I recently visited the Flamanville nuclear generating station on the channel coast in Normandy, where the French electric utility, EDF, is building a new 1,650-megawatt EPR reactor. Two thousand seven hundred contractors, split into three shifts of 900 each, work around the clock six days a week to get the thing done. The locals in Normandy love it: those 2,700 contractors, all well paid, spend lots of money in the region. Watching this economic engine at work at Flamanville, I couldn’t help wondering how the people in Oshawa, Ontario feel about the non-action on the nuclear front in their own community.
The “process” to add 3,500 megawatts of new nuclear capacity at the Darlington station on Lake Ontario has seized up like a rusted bolt. The provincial government asked for bids from reactor vendors last year, but feels that the price tag on the only compliant one, the one from federally owned Atomic Energy Canada Limited (AECL), is too high. The federal government won’t backstop cost overruns. So the planned construction site sits idle, and a couple thousand high-paid direct construction jobs remain unfilled. Unlike Flamanville.
And, unlike the French nuclear industry, the Canadian nuclear industry sits there wondering about its future. If AECL could close the sale of its new reactor, the ACR 1000, this would start a major construction project in the Oshawa area, pumping jobs and money into an area that needs both. It would also give the company—and Canada’s industry—a major shot in the arm as they pursued lucrative opportunities around the world.
This really is a tale of two countries. A few years ago, the Finnish utility TVO decided it needed a big new reactor, and launched a competitive bidding process to buy one. The French government decided that its nuclear company, Areva, had to win that competition. The prize was worth practically any cost, because the prize was having Areva’s new EPR, its new generation reactor, in service before any of Areva’s competitors.
That in-service mark is huge: it tells other prospective customers that the machine is the real McCoy. Since there are really not that many other prospective buyers, and since the sale of just one reactor means billions in revenue to the vendor, the vote of confidence is absolutely critical. Hence France’s determination to get the Finnish sale.
Areva won the sale, at what some critics said at the time were unfavourable terms. Critics pointed out that any delays or cost overruns would be hyper-scrutinized. They were right. Every delay has indeed been accompanied by copious media commentary. Every anti-nuclear activist has said it’s déjà-vu all over again. Every oil industry suck-up said this proves once again that nuclear is too expensive. But Areva stuck to its guns.
And it paid off. Soon after the Finnish sale, Areva scored another one in its own backyard (the Flamanville project). Then China announced it would buy two EPRs. I saw the 500-ton Flamanville reactor vessel, and several other components of the Chinese reactors, at Areva’s heavy components plant in Dijon, which I visited the other day. Business is booming in that plant. Lots of high-paid workers were going about their business; at the end of their shift, they would drive back home and spend money in their local community.
What produced this activity and success? The steady determination of the French government to support its nuclear industry. The French are not shy or discreet about supporting Areva. They are up front about it. That confidence rubs off.
The situation in Canada is nowhere near that. But the good news is we’re not that far away from it. All it takes is for the federal and provincial governments to sit down and work something out.
I have suggested in other posts exactly how this could happen. I’ll elaborate in upcoming posts. Stay tuned.