Political and industry sources suggest the Chalk River crisis was very timely for the government, breaking just as it mulled transferring AECL, and its voracious appetite for federal cash, to the private sector. The isotope issue allowed the government to impugn a regulator that has acted as an obstacle to that privatization.
Also limiting AECL is the fact that as a Crown corporation it has limited ability to borrow money or seek alternative financing for its projects. "It can't run itself like a regular business," said the insider. "They used to run on a year-by-year basis, so that by the time they got approval for their plan, it was time to start writing another one. Who can run a business like that? No one."
It is an open secret in Ottawa that the Conservatives' preferred solution to AECL's dilemma is privatization. Doing so would allow the company more latitude in financing while unburdening the government of a troublesome file. Other former Crown corporations have been successfully privatized, including MDS Nordion, the company that distributes the isotopes produced at Chalk River.
Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister, this week hinted at major changes to come, noting that AECL suffered from financial and managerial challenges.
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