I saw an interview with George Smitherman, the Ontario Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, on TVO last night.
As the person in charge of the Ontario reactor competition, he said that Westinghouse was still in the competition in spite of some of his senior officials previously saying it was out. I think the confusion arose because Westinghouse wants to sell its technology rather than constructing and delivering a fully operational reactor itself. The construction and commissioning would be done by some other firm. This is the pattern Westinghouse seems to be following in their other sales. In China the builders are local electrical utilities that have purchased the AP1000 technology and in the US the constructing partner is the Shaw Power group, at least for the Florida reactors.
In my opinion this is a very smart way to do business but probably not very attractive to the Ontario government since the only local reactor construction capability resides in Team CANDU, another contestant. Perhaps Bruce Power might attempt constructing an AP1000 with the technology supplied by Westinghouse; they certainly have reactor refurbishment experience but as far as I know they have never built a reactor. OPG no longer has a reactor construction capability and instead concentrates on operations. In my previous post on the AP1000 I expressed my admiration for this reactor design but I also mentioned rumours that Westinghouse was not all that engaged by the Ontario competition preferring instead to concentrate on the US and Chinese markets. This may also be true.
The Minister rejected the idea of constructing one each of two of the competing designs which I agree would be impractical. He also talked about announcing the decision “at the end of the spring”. While there may be a decision at that point, for reasons I’ll mention in my next post I don’t believe there will be any significant expenditures until well after the decision.
To me the most interesting thing he had to say was in response to the interviewer’s probing about AECL. Although he acknowledged the advantages of awarding the contract to a domestic company, AECL, he implied that the ball was really in the federal government’s court. He had been looking for indications of federal support for AECL but wasn’t seeing any, or enough of them, to satisfy him.
Federal support is the key for AECL winning the bid, in particular would the feds ante up for the inevitable cost overruns? Probably not in today’s economic climate. Perhaps, the feds are planning some kind of ‘triple play’ whereby, for example, AECL is sold to the winning bidder, Westinghouse or AREVA. The winner would at one stroke obtain a skilled local labour force and the CANDU repair business. AECL would be revitalized as a division of a big multinational with deep pockets and the feds would finally succeed in riding themselves of AECL after all these years.
By the way, what ever happened to the National Bank report on AECL’s future?