Thursday, December 13, 2007

Chalk River Timeline

I've been trying to untangle the sequence of events that led to the current mess at Chalk River and ran across this interesting tidbit from November 30th - less than a week before the 'isotope crisis' story broke:
Nuclear agency review may trigger privatization

The federal government is launching a strategy review of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. to determine whether the maker of the Candu nuclear reactor needs to be restructured, a move industry observers say will likely lead to a partial privatization of the heavily subsidized Crown corporation.

"It is time to consider whether the existing structure of AECL is appropriate in a changing marketplace," Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn said yesterday.

"This review will give us the information we need to make the right decisions for AECL and the right decisions for Canadians."

Lunn's ministry will lead the review with help from the Department of Finance and "with assistance of outside expertise."

The Toronto Star, citing industry sources, reported in July that the federal government has been in talks to sell the commercial business of AECL and has already held informal meetings with U.S.-based General Electric Co. and France's Areva SA – both of which have expressed an interest in AECL.

This was followed in October by an internal reorganization at AECL, which saw five business groups broken into two distinct divisions – one devoted to commercial reactor sales and the other focused on research and development, and nuclear waste management.

I can hear Naomi Klein chattering in my ear again. I can't quite make out what she's saying yet (shut up, will ya?!), but it doesn't sound good.

Just so we've got this straight, the sequence of events runs something like this:

July 2007 - Conservative government starts investigating the possibility of privatizing AECL.

October 2007 - AECL splits itself into two distinct divisions, presumably to facilitate the sale of it's reactor sales division.

October 25 - The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) announces decision to renew the license for the Dedicated Isotope Facilities at Chalk River, due to expire Nov. 30: "Considering that the DIF is not yet fully operational and that AECL must complete a substantial amount of outstanding commissioning activities before the facility can be declared in service, CNSC staff will carry out enhanced monitoring of the facility throughout the licence period."

November 18 - AECL shuts down Chalk River reactor for scheduled maintenance.

November 29 - Tories announce a review to determine if AECL should be restructured and partially privatized, and in the same breath announce Canada's participation in the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.

December 4 - AECL announces that it is voluntarily extending the shutdown so that it can comply with safety upgrades required by its license. The CNSC indicates that it would have insisted on having the reactor shut down if AECL had not already done so.

December 5 - All hell breaks loose in the media.

December 12 - Harper pushes through legislation to get Chalk River running again despite the remaining safety issues.

December 13 - Harper slams both AECL and the CNSC, and forbids CNSC lawyers from advising or working on the Chalk River file.

What does it all mean? For starters, I think we can expect an announcement concerning the sale of part or all of AECL to a (probably foreign) corporation within the next couple of months. The government will use words like 'efficiency' and 'accountability', but really it's just a convenient excuse to do what they've been planning all along: privatize Canada's nuclear industry and simultaneously de-fang our regulatory commission so private enterprise can be free to do for nuclear energy what they've been doing for the oil sands out in Alberta.

As for how this all fits into the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, your guess is as good as mine. I'm quite sure the connection will become apparent soon.

(And for the record, I approve of nuclear energy. In principle.)

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