For decades, CANDU (Canadian Deuterium Uranium), the world's only commercial heavy-water nuclear reactor, has been the pride of Canada's nuclear industry.
But Canada's top nuclear salesman, Prime Minister Jean Chrtien, who recently signed multibillion-dollar sales of CANDU reactor technology to China and Korea, will have to work harder after this week's bad news.
Seven reactors - one-third of Canada's fleet of nuclear power industry - are to be mothballed within the year because they would cost too much to be retrofitted and kept operating safely, Ontario Hydro officials announced this week. On top of that, no new CANDUs have been built in Canada since construction began on the last one in 1982.
This lack of demand at home has turned Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. (AECL), the government-owned corporation that markets and designs CANDU reactors, to overseas markets. Argentina, Romania, South Korea, Turkey, Thailand, and the Philippines are all potential customers.
Selling Canadian reactors overseas has never been easy. Prior to the China sale last November, only nine commercial CANDU reactors had been sold outside Canada in three decades. AECL officials concede that the turn of events at Ontario Hydro will make sales abroad more difficult, but deny problems with the technology.
"It's been made amply clear that the difficulties are management and work culture at Ontario Hydro," says Rhea Cohen, a spokeswoman for AECL. "CANDU units outside Canada have operated at a high degree of efficiency without any problems. It's considered by most people to be a superior technology."
AECL is reportedly in advanced negotiations for the sale of two reactors to Turkey and in talks over financing of a second reactor for Romania. AECL also reportedly has set up an office in Jakarta, Indonesia, and has its eye on the Philippines. Earlier this summer, Canada signed a nuclear-cooperation pact with Vietnam.
"Turkey, Romania, and Indonesia are all looking at CANDUs," says Kristen Ostling, national coordinator for the Ottawa-based Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout. "But here's Ontario Hydro that has the most experience with them. And they're shutting down one-third of their reactors. It's going to give [these countries] something to think about."