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Feds move to privatize management of AECL

By Ryan Paulsen, The Daily Observer

AECL president Dr. Robert Walker

AECL president Dr. Robert Walker

Government management of AECL’s Chalk River Laboratories is not long for this world, according to recent statements and a press release from the Canadian Ministry of Natural Resources and Natural Ministry Resource Minister Joe Oliver.

Speaking at the 2013 Canadian Nuclear Association Conference and Trade Show on Thursday, Feb. 28, Oliver said that the government was going to engage in a “competitive procurement process” beginning in the coming months, in order to proceed with the restructuring from a government-run model to one where the ownership remains public, but the management becomes contracted to the private sector.

“To ensure the best possible management,” he said, “we are restructuring the management of our Nuclear Laboratories by bringing in private sector rigour and efficiency.

“We will ensure that funding is directed to national priorities, ensure cost recovery for services provided to users, and reduce the financial cost and risk for Canadian taxpayers over time.”

The ministry also took pains to reassure workers at AECL that the procurement process would not interrupt operation at the facility, and that employees and other interested parties would be “kept informed of progress.”

According to Oliver, the new organizational structure that the government is hoping to implement will be a win-win for all parties.

“Atomic Energy of Canada Limited’s Nuclear Laboratories possess a capacity for nuclear research and development that is among the best in the world,” he says in a ministry press release. “Its restructuring will provide Canadians with a cost-effective, world-class research and technology organization focused on results serving the nuclear industry and Canadians.”

AECL president Bob Walker agrees that the announcement is generally good news.

Firstly, he said, staff and management at AECL are actually relieved to have heard anything tangible at all about the future of the company.

Next there’s the encouragement that comes from looking at past examples of where the “GoCo” model has been successful, like in the United States or the United Kingdom.

Walker admits that a rosy future is still not a guarantee, but feels that the foundation of AECL and its legacy of contribution to the nation’s science and technology scene will be there no matter which sector is in charge of management.

“There’s always a risk in that the business may not continue to be sustainable,” he says, “but frankly, it’s ours to lose.”

Ryan Paulsen is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist

Twitter: @PRyanPaulsen

ryan.paulsen@sunmedia.ca


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