Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd says it will ask Canada’s nuclear regulators to extend the licence for the Chalk River Laboratories to allow time for the company’s transfer to private management.
In a joint submission with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, AECL says the expiry date on the current licence – October 31, 2016 – as well as a deadline of June 30, 2014 for a decision on the future of the NRU reactor, both “do not align well” with the company’s restructuring process and “are expected to require amendments.”
The federal government announced almost exactly a year ago that it would move AECL to a “government-owned, contractor-operated” (GO-CO) model.
Following an industry day last June, and a “request for information” (RFI) in July that included site visits to both Chalk River and the Whiteshell Laboratories in Manitoba, the government announced in October that more information on the process of contracting out the labs would be coming “shortly.”
In their report, AECL says it would normally begin its application to renew the Chalk River site licence about 15 months ahead of the expiry date.
But “based on the current timelines for the restructuring procurement process,” that would come at roughly the same time as the government expects to transfer management of the labs to a private contractor.
“To provide the contractor-owned SOC (site operating company) and its new top management team with an opportunity to operate the nuclear laboratories for approximately one year, and to incorporate this experience as well as their plans for transformation into a licence renewal application, AECL is considering making a request to amend the current 2016… expiry date,” the report says.
“AECL’s request to amend the expiry date of the CRL site licence is currently planned for early 2015.
“(However) this date is particularly subject to change as it is tied to the progress of the (contractor) procurement process.”
Under its current licence, AECL is also required to tell the CNSC by the end of June whether it intends to apply to extend the life of the NRU reactor.
But in their report, AECL and NRCan say that deadline and the date for “the planned government decision on the nuclear innovation agenda” – December 2014 – “do not currently align.”
“Because the decision on the innovation agenda could influence the future of NRU, AECL is considering making a request to amend the (deadline set by the current licence)… such that it will fall after the government’s decision; ie, in early 2015.”
The report notes that in discussions with CNSC staff, “there is consensus” that putting off the deadline for a formal decision on NRU “does not pose any incremental (health or safety) risk or raise other concerns, as even with the proposed deferral timeline, approximately 18 months would remain in the term of the licence.”
“Further, AECL’s response… would be better informed following the government’s decision on the innovation agenda and a more definitive path forward for NRU could be provided to the CNSC.”
The joint report by AECL and NRCan notes that AECL currently holds 18 licences issued by the safety commission, “as well as numerous certificates and licence exemptions.”
“AECL’s licensed activities are carried out across its sites within enabling facilities that include, but are not limited to, nuclear reactors, nuclear fuel fabrication facilities, radioactive material handling facilities, radioactive waste storage facilities as well as specialized radioisotope laboratories.
“AECL also manages facilities in varying states of decommissioning, as well as nuclear facilities in extended shutdown state, support facilities, nuclear facilities in storage with surveillance state, nuclear facilities undergoing decommissioning activities and other facilities that handle nuclear materials.
“The breadth and complexity of the nuclear laboratories are material considerations in the ongoing restructuring.
“All parties involved recognize that nuclear safety must not be compromised either through the process or by its outcome.”
The report also notes that the transfer to private management will be a two-step process.
AECL will first create its own “site operating company” (SOC) to take over the day to day operations of the labs.
At the same time, the government will continue its search for a private contractor to take over the SOC.
According to the report, AECL expects the SOC to be up and running before the end of this year.
Selection of the contractor to take over the SOC would happen early in 2015, with the final transfer to take place later that year.
“Based on international experience with procurements of similar nature, it can reasonably be expected that the best overall bidder will be an organization or a consortium of organizations with significant collective experience in managing nuclear sites, (decommissioning & waste management) programs and (science & technology) infrastructure.”
Overall, AECL and NRCan say “both aspects of restructuring are in their early stages.”
“While details are continuing to evolve and many decisions remain to be taken, a plan for concluding the procurement and evolving the AECL organization is taking shape…
“Constant through the entire process is AECL’s commitment to nuclear safety and to ensuring that the CNSC, its stakeholders and members of the public are kept informed.”