December 17, 2009 / 4:18 PM / 11 years ago

Canada seeks bidders for nuclear power operations

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada put its Candu nuclear division up for sale on Thursday, saying the operation needed outside investors to boost its chances for growth at a time of expanding nuclear power generation and also help cut the cost to taxpayers.

The Conservative government said in May it would either try to sell the Candu division, which is operated by government-owned Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL), or forge an alliance with big international companies.

“Nuclear energy is an emission-free source of power that is experiencing a renaissance around the world,” Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt said in a statement.

“AECL’s Candu Reactor Division needs strategic investors to take full advantage of this opportunity, strengthen its global presence and reduce the financial risks carried by taxpayers.”

The Candu, heavy-water technology represents almost 10 percent of reactor capacity around the globe, including all of Canada’s installed nuclear capacity, which produces about 15 percent of the nation’s electricity.

In June, the province of Ontario suspended a multibillion-dollar plan to build two new Candu reactors because of concerns about cost overruns and the future of AECL, the favored bidder.

A month earlier, a federal government review concluded that AECL should be restructured. The review listed France’s Areva, Toshiba Corp’s Westinghouse and the U.S.-Japanese joint venture GE-Hitachi as firms that might take a stake.

The document also named Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Russian state-owned Rosatom as significant industry players.

The statement issued on Thursday said proposals to buy AECL’s reactor division would be assessed based on how well they met Ottawa’s nuclear policy objectives to:

* ensure safe, reliable and economical options to address the country’s energy and environmental needs

* control costs to the government while maximizing the return on its investment in nuclear energy

* enable Canada’s nuclear industry to take advantage of domestic and global opportunities.

It gave no figure on how much the division might be sold for. Ottawa is currently predicting a record high budget deficit this year of C$55.9 billion ($52.2 billion).

The sale will not affect AECL’s troubled reactor at its Chalk River plant, one of the world’s leading suppliers of medical isotopes. That 52-year-old reactor is currently shut for repairs.

Canada’s MDS Inc has an exclusive agreement to distribute Chalk River’s medical isotopes.

($1=$1.07 Canadian)

Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson

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