Candu ‘owners’ club’ to fold

Richard Foot
The Ottawa Citizen
July 31, 1998

TORONTO — An exclusive organization that promotes Candu nuclear reactors abroad and provides safety and technical advice to the people who run them is being dismantled.

The decision raises questions about the future of reactor sales and the shape of Canadian nuclear research.

The Candu Owners’ Group is a support club for eight domestic and foreign utilities that operate Candu reactors, plus Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the federal Crown corporation that designs and builds them.

However, Ontario Hydro, which owns 20 Candu reactors and contributes about 85 per cent of the owners’ group funding, is folding the organization into a larger, U.S.-based outfit that provides support services to hundreds of international owners of U.S. and European-made reactors, according to staff at Hydro and other utilities.

The Candu Owners’ Group is run out of Hydro headquarters in Toronto and is dominated by Hydro staff. Along with the provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick, its members include Candu owners in Argentina, Romania, South Korea, India and Pakistan.

Utilities staff say the owners’ group is being dismantled by U.S. nuclear expert Carl Andognini and his team, who came to Hydro last year to fix management problems at the corporation’s poorly performing Candu reactors.

Hydro has paid more than $70 million a year into owners’ group between 1990 and 1997, mostly for research.

But Hydro’s nuclear division doesn’t need better Candu plants; it needs good management, says Barry Collingwood, the group’s former manager.

Mr. Collingwood, who still works fror Hydro, is working to integrate the group into the Atlanta-based World Association of Nuclear Operators. Candu owners’ membership in the eight-member owners’ club will be transferred to a group that caters to hundreds of worldwide reactors of various makes and designs.

“We have been told by our management that the (group’s) network is only going to last to next spring,” says Alexander Hadfield, an engineer at the Point Lepreau, N.B., nuclear reactor and contact officer at the owners’ group for NB Power. “Essentially, (the group) is going to disappear.”

Since 1985, the owners’ club has served as a forum for the exchange of information and experience between Candu sites around the globe.

The group has also hosted foreign nuclear engineers at workshops in Canada and sent Canadian experts abroad to advise Candu owners, including Pakistan and India, which both exploded nuclear bombs in tests this year and are said to have gained much of their nuclear knowledge from Canada.

The owners’ group also co-ordinates more than $100 million a year in funding for nuclear research, garnered from Ontario Hydro, Hydro-Quebec and New Brunswick Power; the funding is channelled to scientists at Atomic Energy of Canada (AECL).

The group also funds Candu research at AECL’s Chalk River laboratories. As Hydro pulls its majority funding from the owners’ group and hauls down its structure, Mr. Collingwood says such research will likely be scaled back, adding that “it’s fair to say there will be less R & D overall.”

What that means for AECL isn’t clear. Agency spokesman David Lisle was reluctant to discuss the future of the support organization, saying only that “there’s discussions going on among all parties right now to reassess the … relationship.”

Mr. Lisle also points out that the organization plays an important role in helping AECL secure new contracts to build Candu’s overseas.

“From a marketing perspective, it’s important to provide your customers with a sense of after-sales service,” Mr. Lisle says. “AECL obviously assures its customers that that will be provided. (The group) is one way to provide that.”

Mr. Collingwood, who managed the owners’ club when AECL sold China two Candu reactors in 1996, says he was immediately called after the deal was sealed by China’s nuclear manager, who wanted full membership in the Candu Owners’ Group family.

“AECL have used that as a selling point, fairly effectively, no doubt about it,” says Mr. Collingwood.

However, nuclear energy critic Norm Rubin said the group’s demise is a good thing. He said the group hasn’t helped AECL sell many reactors abroad. The group has simply served as a clearing house for millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money to fund dubious Candu research by AECL, Mr. Rubin says.

Little of that cash has produced benefits to utilities such as NB Power or Ontario Hydro, and in some cases the research has been misleading, he says.

“How many of the expensive and potentially catastrophic problems at Ontario Hydro have been turned up by theoreticians at Chalk River saying, ‘You’ll have a problem with pressure tubes’? None. And how many have been denied or not discovered by AECL, who said such problems violated the laws of science, and in fact they happened.

“Consider the failure of the pressure tube in the Pickering reactor in 1983, six months after the team at Chalk River said it wouldn’t happen.”

 

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