Huge loss expected in any AECL sale, MPs concede

Canwest News Service: DAVID AKIN - October 22, 2009

No matter what the federal government decides to do with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., taxpayers are unlikely to get back the billions sunk into the crown corporation over the years, MPs conceded yesterday.

Ottawa has been looking for a private sector partner to which it can sell all or part of AECL. But MPs from all parties are resigned to recouping only a small fraction of the more than $8 billion the federal government has given AECL over 60 years of its existence.

"I think the chances of taxpayers making money on this deal or even getting their money back are almost zero," said NDP MP Nathan Cullen.

AECL is likely going to continue to consume increasingly scarce tax dollars. Last year alone, it received about $650 million in federal subsidies. And the bill so far for repairing the broken-down reactor at Chalk River, Ont., that produces isotopes used in medical imaging around the world has already eclipsed $70 million, most of which will be picked up by the federal taxpayer.

"The buyer will require a big broom," said a former AECL employee who also is a certified management accountant. "Basically, this is a company with no firm prospects for future reactor sales, a steady but small revenue stream from technology services, contingent liabilities that amount to four or five times its annual funding and a bloated payroll."

Industry sources say AECL's nuclear power reactor business - the group that designs and builds the Candu reactors - might be worth about $300 million if sold.