible that using a design that is being implemented elsewhere will have price benefits: both in terms of economies of scale and in terms of learning from the experience of those who began building them earlier. AECL’s Advanced CANDU reactor has not yet been fully designed, and probably never will be unless it wins the competition in Ontario, besting France’s AREVA and Westinghouse, from the US.

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{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. May 17, 2009 at 5:06 pm

How many jobs would giving the contract to AECL create?

Milan May 17, 2009 at 8:15 pm

I don’t know. They employ about 4,800 now.

. May 19, 2009 at 9:01 am

Chalk River reactor shut down for a month: AECL

By Canwest News Service
May 19, 2009 8:01 AM

A power outage in eastern Ontario last week could lead to a shortage of medical isotopes after a nuclear reactor was turned off at Chalk River Laboratories, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. said.

In a statement released Monday evening, AECL said the National Research Universal reactor at the Chalk River, Ont., facility, about 180 km west of Ottawa, was “safely shut down” on Thursday due to a “shortage in electrical power.”

The following day, a leak of heavy water, or water that acts as a stabilizer during nuclear fission, was found in the NRU reactor, the statement said. The heavy water has been contained and poses “no threat to workers, the public, the environment or nuclear safety related to this event.”

. May 19, 2009 at 7:06 pm

Reactor shutdown ‘catastrophe’ as medical isotopes dry up

GLORIA GALLOWAY
From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail
May 19, 2009 at 6:29 PM EDT
OTTAWA — A shutdown of the Canadian nuclear reactor that produces much of the world’s medical isotopes is a “catastrophe” that threatens to delay or cancel critical medical procedures both in Canada and abroad for many weeks, medical experts said Tuesday.

The aging reactor at Chalk River, Ont., which has been plagued with problems in recent years, will be closed for at least a month as technicians repair a leak of heavy water.

“It’s a catastrophe. For 18 months I have refrained from using that word. I have to use it,” said Jean-Luc Urbain, the president of the Canadian Association of Nuclear Medicine. “It’s a catastrophe for the patients, for the health-care system in general, and for the profession.”

Peter May 19, 2009 at 10:47 pm

Full disclosure: I am from Deep River, ON (beside Chalk River) and my father works for A.E.C.L.

Now that I disclosed my bias, there are so many problems with the details of the statement you’ve made that it might not be possible to draft a comprehensive reply that you’ll be able to understand.

1) The two recent reactor shutdowns refer to the NRU reactor and not the Maple. (So don’t Wiki-link Maple – your other possible meaning will be covered soon) There are no running Maple reactors at Chalk River Laboratories.
2) The first shut down of NRU was a bureaucratic problem, and not a problem with the reactor. It has been alleged A.E.C.L. failed to confirm to required standards, but there was an enforced shutdown, which lead politicians (once they actually realized the full effect a shutdown would have – which was naturally far too late) to criticize Linda Keen. I am not suggesting that safety and environmental standards are not important, or that critical institutions should be exempted, but regardless of who you decide to blame about the confusion surrounding the necessity of potential upgrades, the fact still remains that the reactor was in able to run and just as safe as it had always been.
3) The second (and continuing) shutdown of NRU is because of the discovery of a crack allowing a heavy water leak. The reactor was safely shutdown in response to a windstorm that caused a power outage. A crack was discovered and the reactor is shutdown and the leak contained. Your characterization of this event as a failure is ridiculous. Properly shutting down and containing the leak is the appropriate response.
4) “The recent history of the company isn’t very impressive, given their failure to get two comparatively simple isotope reactors to work,” This statement is unbelievably misleading. I object to your characterization of nuclear technology as “simple”. Or perhaps it is just isotope reactors that are “comparatively simple”. To what? Brian surgery? Aerospace engineering? Reactors are complex pieces of technology, and are susceptible to failures just like any other piece of equipment. We can already see the basis for my reply to the second problem with the statement, which is that it puts the failure of the reactor on A.E.C.L.
5) The reactor failed, like equipment fails for other companies all the time, and appropriate procedures were successfully executed. You might allege that it would be desirable if equipment failures didn’t occur in nuclear reactors, and I would agree with you, because this makes your proposed solution – to reduce funding – completely ridiculous. The NRU should expect to encounter problems because it is an old reactor. NRU went online in 1958? (my best estimate) and NRX was roughly a decade before. The reason we don’t have new reactors with similar capabilities is because the Canadian government refuses to fund these RESEARCH (more on that later) initiatives.
6) Similarly, the Maple project was shutdown because the government didn’t want to fund it. I’ve been fairly measured in my language up to this point, to try to make a neutral case, but there is no other way to say this, but you’re spewing pure bullshit: A.E.C.L. failed to complete Maple because we forced them to stop. Your logic is that we should pull their funding, because they’ve had problems that are the direct result of our choice to restrict their funds. I’m sorry, but that is absurd. Our forcing them to stop building a reactor somehow becomes their failure for not completing the reactor? A.E.C.L. has had its budget repeatedly cut (as have all other crown corporations) and would love nothing more than to build (a) new reactor(s). We don’t want to pay for them, which I will argue against later, but even if one thinks we shouldn’t build new reactors, it is incorrect to claim that the safe and proper treatment of difficulties that arise from old equipment somehow constitutes a failure by A.E.C.L.

I’m starting a separate thread for the emphasis of the next point, which is the most important in this post:

1) Chalk River Laboratories is a nuclear research facility. It is not a power station.
2) There has been a shift from what I consider to be pure research to applied research. I think this is a shame, because a compelling case can be made for Canadian taxpayers to fund pure research initiatives. The reason we need to fund research is because it helps us understand how the universe works. Regardless of your attitude towards nuclear power a strong case can be made for nuclear research. If you’re curious, if you want to understand the universe, if you value the discovery of the electromagnetic radiation, or value modern medical diagnostic technologies, then nuclear is required, even if you’ve excluded it as a form of power production. How are we going to understand the universe if we never validated the concept of a self-perpetuating wave?
3) “…makes it even more likely that Canadian taxpayers and ratepayers will end up subsidizing them.” Canadian taxpayers should subsidize A.E.C.L. because it is a research facility. This point is going to be made haphazardly, because I realize this quote was referring to a contract to buy the next generation of Candu technology for power generation, which also leads to this claim, “AECL’s Advanced CANDU reactor has not yet been fully designed, and probably never will be unless it wins the competition in Ontario…”, but the problem is that this will require such a complex answer because you’re so deeply confused about what the reactors, and institutions do, the interrelations between them and how the funding works, that it isn’t possible to produce a clear straightforward answer to one of the elements of your comment.
4) Consider: There has been a shift in pure to applied research. So, A.E.C.L. is designing the next generation of Candu technology. One of the major benefits of the ACR is that it is cheaper to build. This isn’t pure research. This is research designed to improve the commercial viability of Canadian reactors as products.
5) Consider: The move to applied research was the result of budget cuts and political policies that are as hypocritical as your attribution of blame. The government decided to cut the budget, so they trimmed A.E.C.L’s funding and there was a general shift towards applied thinking. Institutional priority became a function of the utility each provided – What does it make? What products does it contribute to? What does it directly contribute to the G.D.P? You see this debate mirrored in the proposed changes to universities. The result was the A.E.C.L. was supposed to start funding itself (to some degree) through the sale of nuclear reactors. I feel (I’m not going to speak for the people who work there) these policies are hypocritical, because when A.E.C.L. makes a sale, the government needs to approve it, and then tries to recoup some of its expenditures from it. It works like OSAP – it gives you too little money to live on because it believes students should have to work, but if a student makes money then OSAP demands some of the money back. I don’t like this arrangement, I think the government should either assume the full weight of funding A.E.C.L. (meaning providing a suitable [read much larger] budget) and take all the profits from reactor sales, or it has to allow A.E.C.L. to collect all the money from successful sales, since potential revenue streams has been used as the justification for providing insufficient funding. The other hypocritical aspect of withholding funding on the basis that A.E.C.L. should go out there and sell reactors is that the government then refuses sales on the basis of national security. This policy might appeal to you, since you seem to suggest our decision to provide another with sufficient resources to complete a task is somehow a failing of the tapped individual, but it’s nonsense. It is even more extreme than setting someone up to fail, because we haven’t charged them with an impossible task, but we assign them tasks and ascribe blame using contradictory directives. You’re method is great for schizophrenics but terrible for commonsense. Withholding sales on the basis of national security isn’t absurd, but telling A.E.C.L. to go pitch their reactors to a bunch of countries if they want funding and then refusing the final sale is. Either fund, or let them sell. So your conclusion that we shouldn’t buy domestically produced reactors simply takes this hypocrisy to the next level. A.E.C.L. is told to develop practical applications, and to sell reactors, and then we refuse to let them sell to others, and now you want to refuse to buy domestically.
6) You continue this absurd exercise when you point out that ACR will probably never been finished if they don’t find a buyer. The major benefit of this applied research was to make ACR a desirable consumer product. Obviously, if one is trying to design a product, they are trying to sell it. I’ve also just finished laying out an extremely simplistic analysis of some of the funding changes that lead to this imperative. We can now see the problem, even if this statement should prove to be true: “AECL’s Advanced CANDU reactor has not yet been fully designed, and probably never will be unless it wins the competition in Ontario…” The research is being done to improve a product, for sale, which we put strict limitations on that leads to favouring domestic sales. ACR is novel research, but it isn’t pure (although this distinction is very loose) so it probably wouldn’t be done if there wasn’t exterior pressure for research with practical applications. I think we would have far more interesting projects and experiments if we were willing to fund whatever nuclear research the scientists would select as important.
7) Similarly we can see the two problems with this statement: Perhaps it would be wiser to give the contract to a French, American, or Japanese firm, and let their citizens help pay for our gigawatts. A.E.C.L. isn’t about power generation. It is about research. ACRs are power producing reactors, but the idea that the taxpayers suffer expense when purchasing is not a matter of pure unit cost-production estimation, because of the research that goes into them. So linking A.E.C.L’s “failures” with NRU has nothing to do with power generation.
8) And the second problem, the taxpayers should be funding nuclear research. This is the type of research we’ve pushed our institutions towards. Buying ARCs and developing ACRs is immediately linked, but it shouldn’t be. A.E.C.L. should be funded as a research initiative. This type of research just happens to be directed at producing a suitable power-producing reactor. I would be perfectly happy if you wanted to separate funding and purchase of the ACRs, as well as address your concerns about the NRU and NRX, by increasing A.E.C.L’s budget to the point where it could build two more (large – NRX-NRU line continuation as opposed to CNF: I have nothing against CNF. I would accept one of each, but a successor to NRU is required to effectively carryout future research.) reactors unconditionally, thereby eliminating the need to sell ACRs. Unfortunately, I don’t think you’re likely to move to this position, and I suspect such a rejection will be strongly influenced by your dislike to nuclear power, which is very unfortunate.
9) I will also venture that I think Canadian nuclear technology is spectacular. There is strong competition out there, but we are certainly a world leader in the field. Aside from buying ACRs as a means of supporting our research institutions, as we really should be fully funding them regardless, ACRs are serious contenders for our power generating needs.

This would bring us to the much larger issue of power generation. I think there is almost no chance that you and I will ever see eye to eye on that. I think transitioning to nuclear is an essential step, because renewable technologies aren’t there yet, (or aren’t there yet at a cost consumers are willing to pay). I don’t think nuclear is preferable to renewable technologies (especially the idealized versions of these technologies that still only remain speculative potential), but it is considerably better than oil and coal. But the main point is that funding nuclear research is an entirely separate issue from nuclear energy.

Anyways, to summarize: CRL is not a power facility. Taxpayers should fund research initiatives. You need to be careful to differentiate between your distaste for nuclear energy and the potential of ACRs. ACRs are competitive and should be considered, as well as nuclear as a general category, for our power needs. The fact that research on ACRs might not continue if there isn’t a buyer isn’t relevant – it is a product of the decisions we’ve made concerning our willingness to fund research initiatives. There is more interesting research A.E.C.L. could be doing, but now that the research is underway, we might as well use the technology (domestically). Refusing the contract, and then assigning blame to A.E.C.L. is as hypocritical and absurd as your other proposed recent “failings” of A.E.C.L. NRU is 50+ and we refuse to let them build another, and they have dealt appropriately with the problems that arise from old equipment. Maple was cancelled. You’re characterization of safe shutdowns as a failure is as ridiculous as the implication behind your query: Why haven’t they gotten Maple up and running yet?

I’ll leave you with one last interesting observation. Rather than an impetus to increase the funding to A.E.C.L. and build a new reactor to replace NRU effectively securing production of medial isotopes, the response of the Canadian government has been to challenge the IAEA about why Canadian has to produce the global supply of isotopes. While we might be interested in challenging the IAEA on the price others are and should be paying for medical isotopes, a similar claim would never occur about other products. If we have a monopoly on the global auto market, we would never think woe is Canada; why do we have to produce cars for the entire world? Our refusal to properly fund and what appears as a desire to pull out of an area where we are already global leaders in technology, innovation and infrastructure is shortsighted and irrational.

Peter May 19, 2009 at 10:59 pm

Correction:

“This policy might appeal to you, since you seem to suggest our decision to provide another with sufficient resources to complete a task is somehow a failing of the tapped individual, but it’s nonsense.” “Sufficent” should have been “insufficent”

Anon May 19, 2009 at 11:03 pm

Is AECL competent to build new commercial nuclear reactors, given their recent failures in building smaller reactors?

Peter May 19, 2009 at 11:28 pm

Anon,

The larger reactors I was referring to as the successor to NRU are for research purposes, and I showed how the Milan’s choice of the term “failure” was suspect. Not to mention his links to the wrong reactors, and inappropriate linking of issues. So you’ll have to be more specific if you have some other specific contract, or reactor in mind, when you cited “recent failures”. Otherwise, merely repeating that NRU shutdowns and Maple’s cancellation as failures simply won’t make it the case. Your post seems excessively strange because Milan’s inappropriate linking of issues was targeting shutdown of research reactors to suggest a failing of ACRs for commercial use, whereas your small/large dichotomy seems to suggest they can’t build new large ones to replace their current research reactors, because Milan has disqualified them from building small commercial ones on the basis that their current large ones are very old. You do specifically mention commercial reactors, but you preface it with “large” which leads to confusion, but ARCs aren’t NRU scale.

Milan May 20, 2009 at 10:46 am

Peter,

Regarding your first numbered list:

1) The two recent reactor shutdowns refer to the NRU reactor and not the Maple.

I recognize this, but think both examples are relevant. These are the major current projects of AECL, and they don’t seem to be doing well.

2) [T]he fact still remains that the reactor was in able to run and just as safe as it had always been.

I have seen conflicting reports on this, in terms of whether the shutdown was justified or not. According to Wikipedia, the 2006 operating license for the reactor required the installation of a seismically-qualified emergency power system. I don’t know enough to say whether this should have been part of the design to begin with, or whether its installation was of sufficient importance to justify the shutdown.

3) The failure I was referring to was the failure to get the MAPLE reactors to work properly, not the more recent problems with the NRU.

4) Or perhaps it is just isotope reactors that are “comparatively simple”

Compared to the nuclear power stations AECL wants to build for Ontario. The fact that the MAPLE reactors ended up having an unwanted power co-efficient of reactivity suggests serious problems in their design, does it not? It seems like the design of the reactors would have taken place before the funding cuts you mention.

In any case, if AECL has been cut down to the point where it can no longer make isotope reactors, does it make sense to ramp it back up to being in a position where it can build nuclear power stations, when there are existing entities that have that capability already?

(That being said, it should be noted that the CANDU reactors are a collaborative project to some degree. Team CANDU includes American, French, and Japanese companies: Babcock & Wilcox, General Electric, SNC-Lavalin Nuclear, and Hitachi.)

Milan May 20, 2009 at 10:58 am

Regarding the second ordered list:

The above post wasn’t about whether Canada (or AECL) should conduct nuclear research, it was strictly about whether AECL should be the company to build new nuclear reactors in Ontario. I agree that both pure and applied nuclear research have value.

Perhaps the research purposes you identify would be best served by making it clear that AECL is no longer in the business of building commercial reactors, rather than continuing to conflate a research and a commercial role.

I think the government should either assume the full weight of funding A.E.C.L. (meaning providing a suitable [read much larger] budget) and take all the profits from reactor sales, or it has to allow A.E.C.L. to collect all the money from successful sales, since potential revenue streams has been used as the justification for providing insufficient funding. The other hypocritical aspect of withholding funding on the basis that A.E.C.L. should go out there and sell reactors is that the government then refuses sales on the basis of national security.

The nuclear reactor business is never going to be an ordinary one. It will always be bound up with issues of security, subsidy, and politics. To pretend that anything like a free and unfettered market is to imagine governments giving up more influence and control than they ever will.

I suspect such a rejection will be strongly influenced by your dislike to nuclear power, which is very unfortunate.

While there is much to dislike about nuclear power, I think it is necessary to build more nuclear plants in Canada. It is probably a necessary bridging technology for the span during which we are moving to a truly renewable energy system. I agree with you completely that nuclear is more desirable than oil or coal (or gas) and less appealing than true renewables.

My concern is that the new Canadian reactors be well designed from the outset, and constructed on time and on budget. The recent history of AECL doesn’t make me confident they are the company best able to achieve that.

You need to be careful to differentiate between your distaste for nuclear energy and the potential of ACRs. ACRs are competitive and should be considered, as well as nuclear as a general category, for our power needs.

I don’t disagree. Indeed, putting the AECL design in a fair competition with those of other manufacturers is definitely the way forward. The number of jobs created in Canada by each proposal could even be one element of consideration, along with a technical assessment of the design’s basic soundness and suitability for Ontario, the company’s track record on costs and construction, etc.

. May 20, 2009 at 11:14 am

Major climate change issues >> Technology >> Nuclear fission

Peter May 20, 2009 at 11:35 pm

Milan,

Your replies help to clarify your original post considerably. I think we’ve moved closer together in opinion, so while you might not disagree with much of what follows, I just want to re-emphasize some points.

The shutdown of the NRU was a success. While it is alarming, all equipment has the potential for problems. Just with nuclear, there is a knee jerk reaction that any problem, even if properly addressed and contained represents a failure, and that just isn’t true. Again, I’m not sure why you’ve characterized NRU as a recent project. NRX was decommissioned so they are currently running NRU and a smaller ZED-2. Both are only recent in the sense that they are currently being used, but I think A.E.C.L. would love to get real recent projects, as in the building of new research reactors. The NRU is around 50 years old. Recent projects did include Maple, which got cancelled, and the CNF – Canadian Neutron Facility, which was a much smaller beam tube reactor, that I believe never actually got started. I don’t have anything against the CNF, but the problem is that we really need a replacement for NRU, which is a much larger and less specific than CNF. So, I definitely wouldn’t characterize NRU as a failure even with the recent problems, as it has operated for several decades admirably, and naturally things are more likely to go wrong when the equipment is old, but the shutdowns were successful by the measure that they were conducted safely and appropriately.

I was a little unclear about the first shutdown of NRU. When people hear safety violation, it is going to lead them to assume that there has been a transgression of acceptable social standards. My point was the reactor was functional and still met the safety standards from the previous years. The breach occurred because there was a change in standards, which Keen took to be mandatory and A.E.C.L. did not, so it was shutdown. I don’t want to play down the silliness of this bureaucratic problem, and I am not suggesting that we can’t impose new standards. I am directly replying to your statement, “…a seismically-qualified emergency power system. I don’t know enough to say whether this should have been part of the design to begin with” by noting that the confusion was about a change (an increase) in the safety standard, rather than the image of some car company that just decided not to install airbags for ten years and only recently being caught. The political firestorm surrounding Keen was that while A.E.C.L. didn’t comply with new regulations, NRU was just as safe as it had been for the previous four decades, and the shutdown had massive implications for the global supply of medical isotopes. Are the new improvements necessary? Are they good? Was the shutdown necessary? I’m not really trying to answer those questions. I’m just pointing out that it was a political decision that occurred from outside, and that the “safety breach” was a result of bureaucracy, of changing standards and not that NRU was operating at a level of unacceptably high risk.

Along the same vein, there was a political decision to cancel Maple. There might be ongoing debates over whether confinement or containment systems are necessary for new reactors and so on, but the point was the government bailed on the funding. I’m only speaking for myself and in no way represent anyone else, but it was my feeling that a lot of people who worked for A.E.C.L. were not happy when the Maple project was cancelled. So, I want to reiterate, that these things aren’t really failures – the job wasn’t done, because we told them to stop working.

“The nuclear reactor business is never going to be an ordinary one.”

I agree, but my point was that A.E.C.L. isn’t actually in the reactor business. It was a crown corporation that was created to do nuclear research. It was somewhat pushed into the reactor business by cutbacks and a general change in the government’s attitude about what type of research projects are worth funding. It is still a crown corporation, but it might be best to think of it as semi-crown. My charge of hypocrisy wasn’t that there can’t be limitations on sales of reactors, but that what was originally a pure research facility has been pushed towards applicable research like ACRs, and told to sell reactors if they want money, and then sales are blocked and profits are redirected to the government to recoup the years of government funding. Even under an applied science regime, either give them funding and recoup the social gains from a public project, or tell them to compete. Don’t starve them, tell them to grow food, and then sell the food they grow. The result is we have this strange creature built for research, but we want it to do research on things like making reactors cheaper to build, so it can successfully sell ACRs. That was my problem with your first post, A.E.C.L. isn’t in the power production business, and technically (in the pure sense) it isn’t even in the reactor selling business, but now it is involved in both as the major project it is engaging in is producing power producing reactors for sale. To be continued after…
“In any case, if AECL has been cut down to the point where it can no longer make isotope reactors, does it make sense to ramp it back up to being in a position where it can build nuclear power stations, when there are existing entities that have that capability already?”
Yes. I think it does. I’ve tried to give an account that shows the sort of bizarre state of research (as I understand it, and I am not expert) and expose the fact that the change in focus is somewhat lamentable (imo) and imposed from the outside. A.E.C.L. purpose remains research, but the government only seems to find applied research valuable, so without the sale to ARCs, or the willingness to fund pure research, what is left? A.E.C.L. still has NRU and the budget to operate it, but I think that we should definitely ramp up capacity, because it needs the funding to build a new reactor to replace the NRU in order to remain a world-class research facility. It should do ACR research because that is the funding the government is willing to give. I wish A.E.C.L. could get funding for a new research reactor, and money so it could focus on pure research again – and I have already made the argument for this. Also, it does make sense to ramp up production even for applied research because Canadian reactors are competitive. Our technology is different from the rest of the world; we use heavy water reactors. That comes with associated sets of risks and benefits. One of which is that our reactors are very efficient, meaning they have (historically) had less downtime. I vaguely remember from a take-your-kid-to-work-day seeing a poster where we had 4 or 5 out of the top 10 reactors in the world with the least downtime. This anecdotal account isn’t terribly compelling evidence, but the fact still remains, we are globally competitive and we have made several high profile reactor sales.

The build up – in pure of applied – nuclear research makes sense if we view it like any other endeavour, and thus my comparison to cars. Perhaps, I should compare it to the Hubble, since we seem to share sympathies there. We’ve spent the start-up costs, we have the infrastructure, the expertise, the reputation, and unique technology that is globally competitive – It’s just a waste to walk away from it.

Milan May 22, 2009 at 11:16 am

Along the same vein, there was a political decision to cancel Maple.

Yes, but it seems like that decision was only made after it became clear the reactors would never work properly. See, for instance:

Why Chalk River’s ‘1957 Chevy’ still has no backup reactor

“The MAPLEs’ troubles became public in 2001, when the Ottawa regulators said its safety systems – which shut down the reactor if there’s a trouble – weren’t working right.

The safety regulators said problems ran through the design, installation and supervision of these shut-off systems. These systems on the MAPLE-1 reactor jammed repeatedly during testing.

In fact, one of the subcontractors on the job had cut corners with a shoddy machining job on equipment called shutdown rods.”

Chalk River crisis sired by AECL
Engineering blunders, shoddy workmanship, lax quality control are real cause, nuclear experts sa

“The new reactors aren’t operating because of a series of hard-to-believe blunders by once world-class Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the Crown corporation responsible for designing and building them.

The blunders include:

An unproven and overly intricate design that strained the competence of AECL engineers and scientists.

Shoddy workmanship and lax quality control, which meant grit particles stopped two sets of safety control rods from shutting down the reactors.

An unexplained miscalculation about changes in reactivity – the reactor’s oomph – on which the entire safety scenario is based.

In the view of most nuclear experts and informed observers, these AECL failures are the real cause of last month’s crisis in isotope production that culminated this week in the Harper government’s unprecedented firing of Linda Keen, president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.”

To me, it doesn’t look like all was well at AECL, aside from funding. It looks more like they lack the design and manufacturing capabilities required to build new reactors.

Milan May 22, 2009 at 11:27 am

We are globally competitive and we have made several high profile reactor sales.

The CANDU reactor is a Canadian design initially developed in the 1950s and 60s. Canada has seven operating nuclear stations, with between 1 and 4 CANDU reactors. These facilities were constructed between 1971 (Pickering A) and 1993 (Darlington 4). They are slated to be decommissioned between 2014 (one Pickering reactor) and 2036 (two of the Bruce reactors). No reactors are currently under construction in Canada, though several jurisdictions have expressed a newfound interest in fission as an option for electrical or thermal energy production.

Worldwide, twelve additional CANDU reactors are in operation: Argentina (1 reactor), Romania (2), South Korea (4), China (2), India (2), Pakistan (1). India also constructed a further 12 ‘CANDU-derived’ reactors in the period after their 1974 nuclear weapon test. The most recent CANDU reactor to become operational is at the Cernavoda Nuclear Power Plant in Romania. It was designed in 1980, with the two reactors coming online in 1996 and 2007, respectively. Three partially completed CANDU reactors are located at this site, though no plans to complete them have been announced.

While the global market for new nuclear plants has been minimal for decades, the record above doesn’t seem sufficient to say that AECL is currently ‘globally competitive’ in the reactor-building market. Indeed, they only have the opportunity to become so if Canadian provinces and the federal government help them do so. This is less a case of an existing asset going to waste, and more of an ‘if you build it, they will come’ scenario.

. May 27, 2009 at 11:46 am

Why no Chalk River urgency?

Don Martin, National Post
Published: Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Perhaps Canada’s current minister in charge of nuclear heavy water leaks, production shutdowns and radioactive medical fallout isn’t as rabidly excitable as the one who presided over the last idling of the ailing Chalk River power plant.

Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt deploys her natural Cape Breton serenity when confronting the indefinite shutdown of the world’s most important isotope-production plant, despite the imminent spectre of cancer patients backed up waiting for increasingly scarce diagnostic imaging material.

When confronted by predictions of medical mayhem from her opponents in the House of Commons, Ms. Raitt’s words translate roughly into “Crisis? What crisis?” as she points to her “five-point plan” for handling this sort of isotope supply interruption.

This grand plan is actually a one-page ministerial statement that, among other modest moves, pledges to “ensure that Canada plays a leadership role in the planned discussions” in Paris over security of isotope supply.

. May 27, 2009 at 11:48 am

‘Major’ problem plagues reactor

Former watchdog warns of looming crisis

By PETER ZIMONJIC, SUN MEDIA

Canadian patients in need of cancer or heart scans are now in more trouble than they were in 2007 when a medical isotope shortage rocked the country, says Linda Keen, the former head of Canada’s nuclear watchdog.

“We are in a situation that’s worse than in December 2007 in terms of radioisotopes,” said Keen. “We have no idea when this is coming back, there are no alternatives, there is no guaranteed supply coming from anywhere else and there’s no plans to build a new reactor.”

When she was president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Keen forced Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. to extend a shutdown of the reactor at Chalk River until it could meet federal safety standards.

Peter May 27, 2009 at 10:05 pm

Just Some News,

I’ve only glanced at the articles you’ve posted. I might prepare a full reply later, but I may not because the articles are pretty bad. By way of immediate response, CNR is not a power plant. I might do a reply to the first article, but I am hesitant to even engage with an article that can’t even get the basis facts about a story correct. In terms of the second article, it’s just an extended quote by Keens. Should I be surprised that a strong proponent of containment will rant about the insufficiencies of containment? Even more importantly, should I be surprised that a woman who lost her job and was dubbed responsible for the first shutdown, would take seize an opportunity to strike back? Some hack found the bitter former head of the CNSC to rant and doesn’t mention any attempt to contact A.E.C.L. for comment, completely ignoring neutrality as the basis for quality journalism – Give me a break.

Peter May 27, 2009 at 10:21 pm

Maple did have licensing problems. Please refer to my comment immediately following the sentence you choose to quote, “There might be ongoing debates over whether confinement or containment systems are necessary for new reactors and so on…”. MDS pulled out due to cost overruns and the licensing problems. With regards to the cost overruns, it isn’t atypical for large construction and research projects to suffer from cost overruns. However, the poor review of the machining work that was partially responsible for the overrun was an unqualified and unmitigated error. Afterwards A.E.C.L. assumed full responsibility for the cost of the reactors, and subsequently cancelled the project. My interpretation is that battling the CNSC about what constituted appropriate safety standards simply wasn’t worth the effort, once MDS left. I’m not surprised at this outcome, since there have been recent and almost continuous disagreements with the CNSC, but I think we could handle this issue better if you were willing to present your analysis of containment systems directly. The coefficient problem was unexpected, but the degree of acceptable risk is a debate that we are likely to revisit if we decide to secure our isotope supply. So, it would give more weight to your allegation of licensing difficulties if you could explain your support for a particular type of system.

First Article

Some of the problems have been noted, admitted, or dealt with above. I’m not going to give this article a comprehensive treatment, because I can’t. I can only note that failing to provide sources for an article, or even properly reference direct quotations doesn’t establish the position as refutable, but merely suggest the quality of opinions expressed by it.

It needs to properly differentiate between MAPLE I, II, and the reprocessing plant. I’ll concede that the reprocessing plant isn’t likely to work, and that we shouldn’t enter the business of producing molybdenum-99. This is just one example of the questionable, overly general, or ultimately incorrect statements the article makes.

Aside from that, it states that there was a machining error that prevented insertion of two sets of control rods, there were cost overruns, and that the C.N.S.C. and A.E.C.L. are in a protracted disagreement over licensing. Once again, perhaps the positive account of the coefficient problem is required here.

Second Article

This article was considerably better than the last one.

However, I disagree with the “real reason” distinction. If Maple-I & II were in operation, then an isotope shortage might have been avoided, or at least admirably managed, when the NRU was shutdown. However, the fact is that Maple was cancelled, in part due to licensing difficulties. Once again, even formulating some suspicious ‘real reason’ distinction only gets you as far as the positive account that I have request you offer, as that serves as the basis for the licensing debates.

“To me, it doesn’t look like all was well at AECL, aside from funding.”

An odd conclusion considering the following quotes from the story:

“A contributing factor was the refusal of the Liberal government under Jean Chrétien to commit roughly $500 million to replace the Universal reactor with a super-reactor called the Canadian Neutron Facility dedicated to scientific research, and test new designs for the CANDU power reactor.

Overarching all this was the meager (sic) funding over the past decade by Liberal and Conservative governments for AECL to remedy health, safety, licensing and security shortcomings at the sprawling Chalk River laboratories.

A special 2007 report by the federal auditor general recently made public by AECL estimated that $600 million would be needed for such urgent improvements over the next five years. Yet since 2002 Ottawa has provided just $34 million.”

The good thing about that story was the links representing a diversity of opinion.

http://www.thestar.com/sciencetech/article/306597

This is tangential to my reply to you (Milan) but I think might better explain my extreme distaste for the joke articles Just For News posted. Am I supposed to be impressed by Keen?

“In two weeks of checking, the Star has not been able to find an acknowledged expert in nuclear engineering or risk assessment who agrees with Keen’s statement, other than safety commission employees.

In fact, a procession of experts has come forward saying she’s confused apples and oranges in coming up with the 1,000-times greater risk calculation.”

http://www.thestar.com/News/article/292337

Is more balanced as it reveals Keen’s personal stake. This is now reattached to my reply to you Milan, because when considering the shortcomings at A.E.C.L. (although I admit there are some), you have to remember than Keen was cited and fired. We can debate particulars surrounding the issue, but you can’t ignore that fact, nor that the many of the subsequent problems seem to persist from the disagreements with the CNSC during that period.

Peter May 27, 2009 at 11:01 pm

“We are globally competitive and we have made several high profile reactor sales.”

When I said this, I actually had something very specific in mind – our technology is competitive.

That meaning is better seen in this formulation: “Also, it does make sense to ramp up production even for applied research because Canadian reactors are competitive. Our technology is different from the rest of the world; we use heavy water reactors. That comes with associated sets of risks and benefits. One of which is that our reactors are very efficient, meaning they have (historically) had less downtime.”

We’ve developed in along a path that the rest of the world did not, and the advantages means that our technology is competitive. Although, I did also imply expertise, so I can understand the confusion, so I will clarify the original by making a general, but more nuanced claim.

We were globally competitive, and we might no longer be, but we are in the space in between where our previous world-class facilities are suffering, degrading, our reputation is waning, and experts are leaving for opportunities abroad. That is why is re-engagement and funding is so important at this point. We are at the nexus whereby action will restore us to a world-class (I am hoping for pure) research facility, and inaction will lead to audacious waste. I say we are “competitive” in even the descent because we still possess the raw materials, the technology, the talent, the reputation, and I want to make clear that recommitting at this point is a bargain as it is not akin to a call to develop from scratch. I hope this clarifies my position for you, and reveals why our current policy is such a terrible waste.

“the record above doesn’t seem sufficient to say that AECL is currently ‘globally competitive’…”

What would be sufficient? This seems to be an unqualified observation you’ve simply imposed on the record. A comparison would be nice.

However, I object to this line of criticism in general. You seem to have ignored the entire history of A.E.C.L. which I have laid out. It started as a pure research facility. It has been retooled to sell reactors. The problem with any direct comparison you might make is that even now, A.E.C.L. is not just in the reactor producing and servicing business.

“Indeed, they only have the opportunity to become so if Canadian provinces and the federal government help them do so.”

This sentence can’t even apply. It is absurd to demand that A.E.C.L. cover the costs of funding through reactor sales for the years of government funding it received as a research facility. Even now, my point remains it isn’t a just in the business of selling reactors, as the strange twist to ACR research seems to be some misshapen hybrid of conflicting policies whereby A.E.C.L.’s research directive is honored by conducting applicable research (which is the only thing the government seems willing to fund these days) which should lead to reactor sales (which the government takes the profits from on the basis that A.E.C.L. is government funded). I’m repeating myself from earlier posts, but you seem to have just ignored these facts and been like – ‘ah well, the government funds them, and/or has funded them in the past… ‘ simply because you know the history of the institution can’t avoid the criticism. It is a travesty. The government should fund research institutions.

The sentence doesn’t apply even if you bring a specific comparison to other companies selling reactors because it is an apples to oranges comparison. A.E.C.L. isn’t just a sell and service operation so there are features that your record doesn’t show. Like decades of quality research. Or our competitive expertise – when the Japanese had a problem with their reactors who did they call? Teams were pulled off regular assignments to lend aid along the lines of a scientific community. Furthermore, not all of those regular assignments are directed towards selling reactors. Research activities still occur, and teams are often pulled off for their expertise to be utilized by other Canadian sectors. Quite simply, you’ve just chosen to ignore most of the content from my previous posts.

I am aware that I did open the door for this criticism by stating,
“Also, it does make sense to ramp up production even for applied research because Canadian reactors are competitive.”

But I also said,

“It should do ACR research because that is the funding the government is willing to give.”

And,

“A.E.C.L. purpose remains research, but the government only seems to find applied research valuable, so without the sale to ARCs, or the
willingness to fund pure research, what is left?”

I don’t like the criticism because it ignores the history and the current realities of A.E.C.L. Yes, it was government funded. That history isn’t going away, and you can’t use years of research funding to demonstrate a lack of current competitiveness. Yes, it is currently government funded. It should be. It still isn’t merely a sales and service enterprise, and when sales do occur, the government takes the profits as payment for years of social investment. You can’t have it both ways. We might only really find out if A.E.C.L. is competitive if it is sold off (sadly – as there has been some recent talk) and the institution is fully retooled specifically for the purpose of building and servicing reactors.

But the other reason I dislike the criticism, which isn’t an error in the criticism, but I find personally distasteful, is that it is forcing me to argue for a sub-optimal position. I believe in that position, that ACRs are competitive, but you know that I think it is lamentable that the government will not fund A.E.C.L. as a pure research institution. We really need a new research reactor, and the government should fund A.E.C.L. as a research institution.

“This is less a case of an existing asset going to waste, and more of an ‘if you build it, they will come’ scenario.”

Actually, it is an existing asset going to waste. You’ve offered no comparison by which to condemn their sales record. Even if you do, I’ve shown why it is an apples to oranges comparison. Your allegation that the institution might need to be rejigged to be competitive as a strictly reactor selling company is true, but it isn’t a failing, the research institution has served us well for five decades. So, I’ve given some evidence suggesting A.E.C.L. is competitive. Even if you doubt it, it is still a waste, because this is a case of an un-serviced asset. We were globally competitive (we still are in terms of technology) and rebuilding is significantly easier than starting from scratch.

Peter May 27, 2009 at 11:03 pm

Correction to Just Some News,

Should I be surprised that a strong proponent of containment will rant about the insufficiencies of confinement?

Milan May 28, 2009 at 10:10 am
Milan May 28, 2009 at 5:40 pm

To respond briefly, the continuing problems with the AECL isotope operations do seem to raise doubts about the general level of competence. As such, the onus is on them to show that they are capable of designing and building new reactors for Ontario, and that they could do so in a manner that has more benefits and/or fewer costs than foreign bidders. We agreed above that they should be able to place a competitive bid. All I am saying is that the evaluation of their real state of capability should be a key issue in deciding who to award the construction contracts to.

Having a domestic capacity to build nuclear reactors isn’t somewhat that has value in and of itself. If foreign firms can build the reactors Canada is considering more competently and inexpensively, I suggest letting them do so – especially if their home governments will bear part of the costs of research and design, as well as some of the risks associated with costs and construction time.

. May 28, 2009 at 11:55 pm

Alternatives emerge for Chalk River isotopes

Suppliers offer to fill in gap created by outage

Gloria Galloway and Shawn McCarthy

Ottawa — From Friday’s Globe and Mail, Thursday, May. 28, 2009 11:07PM EDT

Canadian producers are offering to take over the business of supplying hospitals with medical isotopes as the prolonged and potentially permanent shutdown of an aging nuclear reactor forces the government to look elsewhere for the radioactive material.

Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt said yesterday that Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., a Crown corporation, is developing alternatives to repairing its reactor at Chalk River, Ont., the source of one-third of the world’s medical isotopes.

Asked if the reactor could be closed permanently, Ms. Raitt said: “The answer is, we don’t know.”

The NRU reactor, which is more than 50 years old, has been out of commission for about two weeks since a leak of heavy water was discovered following a power outage.

Ms. Raitt announced yesterday that the government will divide AECL into two units, a commercial division that handles reactor sales and service, and the research side based at Chalk River.

Ottawa is seeking buyers for the commercial side of the business, including international partners to help the company expand its global presence. It plans to bring in private-sector managers for the problem-plagued Chalk River reactor.

The minister also announced the formation of a panel to assess proposals from various laboratories, including McMaster, to determine whether the government should partner with any of them to assure future supplies of isotopes, and how quickly they could begin producing.

In its current form, AECL will wither away from lack of strong international sales, Natural Resources officials told the minister in a report released yesterday.

“Simply put, AECL does not have the critical mass or financial strength to establish a strong presence into the key markets that will ensure its success,” the report said. “Remaining a niche player, however, will not generate sufficient demand for new reactor construction to make the Candu reactor division a viable business.”

Ms. Raitt said the federal government remains confident in the Candu technology and will continue to support AECL’s bid to build in Ontario.

. May 29, 2009 at 8:52 am

Source of Chalk River leak found

Radioactive Water; Reactor produces half of world’s medical isotopes

David Akin, Canwest News Service Published: Thursday, May 28, 2009

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) said yesterday it has found the source of the leak of radioactive water at the Chalk River nuclear reactor that produces nearly half of the world’s medical isotopes and that it will force the reactor to stay shut down “for at least three months.”

Since the reactor was shut down on May 15, the Crown corporation had stuck to its original estimate of down time of “at least a month.”

Canwest News Service reported last week that current and former engineers at the Chalk River facility believe that, in the best-case scenario, the 52-year-old reactor will be offline for at least eight months, if it comes back online at all.

. May 29, 2009 at 8:53 am

Ottawa sanctions Atomic Energy overhaul

Employees fear partial privatization of Candu could wipe out years of Canadian innovation
May 29, 2009 04:30 AM

Tyler Hamilton
Energy Reporter

It was anything but business-as-usual at Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.’s headquarters yesterday after Ottawa announced it would go ahead with a long-studied restructuring of the troubled Crown corporation, including a partial privatization of its commercial Candu business.

Hundreds of employees at its Sheridan Park head office in Mississauga were pondering their futures – and the future of the Canadian nuclear industry – knowing that a private-sector rival could be calling the shots within the next year.

“There’s a buzz. Everyone here, this is all they want to talk about,” said Michael Ivanco, an Atomic Energy engineer and vice-president of the Society of Professional Engineers and Associates, the union representing more than 900 employees at the company.

Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt announced yesterday that the status quo was not an option for Atomic Energy and the time had come to restructure it. The company faces stiff competition from much larger, better-funded rivals and is simply too small to take advantage of the global “nuclear renaissance” on its own, she said.

. May 30, 2009 at 4:43 pm

AECL’s meltdown
THE OTTAWA CITIZEN
MAY 30, 2009

Just as corrosion is eating away at the 1957-vintage Chalk River reactor, so too is there is a general erosion of confidence in Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

The shutdown of AECL’s ancient reactor at Chalk River is drawing international attention, because without the reactor Canada is unable to continue supplying a large percentage of the world’s medical isotopes, which are critical for medical scans. AECL’s ongoing reactor follies are a national headache, and it’s no wonder the federal government is now looking to sell its stake in the ailing energy giant.

A year ago, the Harper government put a stop on the Maple reactor project — which was to replace the Chalk River jalopy — after the project was 600 per cent over budget and six years late, not to mention the nagging suspicion that the reactors don’t work.

Indeed, budget overruns at Ontario’s nuclear plants have cost taxpayers billions of dollars. AECL talks bravely, even during a recession, of building a world-class nuclear industry here in Ontario, and while true that the Crown corporation does have about 100 suppliers in the province, the outlook is not promising.

. June 3, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Feds pick up AECL documents left behind at CTV

Updated: Wed Jun. 03 2009 10:29:36 AM

CTV.ca News Staff

The binder of documents was left at CTV’s Ottawa bureau by either Minister of Natural Resources Lisa Raitt or one of her aides.

The documents reveal Ottawa has poured far more money into the aging Chalk River nuclear reactor than the public has been told.

. June 3, 2009 at 12:33 pm

“In documents headlined “Background for discussion with chair of Atomic Energy Canada,” the government lists funding for the Crown corporation at $351 million for 2009-2010. That figure was in the January budget.

However, it also lists $72 million to “maintain the option of isotope production.” The public 2009 budget does not specifically mention funding for isotopes.

The documents also include a hand-written note that lists total funding for Atomic Energy of Canada, Ltd. since 2006 at $1.7 billion, and then a talking-point memo to characterize the spending as “cleaning up a Liberal mess.”

The Conservative government plans to privatize AECL’s nuclear reactor division in order to boost sales of its CANDU reactors, as Ontario weighs whether to buy two new power plants.

Publicly, Ottawa has downplayed Ontario’s interest in the sale of AECL’s Candu division. But included in the binder is background information for a May 25 meeting with Glenna Carr, who chairs the board of directors for AECL: “The government continues to support AECL’s bid in Ontario, but the announcement will probably raise questions about this support. We will have to manage this very carefully.”

Other documents highlight cost increases for AECL that have not been made public. In one document headlined “Discussion with CEO Hugh MacDiarmid, CEO of Atomic Energy Canada,” it lists $100 million in supplementary funding to keep it solvent.

That figure includes cost increases to refurbishing Ontario’s Bruce Power reactors and cost-overruns at Candu reactors around the world, according to the documents.

And in papers headlined “Minister Raitt’s Discussion with Ontario Minister of Energy George Smitherman,” it appears that AECL is far behind schedule on refurbishing two of the Bruce reactors: “Bruce 1 reactor 324 days late,” and “Bruce 2 reactor 433 days late.””

. June 10, 2009 at 6:25 pm

Canada getting out of isotope business, Harper says
Updated Wed. Jun. 10 2009 6:18 PM ET

CTV.ca News Staff

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says that Canada will be getting out of the medical isotope business.

Canada produces at least one-third of the world’s medical isotopes, which are used in cancer and heart scans, at the aging Chalk River facility.

At a news conference, Harper said that the plan is to bring Chalk River, now out of service, back online and working as long as possible, while working with the global community and private business for alternatives sources.

. June 15, 2009 at 2:17 pm

“However well we do on energy efficiency, there’s going to be a need for a lot more electricity,” agrees Stephen Tindale, executive director of Greenpeace U.K. from 2001 to 2008. Nuclear power “is a bridge technology” for the next 30 to 40 years, he says. Going nuclear in the medium term would give the world time to build out the capacity of clean energy technologies, while also slashing greenhouse-gas pollution.

Jackson expresses optimism that scientific and technological innovation can help reduce the risks of nuclear power (although she doesn’t suggest when that will be achieved).

Tindale does not: “In the short term, I don’t think there are technological improvements in the performance of nuclear power stations,” he says. “And the spent fuel from the new generation will be as dangerous, and some would argue even more dangerous, than the spent fuel from existing power stations.”

. June 19, 2009 at 9:15 am

Radiation leaking at double the ‘action level’

Safety official concerned about tritium released into air from Chalk River

By Ian MacLeod, The Ottawa CitizenJune 19, 2009 8:44 AM

OTTAWA – Low-level radiation seeping into the Ottawa Valley from the disabled nuclear reactor at Chalk River is double the “action level” at which officials must respond to control the situation, a new Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission document shows.

The quantity of radioactive tritium released into the surrounding air and then falling on to land and into the Ottawa River is well within current maximum health limits. But those limits have now been questioned by one federal nuclear safety commissioner, echoing a long-running debate over what constitutes a safe exposure level to the cancer-causing tritium, especially in drinking water.

“Today’s standards may not always be in existence,” commission member Alan Graham told officials with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., which operates the reactor, at a meeting in Ottawa last week.

“I’m just concerned that we are — you are loading the atmosphere, whether it’s air or in water, with excess tritium. Now I know it’s dispersed in huge amounts of atmosphere, but still, how much of that may be getting in — falling as excess or extra into the water supply, the Ottawa River and so on?” he said.

“When do we start becoming concerned with the amount of tritium that’s going into the atmosphere?”

. June 25, 2009 at 11:29 am

Environment Minister Refers Nanticoke New Nuclear Power Plant Project to a Review Panel

OTTAWA, June 24, 2009 – Canada’s Environment Minister Jim Prentice announced today that the proposed Nanticoke New Nuclear Power Plant Project in Haldimand County, Ontario will undergo an environmental assessment by an independent review panel.

“I am confident that an independent review panel will fully consider the environmental issues related to the proposed project and make sound recommendations to the federal government,” said Minister Prentice. “This will be the best means of addressing public concerns pertaining to this major nuclear project.”

The Minister’s decision is based on a recommendation made by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

. June 26, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Canada’s troubled nuclear industry
Ending a dream, or nightmare

Jun 18th 2009 | OTTAWA
From The Economist print edition
The government opts not to pour more money down the nuclear “sinkhole”

NO ONE should have been surprised when Canada’s elderly nuclear research-reactor near Ottawa sprang a leak last month, prompting a prolonged shutdown that removes two-fifths of the world’s supply of a medical isotope widely used in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. After all, the government-owned reactor was fired up in 1957, the same year that the Soviet Union launched Sputnik and Elvis Presley starred in “Jailhouse Rock”. But the reactor’s second unscheduled shutdown in as many years left health officials in Canada and the United States scrambling to find alternative sources of the isotope. Hospitals in both countries rescheduled thousands of tests and treatments.

This debacle has stirred Stephen Harper’s Conservative minority government into a decision. It says it will divide AECL, the state-owned atomic-energy company, into two, privatising all or part of its division that makes and services nuclear-power stations while winding down the research reactor. Eventually, says Mr Harper, Canada will get out of making isotopes altogether. His spokesman used blunter language, saying that AECL was “dysfunctional” and a “sinkhole” that has cost the Canadian governments C$30bn ($26.5 billion) since its creation in 1952.

enviralment June 29, 2009 at 12:58 pm

I think that its disgraceful that the Ontario government is heavily subsidizing the wind industry with feed in tariffs yet today they have stated that the proposed gen 3 CANDU reactor is to expensive (even though it was the cheapest bidder). Not to mention keeping a Canadian company afloat, (we support American companies) and providing jobs to Canadians, we need to look at nuclear as a viable solution to our energy needs and we should keep it Canadian. If you support CANDU for Ontario sign the petition here.

. July 29, 2009 at 3:04 pm

Lower demand: Nuclear renaissance being pushed aside in favour of refurbs, uprating
Tyler Hamilton

Are the wheels falling off the nuclear renaissance?

There’s a lot of rethinking going on in the utility sector these days. Utilities once intent on building new nuclear plants are now scrapping those plans and focusing instead of refurbishing existing reactors. Last week Canadian nuclear operator Bruce Power announced it was withdrawing two new-build site licensing applications from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. The company said it would concentrate resources instead on refurbishing several reactors at its site northwest of Toronto. Then Russia’s state nuclear company said it would cut back its new-build program by half. Exelon, the biggest nuclear owner and operator in the United States, has said it would halt all new-build efforts for at least three years (and possibly as much as 20) and instead move toward uprating the capacity of its existing 17 reactor units.

. August 14, 2009 at 10:07 am

How Canada let the world down
Anna Mehler Paperny
From Friday’s Globe and Mail Last updated on Friday, Aug. 14, 2009 03:46AM EDT
Canada, relied upon as a leader in isotope production, is seen as having reneged on its responsibility to the medical world.
The isotope-producing NRU reactor at Chalk River, Ont. will stay shut down until the spring of 2010, at least – marking the third time Crown corporation Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. has pushed back its estimated restart date since the aging reactor was taken offline in late May when a heavy water leak was discovered.
The news was met with frustration yesterday, and a growing sense among the international medical community that Canada has bungled its nuclear file.

. August 21, 2009 at 11:43 am

Raitt defends move to shelve nuclear reactors

Federal Natural Resources Minister says two Maple reactors would not have prevented global isotope crisis

Anna Mehler Paperny
Oakville — From Friday’s Globe and Mail Last updated on Friday, Aug. 21, 2009 03:58AM EDT

Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt is defending her government’s decision to shelve the two Maple reactors, arguing that they wouldn’t have prevented the global isotope crisis because they simply couldn’t be brought online.

“The reality is that the Maples would not have solved this problem today,” she said in an interview with The Globe and Mail Thursday.

But she said an expert panel on isotope alternatives will take a second look at the mothballed reactors because restarting the Maples is part of at least one of the 22 proposals submitted to the panel – that of medical technology company MDS Nordion, which is suing AECL over the decision not to bring the two reactors online. Medical isotopes are used in diagnostic tests.

. November 6, 2009 at 2:51 pm

There are several design options that could be used to reduce costs and enhance performance compared to previous CANDU reactors. For example, it is likely that new fuel will be used. The CANFLEX fuel bundle has 43 fuel elements, instead of 37, and has been undergoing tests for several years. The elements have two different diameters and projections to improve the heat transfer into the reactor coolant. Using slightly-enriched uranium fuel will yield more power from each fuel channel giving a smaller reactor core and other reactor systems could also be scaled down. A smaller and simpler reactor should reduce maintenance and capital costs.

As noted in an earlier post, a CANDU 6 reactor requires 265 Mg (metric tons) of heavy water for its moderator and 192 Mg for its coolant, a total of 460 Mg per reactor. The ACR-1000 as currently envisaged will require 250 Mg, all for its moderator but none for its coolant which will be light water. This even though the ACR-1000 has significantly higher output power, 1050 MW (e), versus an average of 640 MW (e) for the CANDU 6. This again represents a substantial capital cost reduction.

However, like its CANDU predecessors, the ACR-1000 will require replacement of its pressure tubes after thirty years. This would extend its life by another 30 years but still would require a major expenditure even if the projected one year time frame for refurbishment could be maintained.

. November 6, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Ontario: Stop the Nuclear Renaissance we want to get off
July 14th, 2009 · 15 Comments

Have the wheels fallen off the Nuclear Renaissance in Canada?

The Ontario government has announced that it’s suspending its competition for new nuclear reactors because only the AECL bid met its requirements but even so their price was much too high.

Media reaction was muted and at first many including me assumed the suspension to be a political ploy on the part of Ontario government to induce the federal government to subsidize its new nuclear plants. In fact, many approving noises were made in the media, mainly making the point that there’s no particular need to rush to a decision. This because electricity demand is declining in Ontario due to the recession (but for how long?), additional generation facilities (including refurbished nuclear stations) are due to come on line in the next few years and the delay will give us time to see how other supply choices work out.

. November 12, 2009 at 1:37 pm

John Ibbitson
Why Harper needs a nuclear deal with India

The future of Canada’s industry depends on accords with Asian giants

John Ibbitson

Ottawa — From Thursday’s Globe and Mail Published on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009 10:13PM EST Last updated on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009 6:30AM EST

Stephen Harper’s aides wouldn’t say whether he will sign a civil nuclear accord when he visits India next week. Negotiations, they said, were still under way.

But if a deal isn’t signed now, it will be signed soon, for this simple reason: Canada needs India more than India needs Canada.

The Prime Minister’s three-day visit to Delhi, Mumbai and Amritsar will be the longest he has ever spent visiting a country. The itinerary is chock-a-block with meetings, roundtables, wreath-laying and photo-ops.

There will be movement toward discussions that could lead to negotiations that may or may not produce a Canada-India free-trade agreement before the youngest among us are old.

. December 18, 2009 at 1:33 pm

Ottawa puts CANDU reactor division up for sale

Natural Resources minister confirms government is inviting investors to submit bids, move won’t affect Chalk River facility

Bill Curry, Karen Howlett and Anna Mehler Paperny

Ottawa and Toronto — Globe and Mail Update Published on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009 10:09AM EST Last updated on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009 9:00PM EST

Stephen Harper travelled the world pitching Canada’s “state-of-the-art” – and state-owned – nuclear reactor technology, but finding no takers at home or abroad and facing record budget deficits, the Prime Minister is selling off the Crown-owned CANDUs.

The Harper government confirmed Thursday it is calling for bids on the reactor-wing of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

With interest coming from a mix of foreign and domestic firms, opposition critics say they’re concerned technology created at public expense is at risk of leaving the country.

“They’re going to be selling Canadian know-how and intellectual property, probably to a foreign bidder, at bargain-basement prices,” said Liberal MP Geoff Regan. The MP compared the sell-off to the mysterious cancellation of Canada’s iconic fighter jet program in 1959.

“We’re concerned that this is effectively Canada’s new Avro Arrow,” he said.

The sale won’t include the research wing of the Crown corporation – namely the Chalk River nuclear facility that produced most of the word’s medical isotopes until it was shut down for repairs earlier this year.

. June 16, 2010 at 9:12 pm

Chalk River isotope reactor fully repaired: AECL

By Ian MacLeod and Amy Minsky, Ottawa Citizen and Canwest News Service June 16, 2010 5:38 PM

OTTAWA — After a $70-million breakdown, the world’s oldest operating nuclear reactor is ready to resume service and medical isotope production, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. has announced.

The last of several complex repairs was completed on the weekend to the reactor’s 65,000-litre containment vessel, which began slowly leaking radioactive heavy-water in May 2009, forcing AECL to shut down the NRU reactor at Chalk River, Ont., about 180 kilometres northwest of Ottawa.

“The vessel is fit for service, with its structural integrity assured for the next operating interval,” AECL has informed the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. “Processes and procedures are in place to safely restart the reactor, and resume medical isotope production and research activities.”

AECL is to appear before the commission June 28 to win the federal regulator’s approval to completely refuel and restart the reactor.

The commission is expediting that hearing process to return the NRU, “to service as safely and as quickly as possible to support the production of medical isotopes for Canadian patients and health-care practitioners.”

With commission approval and no further technical glitches, the world’s largest machine for producing medical isotopes for treating cancer, cardiac problems and bone disease, is slated to return to commercial production at then end of July.

. July 8, 2010 at 10:22 pm

New Brunswick throws a wrench into AECL sale plans

Decision to purchase a French reactor undermines Crown corporation’s already shaky reputation

Shawn McCarthy Global Energy Reporter

From Friday’s Globe and Mail Published on Thursday, Jul. 08, 2010 7:31PM EDT Last updated on Thursday, Jul. 08, 2010 9:24PM EDT

New Brunswick has cast a pall over Ottawa’s effort to sell off Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., announcing that it has dropped AECL’s proposal to build a new reactor and is turning instead to the Crown corporation’s arch-rival, France’s Areva Group.

The New Brunswick decision, made public on Thursday, is the second major setback for AECL in the past year. Last summer, the Ontario government postponed indefinitely the purchase of the corporation’s next-generation Candu reactor, which is still in development.

The Harper government is trying to sell AECL, and the bidding process, managed by New York merchant bank N.M. Rothschild & Sons closed on June 30. Industry insiders say there were multiple bidders, including Montreal-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. and Westinghouse Electric Co. LLC, a unit of Toshiba Corp.

Areva had indicated during the Ontario competition that it would consider seeking a stake in Canada’s flagship nuclear company, but its interest has cooled, and sources said on Thursday that the French multinational has dropped out.

. February 4, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Ottawa seeks new sources for medical isotopes

Researchers in Saskatoon will try to prove that Canada doesn’t need a troubled old nuclear reactor to make the isotopes used by doctors in a whole host of medical tests.

A demonstration facility will be built at the Canadian Light Source to prove that a high-energy linear accelerator can make the isotopes used in medical imaging and diagnostic procedures. The National Research Council, which is backing the project, says the new method does not require a nuclear reactor or enriched uranium.

“It’s a system by which you’re not using uranium as your fuel or your target to produce your medical isotope. Instead, you’re basically radiating small coin-sized discs to produce the isotopes in question,” Raphael Galea, a research officer with the council, said in a phone interview from Ottawa.

“As a result, you’re not producing any of the long-lived radioactive waste and you don’t have any concerns about nuclear proliferation and the like.”

. February 9, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Canada’s beleaguered nuclear Crown corporation, Atomic Energy Canada Limited, is asking Parliament to approve $175.4 million on top of the $696 million it has already been granted for this fiscal year, according to federal financial documents tabled Tuesday.

Some other major items in supplementary spending estimates include nearly $217 million in funding to cover the acquisition of a new National Defence headquarters building in suburban Ottawa and $150 million to Human Resources to cover writeoffs for unrecoverable student loans.

Those, together with the disclosed increase of $866 million in program spending which automatically passes without Parliament’s approval (for programs such as employment insurance and student loans), brings the total estimated federal spending for 2010-11 to $266 billion — up from government’s initial estimate of $259 billion it tabled nearly one year ago.

. June 30, 2011 at 10:48 am

AECL sold for $15M to SNC-Lavalin
Government could still earn future royalties from intellectual property rights
CBC News Posted: Jun 29, 2011 4:29 PM ET Last Updated: Jun 29, 2011 10:31 PM ET
 
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2011/06/29/aecl-sale.html
 
The federal government finally announced Wednesday a deal to divest itself of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. and get out of the business of subsidizing nuclear reactor sales and servicing.
 
Joe Oliver, the minister of natural resources, said at a news conference in Toronto that the Crown corporation’s Candu reactor business has been sold to engineering giant SNC-Lavalin Group of Montreal, ending a process that has been in the works since 2009.
 
The sale price was $15 million, but the government will have opportunity to get royalties down the road because it’s keeping intellectual property rights, Oliver said. However, the government will also provide SNC up to $75 million to complete development of a new reactor called Enhanced Candu 6.
 
The union for AECL workers condemned the sale, saying the deal will result in a “hollowed out company” and might cost thousands more jobs among the corporation’s suppliers.

. July 3, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Weston: Ottawa basically paying SNC to take AECL
By Greg Weston, CBC News Posted: Jun 29, 2011 10:14 PM ET Last Updated: Jun 29, 2011 10:14 PM ET

The federal government’s long-awaited deal to sell off its money-losing nuclear reactor business is more like a perpetual partnership than a sale, leaving Canadian taxpayers stuck with the fiscal fall-out for years to come.

The government-owned Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. has announced it has finally reached a tentative deal to sell its commercial reactor development and repair division to Quebec-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

The Montreal-based company was the only suitor in the world left at the negotiating table, a fact that helps to explain why the government is effectively paying SNC-Lavalin to take over the Crown corporation.

Under the deal, SNC will pay a paltry $15 million for AECL’s nuclear reactor division, plus some as yet undisclosed “royalties” on future reactor sales.

In return, the government will give SNC up to $75 million toward the development of the next generation of AECL’s once internationally successful Candu reactors.

. October 26, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Without fanfare, without so much as a press release, the Canadian public’s ownership in the business of building commercial nuclear reactors ended early this month.

The sale of Atomic Energy of Canada’s reactor business to SNC Lavalin closed on Oct. 2, Lavalin confirmed in an email.

That means Lavalin’s new unit, Candu Energy Inc., takes over the job of building, refurbishing and maintaining Candu reactors like the ones that supply half of Ontario’s electricity. Candu reactors are also at work in Quebec and New Brunswick as well as in Argentina, India, Korea, China and Romania.

The sale agreement had been announced in June, but neither government nor the company made an announcement when it finally closed.

. March 25, 2014 at 9:24 am

OTTAWA — Canada has secretly disposed of a stockpile of orphaned, weapons-grade uranium that no one has wanted to talk about.

Almost six years after Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. shuttered the two troubled MAPLE reactors at its Chalk River Laboratories, the government Monday announced that thousands of “targets” made from highly-enriched uranium (HEU) imported under special licence from the United States have been sent back there.

The brief statement at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague ends years of Canadian and U.S. government silence about the fate of the estimated 45 kilograms of HEU targets — enough HEU to build at least one nuclear bomb.

Construction was completed in 2000. But the MAPLEs were plagued with technical problems, including an insurmountable design flaw.

The reactors were designed to have a negative “power coefficient of reactivity,” or PCR. In other words, the reactivity in the core decreases as the reactor power increases.

. May 3, 2014 at 11:39 am

Candu Energy changes tack in China, seeks construction partnerships

When SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. bought Candu Energy Inc. for $15-million, it took private an asset that had, over 60 years, sucked $21-billion from Ottawa.

Just three years later, SNC is pinning hopes for future billions on another government, this time in Beijing. With a long-standing effort to sell new reactors to China yet to produce any fruit, Candu is now seeking to link hands with state-owned Chinese firms to build new reactors abroad, an ambition that has eluded the Canadian nuclear industry for many years.

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