Union backs older, “emission-free” Candu 6

ONTARIO - Hope of building next-generation Candu reactors in Ontario is fading fast for federally owned Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

A number of voices in the Ontario nuclear community are lobbying the McGuinty government to abandon its interest in AECL's Advanced Candu Reactor (ACR) and instead focus on the company's existing Candu 6 design, a smaller reactor that operates in five countries, including China and Korea.

The Power Workers' Union, which represents 15,000 workers across the province, weighed in on the issue when it ran large newspaper ads calling on Ontario to build "proven, emission-free Candu 6 reactors now."

Don MacKinnon, president of the union, said the perceived risk and high cost associated with building next-generation reactors should not take away from the fact that new power supply will be needed as the economy bounces back and electricity demand rises again.

"We need to get building something now, and if the government doesn't feel comfortable moving to next-generation technology at this moment, then let's build something we know," he said.

Industry sources have told the Star that Ontario Power Generation also prefers to build Candu 6 reactors at Darlington rather than ACRs, which have not been built anywhere in the world and are based on a design that is not yet complete. OPG is "pushing like hell" to get Candu 6 reactors built, said one insider.

Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman announced on June 29 that the competitive process for purchasing new reactors in Ontario was being suspended. He cited a price tag submitted by AECL for its ACR design as "billions" too high. Ontario wants the federal government to take on the financial risks of building two ACRs before it makes a selection.

The federal government, which is struggling to partially privatize AECL, wants Ontario to make a commitment so the company's commercial business looks more attractive to potential suitors.

Lisa Raitt, federal minister of natural resources, told the Star in September that both sides are waiting for the other to make the first move. Many of those directly affected – including suppliers and workers in the nuclear industry who are being hurt by the delay – are growing less concerned with what gets built and more interested that something be built, and soon.

"The Ontario procurement process was designed to force the federal government's hand, and it didn't," said Neil Alexander, president of the Organization of Candu Industries. Now, he said, companies that supply and support the Candu design are in an unsettling holding pattern. "We're certainly concerned that the government doesn't understand the urgency of this situation."

Alexander said his organization stands firmly behind the ACR, though he conceded that if getting shovels in the ground right away means building Candu 6 reactors, then it's a next-best scenario.

Diane Flanagan, a spokeswoman for Infrastructure Ontario, said the nuclear procurement process is set up to only accept bids relating to next-generation reactors from AECL, France-based Areva SA, and American nuclear giant Westinghouse Electric. "The request for proposals would have to be amended for there to be any change to the process," she said.

OPG's environmental assessment application for its proposed plant at Darlington also stipulates that the reactor design is based on "next generation" technology, which would preclude the Candu 6 reactor design. However, it's clear that OPG originally wanted to build Candu 6 reactors at Darlington.

Top executives from the utility held a meeting in December 2006 with Premier Dalton McGuinty, who was told that the company's first preference would be to build an enhanced version of the Candu 6 because it could be built two years earlier than the ACR, according to a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission memo obtained by the Star.

But OPG dropped the idea after the regulator said it would impose updated safety standards on the Candu 6 design before certifying it, which would erase time-savings.


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