(Jun. 24, 2010) FREDERICTON _ The New Brunswick government has renewed efforts to see a second nuclear reactor built in the province, but at least one industry observer doesn´t believe it will ever happen.
Energy Minister Jack Keir is heading to Florida for three days of discussions with French nuclear engineering group Areva, starting Sunday.
“I would categorize it as more than preliminary,” Keir said Thursday of the discussions. “I don´t want to raise expectations until I come back, but I´m excited about the opportunity.”
Keir said he has talked with company officials a number of times since they contacted him before Christmas last year.
“They´ve come forward with plans to build the merchant plant to look to the New England area to sell that electricity, and have come forward with discussions about setting up a centre of excellence in nuclear,” Keir said.
He said Areva, which is controlled by the government of France, likes New Brunswick´s geographic location and the fact the province is bilingual. He said universities in the province could conduct research and produce employees who speak both English and French.
A group called Team Candu _ which included Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., Hitachi Canada, SNC-Lavalin Nuclear Inc., Babcock and Wilcox Canada and GE-Hitatchi Nuclear Energy Canada Ltd. _ looked into the same possibility a couple of years ago.
However, Keir said they´ve had no talks in more than a year and he wants AECL to concentrate on the refurbishment of the first reactor at Point Lepreau. That project is at least 18 months behind schedule and an estimated $400 million over budget.
Keir said Areva was also interested a couple of years ago, but only recently was willing to consider providing the extras that New Brunswick wants.
He said the next step in talks with Areva would be to sign a letter of intent that would lay out the challenges and opportunities for the province and the company, and provide “off-ramps” if either side doesn´t see a business case in their favour.
Norm Rubin of the Toronto-based energy watchdog group Energy Probe said Thursday he doesn´t think the project will ever proceed.
“I think it´s somewhere between a long shot and an impossibility unless New Brunswick´s government becomes generous and agrees either to subsidize this venture or to accept a bunch of the downside risks,” Rubin said.
“Areva is under cost pressure because their taxpayers are tired of bailing them out just like Canadian taxpayers are tired of bailing out Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.”
Areva is currently facing major cost overruns on a plant it is building in Finland.
“As long as minister Keir leaves his chequebook at home, and as long as he´s not seduced by a type of time-share sales effort in Florida … then it´s going to be between Areva and the French taxpayers to see if they want to take a flyer on creating another Point Lepreau and paying for it,” Rubin said.
Still, Keir said he´s confident that New Brunswick will stand out as a good place to invest as the global recession ends.
“From an international perspective, investors are there and have lots of money to invest in the energy sector, and the energy hub is alive and well in New Brunswick,” Keir said.