Canadian government plans to sell, break up AECL

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The federal government of Canada is planning to sell Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's (AECL) nuclear reactor business to the private sector, in a bid to boost global sales of its CANDU reactors.

CTV News reported that the restructuring will require the agency to be split into two companies: separating the CANDU operations and the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor at Chalk River, Ontario.

The government will also bring in a private sector partner to manage the aging and problem-plagued Chalk River facility, which was shut down May 15 for the third time in less than two years.

Minister of Natural Resources Lisa Raitt told CTV News that splitting up AECL is necessary because Crown Corporation is currently trying to serve two separate mandates and falling short on both counts. She added that the demand for nuclear energy will rise globally in the coming years and the country hopes to benefit from it.

Since building and servicing reactors is so expensive, Raitt said that Canada must bring partners on board. "The Canada taxpayer just can't carry that load by themselves, in order to compete internationally," she said.

The restructuring comes after a nearly two-year review and could also bring billions of dollars into government coffers, CTV News reported.

Christopher O'Brien, MD, from the Ontario Association of Nuclear Medicine told CTV News that a shakeup at AECL should have occurred more than a year ago when the facility showed repeated signs of trouble.

O'Brien said it is "frustrating" that a government plan to rectify Chalk River's problems has taken nearly two years to surface, but he added the new plan is a step in the right direction. "Anything we can do to maintain that infrastructure and the narrow lines of (isotope) supply ... is a good thing," he told CTV News on Thursday.

O'Brien added that government bureaucrats are not "experts in the management of nuclear reactors" and that Canada's plan to privatize the business end of manufacturing medical isotopes has "precedent" in other countries.