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NEWS: Harper seeks private company to run Chalk River

CTV reports, “The (Harper) government announced Thursday that in the coming months, it will begin a ‘competitive procurement process’ to find a private company to take over managing (Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd’s) nuclear laboratories at Chalk River. The facility will remain government-owned but become part of a GoCo model, or government-owned, contractor-operated model. …(Natural Resources minister Joe) Oliver said it would likely take two years to put a private operator in place.”

“Chalk River is home to an aging problem-plagued reactor, which remains Canada’s main source of the isotopes used widely in medical imaging. In the spring of 2009, the NRU reactor at Chalk River was forced to shut down for more than a year because of leakage problems, leading to a worldwide shortage of medical isotopes. Ottawa sold AECL’s Candu nuclear reactor business to SNC-Lavalin Group in October, 2011 for $15 million. The Montreal firm was the sole bidder for the business.” It might also be remembered that in January 2008, Harper fired Linda Keen as president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for imposing the closure of the Chalk River nuclear reactor in November 2007 over safety concerns.

Potential buyers of Chalk River are not known at this time. While SNC-Lavalin may have been the sole bidder for AECL, the Toronto Star reported in 2009, “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.” It is not known if they would be interested in Chalk River.

The Ottawa Citizen has reported, “As many as 76 transport truckloads of high-level nuclear waste could journey along the Trans-Canada Highway over the coming four years in an effort to ship decades’ worth of radioactive rubbish from Chalk River to a U.S. reprocessing site (in Aiken, South Carolina).”

The 2,000 kilometre route between Chalk River, Ontario to Aiken, South Carolina route would most likely take the 76 trucks close to the Ottawa River, the Saint Lawrence River, the eastern tip of Lake Ontario, and other waterways and watersheds. The Council of Canadians is calling on the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the International Joint Commission – which has a jurisdictional responsibility over the Great Lakes-Saint Lawrence River waters and other waters along the border – to fully assess and hold public hearings on these planned shipments.