SNC Lavalin Buys AECL’s Candu Business: Commentary

Media coverage of the sale concentrated on the $15 million SNC Lavalin will pay the federal government, but often omitted the $75 million the federal government will pay SNC Lavalin. CBC provided some helpful coverage here.
The combined effects of SNC Lavalin’s new role and coming federal fiscal restraint will lead to a dramatic downsizing of AECL’s payroll. This will lessen the power of the key interest groups lobbying on behalf of AECL, particularly the Power Worker’s Union, the Organization of Candu Industries, and The Society of Professional Engineers and Associates.
AECL’s downsizing will have no net employment impact. Competent employees leaving AECL will have abundant opportunities because of the aging demographics of the electricity sector across North America.

With AECL going private, hopefully Ontario can look more rationally at the fundamental economics of our large nuclear replacement requirements with our minds less tainted by national chauvinism and federal/provincial compromise.

The existing Candu reactors in operation benchmark very badly against other reactors. All Candu refurbishments attempted so far have been commercial disasters. The “Enhanced” Candu 6 design that SNC has committed to pursuing had proven to be unlicensable in any Western country other than Canada prior to Fukushima. Post-Fukushima, the EC6 is much less acceptable. If SNC pockets the $75 million payment from the feds for the EC6 design and then shuts down the program don’t be surprised. AECL trumpeted the completion of the two reactors at Qinshan as its finest hour. However, soon after the completion of those reactors, the Chinese government announced that it will not build any more Candus, which rely on heavy water. Like the rest of the nuclear developers around the world, China is now focused on light water reactor technology. AECL has worked tirelessly since that announcement to paper over this lack of confidence from the Chinese government by highlighting study efforts with the Chinese to consider thorium fuel alternatives — a technology that has been studied unsuccessfully for 60 years. SNC has expressed no interest in developing thorium reactor concepts.
The sale of AECL’s Candu division helps to reduce the conflicts inherent in the federal government’s roles as both a promoter and regulator of nuclear activities.
Some coverage of the sales is here: Toronto Star, Fredericton Daily Gleaner.

One Comment

  1. “a technology that has been studied unsuccessfully for 60 years” – this is patently not true and indicates a lack of knowledge of the history of thorium fuel development.

    In fact, liquid reactor technology (which can take thorium as a fuel as well as uranium) was very successfully developed over those 60 years, but was overlooked for political and other reasons in favor of solid fuel pressurized reactors.

    I suggest the author (and all those reading this) purchase a copy of the brand-new book “Super Fuel – Thorium, the Green Energy source for the future” by Richard Martin. Available at Amazon. It covers the history of nuclear power in detail.

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