Prentice goes to Industry: major nuclear initiative in the offing?

Does anyone remember May 2005, when Paul Martin promised $538 million to Dalton McGuinty to help defray the costs of closing Ontario’s coal plants? And that the Harper Conservatives told McGuinty they would honour Martin’s promise? Nobody ever mentions it. I wonder if anybody does remember.

When the Ontario Liberal government introduced, in June, the regulation that requires the closures of the Nanticoke, Lambton, Thunder Bay, and Atikokan coal-fired power generating plants by 2014, they didn’t mention the $538 million. This is a bit surprising, in light of the fact that (1) they are politically correct provincial Liberals in a perpetual fiscal squabble with politically incorrect federal Conservatives, and (2) they have taken it on the chin from the environmental lobby for failing to phase out coal by 2007, as they promised before, during, and after the 2003 election they would do.

Few, if anyone, noticed this little anomaly. But the Ontario Liberals’ silence on the promised half-billion speaks volumes. It means the federal money may still be on the table.

But for what?

Everybody knows the feds want to sell Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), the makers of Canada’s flagship heavy water power reactors. But they want to jack up AECL’s value first, by setting it up with a major sale.

Everybody also knows that the provincially owned Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is waiting for the government’s go-ahead to replace Pickering units 2 and 3, which will be decommissioned, with new reactors.

Will OPG (read: the Ontario government) choose AECL’s latest CANDU design or a competitor’s light water model to replace Pickering 2 and 3?

And what will the federal Conservatives do to steer Ontario in the CANDU direction, other than admonish them through the media?

You might wonder why I mentioned Jim Prentice, Harper’s sure-footed new Industry minister, in the headline. Prentice is from oil- and gas-rich Alberta, Canada’s biggest engine of wealth and greenhouse gases. His new duputy, Richard Dicerni, is a former OPG man. One of his last decisions at OPG was to decommission Pickering 2 and 3.

Could the Conservatives be planning an industrial-strategy approach to solving their environmental and fiscal balance problems? It’s been a while since Canada had a coherent industrial strategy. If this is in the works, good move.

I sense a shift in the nuclear order of things.

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