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Canada's nuclear meltdown

The Ottawa Citizen: May 21, 2008

The problems surrounding the Maple reactors and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. should give Ontarians and their government considerable pause.

First, Queen's Park is considering pouring billions of dollars into building several new reactors to alleviate Ontario's energy crunch. The woes of AECL, despite the fact that a federal Crown corporation would naturally be the favourite choice of the province, show the operation has major technical and administrative problems. That makes it difficult to choose its reactors for the province's energy build-out.

Second, Ontarians, in the midst of an economic downturn, would like to see AECL become a world leader in nuclear energy. That would mean jobs for Ontarians. Increasingly, nuclear is becoming the power generator of choice in a world that is beginning to see fossil fuels increasing in price in both dollars and cost to the environment.

However, average Ontarians and their leaders must by now be having serious doubts about the efficacy of AECL's reactors and the organization itself.

Provincial taxpayers are already footing $20-billion in debt from various incarnations of the provincial hydro utility. Much of that comes from nuclear overruns and repairs. Just to put that in perspective, that's about 22 north-south light-rail projects in Ottawa. Ontarians have shown incredible patience with AECL and the provincial utility.

Here's why. Recently it was reported that the rehabilitation of Bruce Power units 1 and 2 are running about 24 per cent above cost estimates. That could mean as much as $650 million on the $2.75 billion project. The province must pay the first $300 million of overruns and a quarter of those costs beyond that.

At Chalk River, an AECL facility was shut down, creating a shortage of nuclear substances for medical use, because it failed Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission standards. That was after a warning from the commission 17 months previous and AECL saying it had abided by the order.

As well, the CNSC has said the Pickering B nuclear station, an aging operation, does not have the robust safety standards that it should. CNSC staff in a letter to station operator Ontario Power Generation said the commission remains "concerned with the trend in erosion of safety margins."

And then there is the Maple reactors in which hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent and now the project has been shuttered because they just don't work properly. A design flaw could not be rectified and thus the reactors are more likely to melt down.

A recent overview in The Wall Street Journal concerning the nuclear industry never mentioned AECL. Former customers China and South Korea are not considering AECL reactors.

All this should cause Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty concern.

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