No wrongdoing in sale of reactors, says minister

Juliet O’Neill
The Ottawa Citizen
June 9, 1998

 

Candu deals in China, South Asia under attack in Commons

Federal government ministers rejected allegations yesterday of wrongdoing in nuclear reactor sales to China and of Canadian complicity in the militarization of nuclear capability in India and Pakistan.

International Trade Minister Sergio Marchi confirmed in the Commons that cabinet ministers signed off in 1996 on the sale of two Candu nuclear reactors to China without reviewing the details of export contracts or financing agreements that provide $1.5 billion in Canadian taxpayer liability if China can’t pay Canadian suppliers.

However, Mr. Marchi denied this means the government lacked “financial due diligence” as alleged by New Democrat MP Bill Blaikie of Winnipeg.

Mr. Blaikie and other opposition MPs questioned the minister after publication of a report in the Citizen yesterday based on documents submitted to the Federal Court last year.

In the case the Sierra Club is trying to prove the cabinet broke the law by authorizing the Candu sales without first conducting an environmental assessment. The court has yet to rule on the Sierra Club challenge.

Mr. Marchi said the government “gave broad direction and guidelines” while the details were properly left up to two Crown corporations, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., which handled the commercial arrangements, and the Export Development Corp., which negotiated the financing. This is the way Candu sales are conducted and a review, he said, is not the task of officials of the departments of trade, finance or foreign affairs.

Mr. Blaikie also led the charge in the Commons about the details in a separate Citizen report of how Canadian experts have been provided for years to India and Pakistan by the Candu Owners Group while both countries were using civilian reactors to produce plutonium and tritium — materials used in nuclear weapons.

Mr. Blaikie, accusing the government of having a “maniacal” attitude toward Candu sales, demanded the recall of experts of the Candu Owners Group — AECL, Ontario Hydro, Hydro-Quebec and New Brunswick Power — on grounds they have been “aiding and abetting the nuclear arms race” and making Canada appear a hypocrite on the world stage.

Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray denied that Canada is contributing in any way to nuclear weapons capability in India or Pakistan. He insisted the experts had been provided to advise the two countries on Candu reactor safety since the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster in the former Soviet Union a decade ago. Such advice was recommended by the International Atomic Agency.

“They are providing safety information to maintain civilian nuclear power reactors,” Mr. Gray told Reform foreign affairs critic Bob Mills. “We are not having anything to do with the current military programs of India and Pakistan.”

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. said yesterday there are no AECL nuclear technicians in India or Pakistan and there hasn’t been for several months.

Dave Lisle, senior manager of public affairs, said AECL workers had done safety tests in India and Pakistan but the work ended some months ago.

“It was a very strict, very narrow scope of work,” he said.

Mr. Lisle said he was unaware of any Canadian technicians currently in the region from other Canadian bodies such as Ontario Hydro, New Brunswick Power and Hydro-Quebec.

 

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