Areva keen to form ‘partnership’ with AECL

Eric Reguly
Globe and Mail
July 10, 2007

Areva of France, the world’s biggest nuclear energy company, is keen to invest in or form a partnership with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. but says it hasn’t got a clue whether Ottawa is ready to deal.

A meeting last month between Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn and Areva Group CEO Anne Lauvergeon led to speculation that AECL, creator of the Candu nuclear reactors, was on the auction block. “We are of course open to discussions and are interested in a partnership,” Areva spokesman Charles Hufnagel said yesterday. “But there are no current or official discussions.”

As far as Areva knows, he said, AECL “is not for sale.”

Mr. Lunn told The Globe and Mail last week that the government is holding “no discussions” with potential AECL suitors, such as Areva, Bruce Power, which operates Candu reactors in Ontario, Toshiba Corp. and General Electric Co. His comments came after a newspaper said GE was close to striking a deal with AECL, which is a federal Crown corporation.

Several industry sources, however, said the government wants to transform AECL into a fully commercial company to reduce its burden on the taxpayer and improve its chances of export success. But they said selling the company to the highest bidder is not the priority.

“The government is more concerned about other things, like saving the jobs of Canadian nuclear engineers, safeguarding Candu technology and what to do with the nuclear waste,” one source said.

He said AECL might be worth $800-million, a figure largely based on the expected income stream from refurbishing existing Candu plants in Canada and in foreign markets.

The value of the company would rise if Ontario were to choose Candu for a new generation of reactors.

AECL has been a taxpayers’ sinkhole since its inception in 1952.

Toronto’s Energy Probe calculated that ACEL has consumed $20.9-billion in subsidies, adjusted for inflation.

But the figure understates the theoretical costs.

Had the money delivered to AECL been invested at an inflation-adjusted rate of return of 7.5 per cent, the amount would now be worth $194.6-billion, Energy Probe said. That’s the value forgone by the taxpayer.

Armand Laferrère, president of Areva Canada, said Areva’s goal is to “show how we can work together with AECL to diversify the skills and the export potential of AECL. It would have to be done as a win-win situation for both companies. We are not predators.”

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