Harper government exploits Isotope crisis for Atomic Energy Privatization agenda
by Joe Hueglin
In July 2006 the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) approved the AECL application to renew the Chalk River Laboratories Site Operating Licence. Failure to meet the conditions set for license renewal led to the order to keep the isotope producing reactor shut down until they were met. Research shows that the focus of the Harper Government was on reorganizing the Crown Corporation for privatization and that the crisis in isotope production was seized upon as an opportunity to further this goal.
Health Minister Tony Clement did not have his facts straight when he said concerning the resignation of Michael Burns as AECL Chairman: "I actually think this was just an interesting coincidence." (1) The Chairman's resignation was unrelated to the crisis in the production of medical isotopes at the Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) reactor. It provided, however, opportunity for the near completion of a more than year long reorganization of the Crown Corporation readying it for possible privatization.
The first step in the privatization process was the appointment of Burns in October 2006, which was done over the recommendations of the Nominating Committee of AECL's Board of Directors, who had recommended Jean-Pierre Soublire. (2) Soublire had been Acting Chair of the Board of Directors for (AECL) since October 20, 2005. (3) Burns, a former fundraiser for the Canadian Alliance (4), was probably considered as more amenable to change than someone who had been on the Board of Directors of AECL since 1998.(5)
Rather than concentrating on bringing the reactor up to the standards agreed upon when the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) approved the AECL application to renew the Chalk River Laboratories Site Operating Licence in July 2006 (6) government focus was on restructuring AECL into "two divisions a commercial reactor business and Atomic Energy's research and development operations." Accomplished in October, 2007 it was seen by industry observers as a possible: "signal that the federal government is quietly preparing to privatize a portion of the crown corporation". (7)
On November 2, 2007 Robert Van Adel, AECL President and Chief Executive Officer, a staunch public spokesman about the success of his Corporation (8), retired half way through his term of office. Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn announced this decision in July. (9)
On November 29th, before the isotope crisis, Chairman Burns resigned. (10) Though the last step deemed necessary for reorganization is not yet in place. This is "Bill C-63, the Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act, which received first reading on June 15, 2007, would limit the liability of a nuclear plant to a maximum of $650 million dollars "(11), Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn by "coincidence" on November 29th launched "a strategy review of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. to determine whether the maker of the Candu nuclear reactor needs to be restructured, a move industry observers say will likely lead to a partial privatization of the heavily subsidized Crown corporation."(12)
The isotope crisis gave the choreographers of new directions for AECL the opportunity to appear to act decisively. On December 14th Chairman Burns resignation was announced as well as the appointment of his replacement as Chairman and that of a new CEO. (13)
The events of December 15th were not as Clement said "an interesting coincidence" but rather what Maurice Burns has called "a clumsy piece of political opportunism".(14) Burns' resignation was being used as the opportunity to slip in a new management team.
The isotope crisis was used to push the new Conservative government's privatization plans. Just coincidentally on December 15th a column headlined "AECL served a purpose, now it's time to sell it." (15) was published urging the government to do what it has been preparing for.
(1) CTV's Question Period: Health Minister Tony Clement, LINK.
(2) Ottawa ignored nuclear hiring advice, December 18, 2007 at 2:16 AM EST Former AECL chief was passed over for Alliance fundraiser, LINK.
(3) Ottawa, 2006 October 31 - The Honourable Gary Lunn, Minister of Natural Resources, today announced the appointment of Mr. Michael C. Burns as Chair of the Board of Directors of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL). LINK
(4) Fallout from reactor shutdown claims AECL officials, Published: Friday, December 14, 2007, LINK. Burns, who was appointed in October 2006, was once chief fundraiser for the Canadian Alliance and chairman of the Canadian Alliance Fund. The Alliance merged with the Progressive Conservatives in 2003 to form the Conservative Party.
(5) Jean-Pierre Soublière Appointed Acting Chairman To AECL's Board of Directors, LINK. The Honourable John McCallum, Acting Minister of Natural Resources Canada, appointed Jean-Pierre Soublière Acting Chair of the Board of Directors for Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) on October 20, 2005. Mr. Soublière has been a member of the AECL Board of Directors since October 1998.
(6) Chalk River, 2006 July 31 - Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) is pleased to report that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has approved its application to renew the Chalk River Laboratories Site Operating Licence for a period of 63 months. LINK.
(7) Is shuffle at AECL prelude to a sell-off? Memo triggers talk of plan for privatization, Oct 31, 2007 04:30 AM, LINK.
(8) Letter to the Editor, Toronto Star, October 23, 2006, LINK
Letter to the Editor, January 14, 2005, National Post Financial Post Section re: Tom Adams on Nuclear: Wrong Again, LINK.
(9) Lunn denies AECL sale, July 11, 2007, LINK Robert Van Adel will step down as of November 2, less than two years after being reappointed to the position.
(10) Nuclear chief blasts 'clumsy' management of isotope crisis AECL chair tendered his resignation in November, long before controversy was made public, LINK.
(11) Sierra Club of Canada News Release, Tuesday, July 17, 2007, Sneaky legislation puts taxpayers on hook for nuclear clean-up costs, LINK
(12) Nuclear agency review may trigger privatization, Nov 30, 2007 04:30 AM, LINK
(13) Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces new Chair and CEO of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, 14 December 2007, Ottawa, Ontario, LINK
(14) Nuclear chief blasts 'clumsy' management of isotope crisis AECL chair tendered his resignation in November, long before controversy was made public LINK
(15) AECL served a purpose, now it's time to sell it, Derek DeCloet, December 15, 2007, LINK.
Unrelated to the main line developed is a political appointment to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
Nuclear Energy Fallout: AECL head quits over isotope fiasco; while PM appoints N.B. Tory to safety commission, Published Saturday December 15th, 2007, LINK .
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