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Investors covet Canadian nuclear energy market

greenfield opportunities abound
by Staff Writers
Montreal (AFP) Dec 3, 2007
The Canadian province of Ontario is preparing to invest tens of billions of dollars in the modernization of its nuclear industry, a project that promises a windfall for international industry leaders.

Currently, coal-fueled power plants produce about 17 percent of the electricity consumed by the most populous Canadian province of 12 million residents.

As industries and governments struggle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Ontario provincial government has decided to close these plants by 2014 and to bolster the share of nuclear plants that already provides about half of the province's needs for electricity.

As many as 16 heavy-water power reactors, known as CANDU-type reactors (which stands for "Canada Deuterium Uranium") operate in Ontario. They were designed by Atomic Energy Canada Limited (AECL) and came on line between 1970 and 1990.

A government plan unveiled this past summer recommended investing at least 26.5 billion dollars over the next several years into repairs and building some new reactors.

But the profits may escape Areva, the leading French nuclear concern. A decision to launch a bidding process is expected soon.

In contrast to past investments, the provincial government promises to evaluate all the technologies available in Canada and elsewhere, which opens the way for participation in the project by Areva of France as well as by Westinghouse and General Electric of the United States.

"Officially, they will. Unofficially AECL is the real leader in there," said Duane Bratt, an expert on Canada's nuclear power at Royal Mount College in Calgary.

AECL has already sold 12 CANDU-type reactors overseas, specifically to South Korea, Romania, India, Pakistan, Argentina and China.

But this public company subsidized by Ottawa remains a relatively small player on the world market, which makes it even more important for Canadians to win the bids in their own country.

"If you pull out the key province, the key market inside Canada for nuclear power, it's going to be very difficult," Bratt pointed out. "How do you go to the Koreans, the Chinese, the Indians and say: 'You should buy our stuff. We won't buy it but you should buy it.'"

Canadian natural resources minister Gary Lunn announced this week a complete review of AECL's structure. Industry captains have no longer any doubt: Ottawa envisions partial privatization of AECL.

Therefore, big international nuclear energy players can get a piece of the Ontario pie by investing in AECL.

"Areva could be one of these partners if conditions are right", Armand Laferrere, president of Areva Canada, told AFP.

However, according to The Toronto Star, US General Electric already has a leg-up over its French rival.

General Electric is member of "Team CANDU", a consortium formed in March 2006 by AECL, Hitachi, Babcock & Wilcox and SNC-Lavalin with the express purpose of getting a piece of the Ontario pie.

But if Areva is very interested in a partnership with AECL, could the same be said of the Canadian concern?

"We certainly never say never," argues Jerry Hopwood, vice president of AECL in Ontario. But "we would not do anything in contradiction to 'Team CANDU' plans, certainly as far as Ontario is concerned."

And the hypothetical interest of AECL in bilateral cooperation may not, in the end, please Areva.

According to Hopwood, the Canadian concern "would be interested in talking of the benefit of CANDU being used to extend the fuel cycling in France."

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Two years to start Japan's giant nuke plant: expert
Tokyo (AFP) Dec 1, 2007
The world's largest nuclear plant in central Japan, which was shut in July after a major earthquake, will not be able to resume operation for at least two years, a top government expert said Saturday.

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