Minister elated by possible AECL deal

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Ontario's Energy Minister says he's cheered by reports that the sole bidder for Atomic Energy Canada is discussing a possible joint effort for the deal with a deep-pocketed pension fund.

Brad Duguid said he hopes the long-drawn-out sale of AECL may soon be over and that Ontario might resume negotiations to purchase two generation reactors.

As The Globe and Mail reported recently, SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. is talking to pension giant the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System about teaming up to buy money-losing AECL's Candu reactor division.

"We're excited as we hear discussion, or talk, about a potential resolution to this process," Mr. Duguid said.

"We're looking forward to sitting down with whomever that new proponent will be and hammering out a deal to purchase new reactors for Ontario at a price that's fair to Ontario consumers."

Ontario has long complained that the Harper government's decision to put AECL on the block has interfered with its timetable for arranging the purchase of new generation reactors from the Crown corporation.

"We haven't really had a party to negotiate with," Mr. Duguid said.

"AECL has been up in the air awaiting the conclusion of this process. So we've been at the table but there's been nobody on the other side."

It can take eight to 10 years for a reactor deal to proceed from purchase to construction to commencing operations.

Ontario, however, is still looking for Ottawa to backstop the reactor purchase as a condition of the transaction.

"There's not — that we're aware of — a successful nuclear industry in the world that is not backed by a huge multinational or, for the most part, a national government providing some level of backstop to the development of these hugely technical and costly products," Mr. Duguid said.

As The Globe and Mail reported earlier, SNC-Lavalin is in talks with OMERS about joining forces for the venture.

A source familiar with discussions said SNC-Lavalin's bid for AECL's Candu reactor division has entered the exclusive negotiations stage of talks with Ottawa — the next step toward a deal. Ontario-based Bruce Power pulled out of the bidding in January, leaving Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin as the sole bidder.

If negotiations between SNC-Lavalin and OMERS succeed, the resulting combination could create a powerful team to oversee the future of Atomic Energy's Candu division. OMERS has deep pockets and more than $48-billion of investment assets.

The pairing would also create a made-in-Canada solution for Ottawa, which has been eager to offload money-losing AECL.

It's not clear what precise form a joint effort between SNC-Lavalin and OMERS might take.

Talks with SNC-Lavalin give OMERS another crack at playing a role in AECL's future. OMERS is a private investor in Bruce Power, which operates a generating station on Lake Huron. Bruce pulled out of the running for AECL because some of its shareholders were reluctant to take on the financial risk that would come with owning AECL, sources say.

Both SNC-Lavalin and OMERS have declined to comment.

Mr. Duguid said Ontario would like to buy Canadian technology to help the home-grown nuclear industry. "We're determined to ensure we do all we can to [buy] domestically and provide some stability to the nuclear industry and the 70,000 Canadians who make their living in it."


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