But Mr. Harper defended his minister
Thursday, telling reporters that Mr. Lunn and other cabinet
ministers were “acting beyond the normal call of duty” in trying
to get the reactor back in business. Then he fired another round
at Ms. Keen.
When “Parliament actually has to
overturn the decision of the nuclear commission, unanimously … I
think to label that kind of action illicit troubles me greatly,”
“I'm very troubled by the response of
the president of the nuclear commission because this is an
incident that should never have happened and cannot be
contemplated in the future.”
Mr. Harper was also asked about a newly
released report of the Auditor-General of Canada that says
Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. – the Crown corporation that
operates Canada's nuclear reactors – is facing a money crunch
that will make it difficult to tackle key problems, including a
refurbishment of the Chalk River facilities, about 180
kilometres northwest of Ottawa.
“The fact is the minister and government
have been aware for some time of the long-term financial and
managerial challenges that exist at AECL,” Mr. Harper said.
“These are very serious problems that have developed over a very
long period of time. There are no short-term solutions.”
Hugh MacDiarmid, who became president of
AECL this week, filling a post that has been vacant for more
than two months, said in a telephone interview that the company
welcomed the report and considered the findings accurate.
Auditor-General Sheila Fraser's report
said that more than $1-billion would be needed to retrofit the
Chalk River unit, completing two replacement reactors and
developing a new reactor for the Canadian and foreign markets.
Mr. MacDiarmid suggested that her
findings would help to determine how much money the corporation
would be asking from the government.
“We are at a stage where we are just now
getting to the process of submitting budgets for the next fiscal
year and it's certainly our intention that we are going to be
proposing and recommending the level of funding we need to
achieve our mission,” Mr. MacDiarmid said. “Addressing and
resolving these three issues [identified by Ms. Fraser] is
clearly part of that mandate.”
Even with added funding, there will
still be challenges for the Crown corporation. Although the two
new reactors at Chalk River – Maple 1 and Maple 2 – were
supposed to be on stream eight years ago, they remain unfinished
and Mr. MacDiarmid said there is no end date or cost projection
associated with that project.
Much work also needs to be done on the
many buildings at Chalk River, some of which do not meet modern
The report, which was given to ACEL on
Sept. 5, was not released publicly until Wednesday at the
prodding of the opposition Liberals. Mr. MacDiarmid said AECL
was waiting for his arrival and that of Glenna Carr, the new
chair of the board of directors.
It is unclear when Mr. Lunn first saw
the report because he was unavailable for comment on the matter
again Thursday. He did, however, issue a news release saying the
government agreed with Ms. Fraser's findings.
With a report
from The Canadian Press