Safety before Expediency: Ottawa must reconsider sale of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) says Society of Professional Engineers and Associates (SPEA) -  Press release

The Harper government’s decision to sell off AECL may pose risks for CANDU customers with the break up and loss of nuclear expertise. “In light of the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant it is imperative that the government wait to see the results of any investigation before making a decision on the future of AECL,” says Dr. Michael Ivanco, Vice President of SPEA.


Speaking at a news conference in Ottawa Ivanco said, “The decision to sell off AECL, by the Harper government, should place safety before expediency. The sale of AECL will likely lead to the break up of the CANDU design authority and a loss of the expertise needed to ensure plants run safely and effectively decades into the future.”
AECL has designed and built CANDU power plants in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick and in countries like Argentina, South Korea, Romania and China.
According to Ivanco, “Maintaining the critical mass of CANDU reactor design knowledge necessary to keep our plants safe is not a private sector mandate.  It is the mandate of the Federal government who answers to the Canadian people; its shareholder. A mad dash to sell off AECL before an election, in the current context, cannot possibly lead to a decision that is good for Canadians or for CANDU owners abroad.”
Throughout the 21-month restructuring process of AECL, the company has been prevented from signing any large lucrative commercial contracts to keep its engineers working.  The result is that the backlog of commercial work that would normally exist has dried up and layoffs, coupled with the loss of design and safety knowledge, are inevitable unless something is done immediately.

“The federal government must stop the restructuring process,” said Ivanco. “It must take the shackles off of AECL and let it sign commercial agreements; such as the $500 million refurbishment contract with Argentina. Above all, the federal government must ensure that, when it is time to implement the lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, there are people still working at AECL competent to implement those design fixes.  This is in the best interests of Canadians, not a fire-sale coupled with an abdication of our responsibilities.”
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The Society of Professional Engineers and Associates (SPEA) represents engineers, scientists, technologists and tradespeople who work for Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) in Mississauga, Ontario and abroad (excluding Chalk River Laboratories). SPEA members collectively represent the majority of Canada’s nuclear power design expertise.

For more information, please contact

Society of Professional Engineers and Associates
Michelle Duncan
SPEA External Relations
(416) 427-3525 (cellular)

Statement for Monday, March 21, 2011 Press Conference

" My name is Dr Michael Ivanco.  I am a scientist and my colleague Marius Vartolomei is a professional engineer. We are both specialists in the nuclear industry.
 We represent the Society of Professional Engineers and Associates (SPEA).  SPEA’s membership includes the engineers, scientists, technicians and technologists who, collectively represent Canada’s CANDU reactor design and safety expertise.  Our employer is Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL)
Our members are nuclear experts and we have been closely watching the events unfolding in Japan at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.  Our thoughts are with the nuclear workers there and the people of Japan.

The Japanese operator of the plant was the utility, TEPCO, analogous to our own Ontario Power Generation or Bruce Power.  During the crisis, however, TEPCO turned to the original designers of their reactor, General Electric, to help them manage the crisis because they know the BWR reactor design the best. It is GE’s design.  Similarly, our members know Canada’s CANDU design the best. 
The forty-year-old power plant in Fukushima is roughly the same age as some Canadian CANDU units. The fact that the designer still maintains a team of scientists and engineers who are able to respond to this crisis is important for our government to understand. A sale puts at risk the design, engineering and safety team that can be drawn upon in the event of an emergency. We risk losing these key people if AECL is carved up and sold.
Our members believe that we design the safest reactors in the world.  Indeed we believe, based on the limited detail about the sequence of events at the Fukushima plant, that the same problems would not have occurred at a CANDU plant. 
CANDUs have a secondary heat transport system that can be used for passive cooling without pumps in the event of a power outage.  In addition, CANDUs have a huge inventory of water inside reactor containment, compared to other reactor designs, and less fuel – hence less “decay heat.”  It is the “decay heat” of the fuel and inability to get enough water inside the reactor core that is causing the problems in the Fukushima plant. 
Still, we know that there are likely to be lessons learned from the events in Japan not just for boiling water reactors but possibly for other designs as well.  The lessons may be changes in operating procedures.  The lessons may lead to design changes to future plants or retrofitting new designs to existing plants.  Our members are the CANDU designers and we will play a crucial role in implementing any lessons learned – that is if we are still around to analyze, assess, and implement any lessons learned.
Our information is that while the events in Japan continue to unfold, AECL is on the brink of 100% privatization.  This is a very bad idea in the present context and this is why.
The sale of AECL will almost certainly lead to the break up of the CANDU design authority and a loss of expertise needed to ensure plants run safely and effectively decades into the future.  This is an obligation that Canada has to both Canadian citizens and those in other countries to whom we have sold reactors. 
These obligations cannot be privatized. 
Maintaining the critical mass of CANDU reactor design knowledge necessary to keep our plants safe is not a private sector mandate.  It is the mandate of the government of Canada who answers to the Canadian people; its shareholder. 

A mad dash to sell AECL before an election, in the current context of the Japanese situation, cannot possibly lead to a decision that is good for Canadians or for CANDU owners abroad.
However, there is an impending crisis in our own Canadian nuclear industry that is entirely government orchestrated. 
Throughout the 21 month long restructuring process, our employer has been prevented from signing any large commercial contracts to keep its engineers working. 
We have been starved in other words. 
As a result, the backlog of commercial work that would normally exist has dried up and layoffs, coupled with the loss of design and safety knowledge, are inevitable unless something is done immediately.  Prior to this federally engineered corporate starvation, the reactor division of AECL attracted a great deal of commercial revenue.
We call on the federal government to stop the restructuring process.
 It must take the shackles off AECL and let it sign commercial agreements; such as the $500 million refurbishment contract with Argentina. Our skills need to continue to be put to work!  
Above all, the federal government must ensure that, when it is time to implement the lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, there are people still working at AECL competent to implement any design improvements.  This is in the best interests of Canadians, not a fire-sale coupled with an abdication of our responsibilities"