The future of Canada's nuclear industry is now in full play but so far the government is revealing only a few of the cards in its hand. The announcement of a formal bidding process for the CANDU business of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) does little to clarify the future of the crown agency's research and technology division and reliance on a 53-year old reactor well past its prime (see page 3).
A strong consensus is emerging around the need for a multi-purpose reactor that will serve the needs of industry, government and academia. In a very real sense, such an option would return AECL's Chalk River laboratories back to its original mission of underpinning the whole range of nuclear research activities rather than the hugely disappointing CANDU business. With few sales in recent years and slim prospects for future deals, the government appears willing to cut it loose for foreign acquisition.
What Ottawa has in store for the rest of the nuclear research community is becoming an urgent question that needs to be answered sooner than later. Thousands of scientists in all sectors depend on a government-backed research reactor to contribute to Canada's S&T enterprise. They deserve a clear picture of where the government is going with nuclear — a future that hopefully indicates their value to Canadian discovery and technology development.
In the new year, the government should quickly make clear what its nuclear research intentions are and fund a detailed engineering and business case study to determine what's required for future generations.