So many questions; so few answers!

Dr. Frank Greening - May 20, 2008

By way of introduction, Frank Greening worked as an expert in corrosion problems at Ontario Hydro for 22 years, in a senior scientific capacity, before being forced into retirement because he had found strong evidence that the corrosion problems in the CANDU reactors operating in Ontario were far greater than the industry wanted to admit.

Gordon Edwards.

AECL = Atomic Energy of Canada Limited

NRU = National Research Universal Reactor, started operation in 1957, still going

UKAEA = United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority

OPG = Ontario Power Generation

AECB = Atomic Energy Control Board, the Canadian regulator, superceded by

CNSC = Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission

CANDU = Canadian Deuterium Uranium Reactor (heavy water moderated and cooled)

Gentilly = CANDU nuclear plant operating in Quebec

Pt. LePreau = CANDU nuclear plant operating in New Brunswick

ACR = Advanced CANDU Reactor (still being designed: light water cooled)

Dear All,

The May 16th, 2008, announcement by AECL's CEO Hugh MacDiarmid of the abandonment of the Maple reactor raises many questions about the state of nuclear engineering here in Canada. How could the once great AECL so totally mess-up the design and construction of a relatively "simple" isotope production reactor. After all, it was AECL Chalk River that built the highly successful NRU reactor in 1957; surely building a replacement for AECL's 50 year-old isotope production workhorse should have been a cakewalk for Canada's nuclear boffins - or so it appeared when the plan to build a replacement for NRU was first announced in 1996.

Indeed, back in the halcyon days of the development of nuclear power in the period 1945 to 1965, AECL's research and development facility at Chalk River was universally recognized as a world leader in nuclear engineering, rivaled only by the UKAEA's Harwell Laboratory, and the US nuclear research facility at Oak Ridge. So how could the estimable AECL "forget" how to design and build something it was quite capable of doing, and doing very well, just 50 years ago? And were there any warning signs that AECL was simply not up to the task - warnings we should have heeded long before $600 million of tax-payer's money was squandered by AECL?

I believe OPG, (formally Ontario Hydro), AECL's biggest customer, certainly put the writing on the nuclear wall during the utility's turbulent decade from 1995 to 2005. Thus it was Ron Osborne, then President and CEO of OPG, who stated in a speech to the staff at OPG's nuclear research facility in Toronto on May 9th 2000:

"If you think about nuclear operations as we sit here today, it's an open book that Ontario Hydro became sloppy in the way it ran nuclear plants. The evidence is crystal clear, whether it's there in AECB reports, (our regulator in Ottawa), or whether it's there in WANO, (The World Association of Nuclear Operators), peer review reports, etc. The evidence is crystal clear: we may have been the leader of the pack on the nuclear front back in the 70s but by the end of the 80s we had clearly lost that position. And as we sit here today we are holding up the back of the pack in terms of nuclear excellence__

And I am a firm believer that we will run our nuclear plants better in this province when we bring in some new management. There is no other nuclear management in Canada. Gentilly and Pt. Lepreau, with the best will in the world, cannot help us out. We have to bring in skill sets from outside. So it's inevitable that some new management is going to come from outside this country_. We need that help."

I would say that one only has to replace the words "Ontario Hydro" and "nuclear plants" with the words "AECL" and "Chalk River", to see that the current crisis at AECL is part of a larger, on-going, crisis in the management of the nuclear energy sector here in Canada. And having worked for OPG from 1978 to 2000 I can attest to Ron Osborne's identification of poor management as the root cause of the declining performance of OPG's nuclear divison during the late 1990s. I have also had direct experience with AECL management at Chalk River and I can confirm that it is both arrogant and incompetent -- a deadly mixture indeed!

However, what is most prescient about Ron Osborne's May 2000 speech is his identification of what he considers to be the only solution to OPG's nuclear woes: "new management from outside this country." Thus I would predict that Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn will prescribe precisely the same medicine to cure what ails AECL Chalk River as Osborne prescribed for OPG Nuclear. Indeed, it was not long after Mr. Osborne's speech in 2000 that OPG brought in British interests to manage OPG's Research Division in Toronto and the eight CANDU reactors at the Bruce site. In the case of AECL I suspect the troubled Crown Corporation will be sold (read "given away") to foreign interests - whether they will be British, French, Japanese or American is all that remains to be seen.

A few other issues worth considering would be:

* Is this part of a Harper/Bush globalization strategy to open up the closed-shop of the Canadian nuclear industry to foreign investment?

* Is this a government manufactured crisis to get the Canadian public to accept the sell-off of AECL?

* Did the former AECL management have any fore-knowledge that the Maple Reactor was a non-starter?

* Will Canada lose its valuable isotope production business after 2011?

* Is there now any hope at all for the ACR?

* Should our universities take some blame for not producing world class nuclear engineers and scientists to replace the old guard at Chalk River?

* Why did AECL wait so long before getting serious about developing a replacement for its first generation CANDUs?

* If AECL is sold, who will be responsible for cleaning up the highly contaminated site at Chalk River?

So many questions; so few answers!

Frank Greening

Hamilton, Ont

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