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Harper to privatize AECL nucelar reactor division

CTV reports that the Harper government has announced, “It will sell a stake in the AECL’s nuclear reactor business to the private sector, in a bid to boost worldwide sales of its Candu reactors. The government will also bring in a private sector partner to manage the aging and problem-plagued Chalk River, Ont. nuclear facility… AECL will be split into two companies; separating the CANDU reactor business and the National Research unit at Chalk River.”

The Globe and Mail had reported this morning that, “The sale of a minority or majority stake in AECL could bring in billions of dollars. This as the federal government looks to raise money from asset sales to reduce its soaring deficit. The effort is hampered by depressed real estate prices.”

A recent op-ed in the Toronto Star stated that, “There are two competing groups eyeing AECL. The first is the French-owned Areva, which is the world’s largest nuclear company and already has a Canadian presence. The second is a consortium of Canadian firms closely linked to the CANDU: General Electric, SNC-Lavalin and Bruce Power.”

Additionally, the CBC has reported that, “The government has hired N.M. Rothschild & Sons to develop a restructuring plan and provide financial advice. David Leith, a former deputy chairman and head of investment, corporate and merchant banking at CIBC World Markets, has also been tapped as an adviser to Raitt.”

It has also been reported that, “N.M. Rothschild found plenty of work in the great wave of British privatization that swept the country during the late 1980s. The company was involved in a number of the country’s most ambitious privatization programs, including the £5.6 billion privatization of British Gas in 1986, the exit of the British government from British Petroleum in 1987, and the privatization of the United Kingdom’s water and sewage industry in 1989.”

In February 2008, auditor general Sheila Fraser told the parliamentary committee on natural resources that, “there has been a lack of clear strategy (in this area) by several governments.” Both the current Conservative government and the Liberals before them failed to even approve AECL’s corporate plan for several years.

This is a complicated situation. The Council of Canadians rejects nuclear power as “cleaner, greener” energy. While we recognize that the AECL has been problematic for many years, we also oppose the privatization of Crown corporations and the notion that privatization brings efficiency and better serves the public interest. We are also attentive to the trade implications of the foreign ownership of the AECL either through the French-owned Areva or in part by the American giant General Electric. We will have more analysis on this in the days to come.

Our statement on nuclear power can be read at http://canadians.org/energy/documents/NuclearStatement-Oct08.pdf.

The CTV report is at http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20090528/AECL_shakeup_090528/20090528?hub=Canada.

The Globe and Mail article is at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/ottawa-to-sell-aecls-nuclear-branch/article1156625/.

The Toronto Star op-ed is at http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/612823.

The CBC report is at http://www.cbc.ca/money/story/2009/05/28/aecl-future-sale.html