AECL cleared to bid for U.K. nuclear stations

John Spears
Toronto Star
November 3, 2001

AECL cleared to bid for U.K. nuclear stations   by John Spears

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. has been given a shot at bidding for 10 new nuclear power stations in Britain.

British Energy signed an agreement yesterday with AECL to assess the firm’s technology.

But there’s no guarantee that British Energy PLC will ever build the new nuclear stations, let alone choose AECL’s design.

British Energy is also looking at reactors built by Westinghouse, if its nuclear expansion proposals bear fruit.

Under the one-year agreement signed yesterday, AECL and British Energy will prepare a case for using AECL’s Candu technology in new British plants.

They’ll also assess whether Candu plants could operate on existing nuclear sites.

In addition, they’ll draw up a business model addressing issues including the economics of running the proposed stations, risk sharing and government subsidies.

The British Energy proposal calls for single-station reactors, each producing about 1,000 megawatts of power.

AECL is anxious to sell its “next generation” Candu reactors. Louise Duhamel of AECL estimated new Candu reactors capable of generating 1,000 megawatts would sell for about $1 billion (U.S.) apiece.

The Pickering nuclear facility near Toronto has two units, with a total of eight reactors, capable of producing 4,120 megawatts in total – or enough power for a city of 2 million people.

British Energy is already taking a close look at AECL’s current generation of reactors. It is the majority partner in the firm that has leased Ontario’s Bruce nuclear station for 18 years.

British Energy spokesperson Bob Fenton cautioned in an interview yesterday that little is certain beyond a commitment to assess the AECL reactors.

“The U.K. government is conducting a review of energy sources in the U.K.,” he said. “We’re really waiting to see the outcome of that review before we’re in a position to seriously think about placing any orders.”

In any case, he said, “as things stand at the moment, the economics aren’t there to build a new nuclear station in the U.K.”

British Energy needs to shed some of the liabilities it assumed when it was privatized, he said. It also needs relief from some of the cost of dealing with nuclear waste, and would like credit for the fact that nuclear generators don’t produce greenhouse gases.

Without better terms in these areas, he said, “the market wouldn’t give us the capital to go ahead.”

Critics of nuclear energy were skeptical about yesterday’s announcement.

Norm Rubin of Energy Probe said AECL’s previous foreign reactor sales have ended up losing money.

“Every time they get someone to sign on the dotted line, we go deeper in the hole.”

Rubin doubted a solid business case could be made for new nuclear stations if all the costs are factored in – such as those for storing nuclear waste.

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