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Atomic energy agency seeks political support

Globe and Mail: SHAWN MCCARTHY - November 28, 2008

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20081128.waecl1128/EmailBNStory/energy/home

OTTAWA Canada must provide political support for the nuclear power industry to preserve high-paying research and manufacturing jobs at a time of economic crisis, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. chief executive Hugh MacDiarmid said Friday.

AECL is facing the biggest challenge of its 60-year-old existence as the federal government considers selling the Crown corporation in its effort to raise money to minimize future deficits.

At the same time, Ontario is proceeding with a bidding process on two new reactors that is critical to the future of the federal Crown corporation. AECL could have a tough time competing strictly on a cost basis against bigger foreign rivals, notably French-based Areva Group, but could win on the strength of its economic benefits, so long as Ottawa backs its bid.

In a speech to the Toronto Board of Trade Friday morning, Mr. MacDiarmid said it is a critical time for Canadians to support a home-grown champion of atomic power, one that is one of the largest spenders in research in the country and has a vast network of suppliers.

In light of recent economic developments, we can't take for granted that the jobs we have today will be around tomorrow, he said, as the new federal Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt looked on from the audience.

He quoted Statistics Canada as saying that a domestic sale of two ACR1000 reactors would generate $5-billion of economic spinoffs and create 62,000 person-years of employment.

It's about jobs. Plenty of them. Highly skilled, well paying, long-term jobs. The kind of jobs that every community wants, he said.

This week, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the government planned to sell federal assets in an effort to raise cash and offset the impact the stimulative spending would have on the budget balance.

In an interview, Mr. MacDiarmid said foreign nuclear vendors have the backing of their home governments, and it is critical that AECL have federal backing to maintain a level playing field. He would not comment on whether that support could be maintained in the absence of federal ownership.

But he said he hoped Ms. Raitt would support AECL as strongly as her predecessor a reference to former Natural Resources minister Gary Lunn, who was one of the few Conservative ministers to lose his job after the recent election.

Mr. MacDiarmid said there are plenty of examples where the loss of domestic control of technology companies led to their eventual disappearance from the Canadian landscape.

He also countered a frequent criticism that AECL has not completed the design of the ACR1000, a 1,200-megawatt reactor that it is pitching for the Ontario bid. He said the basic design engineering is complete, and that AECL is now confirming and validating the safety of the reactor at the Canada Nuclear Safety Commission.

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