Ontario delays deadline for final nuclear bids

TORONTO, ONTARIO - It’s proving harder than anticipated to convince the companies wanting to build two new nuclear reactors in Ontario to accept the risks associated with construction delays and cost overruns, resulting in critics charging that delays are to be expected in such a lengthy process.

"One of the things that we’re seeking to make sure is that the appropriate amount of risk is transferred to the private sector for things in the construction of a new nuclear plant which are in their control," Energy Minister George Smitherman said. "These are of course intensely discussed and negotiated point by point by point."

Smitherman announced the province is again delaying the deadline for the final bid proposals for two new reactors to be built at the site of the existing Darlington nuclear station.

The deadline for final bids was originally set for October, then December 31, and now it´s been pushed to "early 2009," with a winning bidder expected to be announced in the spring.

Smitherman said he didn’t set a firm date because the media could use it in future to say the government missed another deadline. Such a huge project requires flexibility on the timing because of its scale and complexity, he said.

Greenpeace Canada warned there are numerous opportunities for further delays in all stages of the nuclear process — from planning to regulatory to actual construction — which could make it difficult for the province to have the new reactors online by 2018 as scheduled.

"The government’s schedule originally sought to have shovels in the ground by 2012," said Greenpeace spokesman Shawn Patrick Stensil. "It’s difficult to see how they’re going to be able to do that with this delay."

NDP Leader Howard Hampton agreed there would be more costly delays on the road to Ontario’s nuclear future, and he warned that taxpayers would end up on the hook for any cost overruns, despite the government’s attempts to have private companies take on the risk.

"Nuclear plants are not built anywhere without the public taking all of the risk," Hampton said. "They take so long to build, they’re so complicated, they involve so much money (that) private corporations are not able and not willing to handle any of that risk."

The Opposition said the Liberal government delayed making decisions on new nuclear plants for years, and should do all it can to get the reactors online as quickly as possible and use the project to help get Ontario’s economy moving again so it can shed its have-not status.

"I think they should be speeding up this process as opposed to slowing it down," said Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory.

"They should be taking a good hard look at what’s going to maximize jobs in Ontario and supporting Ontario technology. That’s what they should be doing when we’re in trouble."

Ontario plans to build two new reactors at the site of the existing Darlington plant so nuclear power continues to generate 50 per cent of the province’s electricity, even as it phases out all coal-fired generation by 2014.

But Greenpeace is worried the province will end up relying on imported coal-fired electricity from neighbouring U.S. states.

"What we’ll see with these delays is we’re going to have to increase reliance on either domestic gas generation or imported coal, so we’ll see increases in greenhouse gas emissions," Stensil said.

"What we should be doing is not waiting around for new nuclear plants that will inevitably be delayed. We should be ramping up our deployment of green energy and conservation."

Three nuclear companies — Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., American giant Westinghouse and Areva NP of France — are still in the running to build the new Darlington reactors.

Privately run Bruce Power announced plans to conduct an environmental assessment for new reactors to be built on the shores of Lake Erie at Nanticoke, prompting Smitherman to accuse the company of trying to influence government policy.

Smitherman insisted there are no plans for any more reactors to be built other than the two new units at Darlington, and he said Bruce has "no government support in any form" for its proposal to construct new reactors.


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