Tuesday, December 26, 2006

On non-competition

Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn apparently thinks he's doing Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. a favour by declaring that the federal government wants to see AECL win a contract to build new nuclear reactors in Ontario - and preparing to use the federal nuclear regulatory process to make that happen:
Federal Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn says it is "imperative" that Crown-owned Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. be awarded the multibillion-dollar contract to build Ontario's first new nuclear reactors in more than two decades.

"I'm quite prepared to say on the record that we are not technology neutral," Mr. Lunn said in an interview. "We are very favourable to the Candu technology."...

The federal government appears willing to circumvent the regulatory process in the interests of protecting Canada's nuclear industry just as nuclear energy enjoys a renaissance internationally.

"We must build the Candu technology at home," Mr. Lunn said. "It's imperative for the Canadian nuclear industry. If we can't compete at home, I would suggest it wouldn't look very good for our technology elsewhere around the world."
The problem, if course, is that it hardly helps AECL's reputation if any success in "competing" in Canada arises only by fiat from the federal minister responsible. Which leads to the odd result that even AECL itself is contradicting Lunn in emphasizing that nothing has been predetermined in AECL's favour:
AECL spokesman Dale Coffin said the company could have an advantage over other bidders because the regulator is familiar with its technology. "Other than that, we're subject to the same review as everybody else," he said. "We have not publicly stated that we think we have a fast-track advantage here."

Aurèle Gervais, a spokesman at the (Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission), said no decision has been made regarding the licensing of any reactor design.
It also can't hurt AECL's cause in the Ontario contract - or help it worldwide - that the CNSC apparently doesn't have enough resources itself to thoroughly evaluate any other bid. As a result, the "familiarity" factor might well be decisive regardless of the merits...which plainly won't serve as a meaningful vote of confidence in AECL when other countries decide who should be given the responsibility to build their reactors in the future.

Of course, there's plenty of doubt as to whether or not the idea of building new nuclear facilities is a good one in the first place. But even leaving that larger issue aside and operating on the terms of those who would see nuclear power as a viable energy source, there's no apparent benefit to be had by undermining the fairness of the regulatory process involved. And by declaring his desired end result of what's supposed to be a neutral process, Lunn has only helped to ensure that AECL isn't seen as meaningfully competitive at home.

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