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Four suitors for Chalk River Laboratories

By Sean Chase, The Daily Observer



Four major consortiums will bid to become the new operators of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's Chalk River Laboratories.

That was a piece of good news coming out of last week's Canadian Nuclear Association Conference and Trade Show in Ottawa where the future of the facility was front and centre.

This is a critical year for Chalk River with the federal government initiating a significant restructuring of AECL by moving to a "government-owned, contractor-operated" (Go-Co) model, while deciding on the future of the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor.

So far, the Babcock and Wilcox Company, in a partnership with Britain's Cavendish Nuclear, and Battelle Memorial Institute, a U.S.-based non-profit research and development organization, have opened up shop in Deep River as they attempt to bid for the 10-year contract to operate AECL's laboratories and waste management sites.

However, Deep River Mayor David Thompson told his Renfrew County council colleagues Tuesday there are three more consortiums joining Babcock and Wilcox in the competition. The mayor, along with County Warden Peter Emon, was part of a local delegation attending the conference to make the pitch that the county wants to maintain AECL as its second largest employer.

While Emon attended meetings with industry representatives, Thompson spoke to the Canadian Association of Nuclear Host Communities where he presented a report on the county's fact-finding mission of four U.S. states where national nuclear laboratories played a vital economic role undertaken in December. Thompson pointed to the example set by the national laboratories situated in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Savannah River, South Carolina, which both come under the Go-Co model.

"Both of those sites were scheduled for closure, and now, combined, employee 15,000 people," said Thompson. "We know it works and it's exciting."

The mayor was assured by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, the conference's keynote speaker, who announced Ottawa will be providing $117 million over two years to Chalk River laboratories to ensure safe and reliable operations and a secure supply of medical isotopes. He also committed to continuing with the Go-Co model.

AECL has yet to receive the "request for information" (RFI) issued by Public Works and Government Services Canada, the federal agency overseeing the contracting out of Chalk River. But Thompson anticipates it will happen and the town has to be ready for consortium that wins the bid. The contract is to be in place by 2015.

"It is really potentially imminent, which is good," said Thompson. "The status quo up there is just not sustainable. The federal government is scaling back as they are in a lot of different places. Now it's time for the private sector to step up."

Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist

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