From last week to around 11:30 today (June 23, 2011), the website of Atomic Energy Canada Limited (AECL) was “not available.”
Yesterday, AECL hosted a Canadian Nuclear Society seminar on the Enhanced CANDU 6 (EC6), an improved version of the CANDU 6 which was so successfully rolled out in South Korea, China, Rumania, and Argentina, as well as in two Canadian provinces.
In announcing the seminar, the CNS said “The first deployment of the EC6 is anticipated in Canada.”
That can only mean Ontario, since that is the only province that has indicated firm interest in AECL’s offerings. (New Brunswick said last summer that it would go with an Areva light water design when it came to adding new reactors.)
The interesting thing is that Ontario, in the reactor competition it held in 2009 for new reactors at the Darlington station, indicated that, all things being equal, it would buy AECL’s next-generation machine, the ACR 1000. Though the ACR “won” against Areva’s EPR and Westinghouse’s AP-1000, the competition went nowhere. Ontario said AECL’s price was too high.
If that was intended to spur the federal government, which owns AECL, to cut some sort of a deal with Ontario, it didn’t work. The feds decided at that point to rid themselves of AECL’s CANDU division and let the new owner sort out the negotiation with Ontario.
Oddly though, the feds said they would continue to support AECL’s research and development. This must have included the main R&D effort, which was turning the ACR into a licensable design, i.e. one that is acceptable to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). The federal budgets of 2010 and 2011 therefore included hundreds of millions of dollars for AECL.
Well, somewhere in all the back-and-forth between AECL and the CNSC, people began to lose confidence in the ACR. The CNSC approved the design in principle, via its three-phase vendor pre-project design review. But the wording that accompanied Phase Three did not reassure anybody who has worked with the regulator and is familiar with the polite code-speak that characterizes its communications with license applicants. It was essentially “back to the drawing board.”
So here we are, June 23 2011. AECL’s website has been down for a week. An AECL senior technical manager just yesterday gave a seminar extolling the virtues of a reactor that is not the ACR.
Negotiations are rumoured to be underway between SNC Lavalin and the federal government over the final sale of AECL’s CANDU division.