On February 25, 2014 SNC-Lavalin Inc. (TSX: SNC) announced the appointment of Preston Swafford to the role of Chief Nuclear Officer, President and CEO, Candu Energy. Based in Toronto and reporting to the Company’s Power Group President, Alexander (Sandy) Taylor, Mr. Swafford will be responsible for growing SNC-Lavalin’s nuclear business to meet the needs of its customers for technical services, major refurbishments and new builds across Canada and in key international markets. Mr. Swafford has impressive experience including senior positions at Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Exelon, both companies are major American nuclear operators. On hearing the news industry observers wondered what course would be set by Swafford, and how applicable would his experience be with the iconic, definitively Canadian Candu heavy water reactors. Reports from a major trade show in China earlier this month, China International Nuclear Industry Exhibition, are providing an indication that Swafford is already starting to make his mark.
Candu Energy Inc. has had a rough period in recent years. Demand for new nuclear softened post Fukushima and in the wake of the financial crisis. Nations with stronger economies, such as China and India, have a burgeoning middle class that is hungry for cheap, reliable energy, and also, a need to rein in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for air quality, health and climate change reasons. International manufacturers have made inroads in these emerging markets with innovative new technologies, such as the four Westinghouse light water AP1000 reactors that China started building in 2008. With diminished demand, government support and privatization domestically, Candu needs to reinvent and reposition itself for the new 21st century nuclear market.
Swafford has quickly displayed that he understands the unique attributes of the Candu reactors. Some of the reactor features that made Candu a global leader when first developed decades ago are still highly relevant today. Candu reactors have demonstrated that they can use spent fuel to produce energy. Further, they can be most readily modified to use thorium as a fuel and they have superior safety features. Engineers estimate that for every four new reactors that China builds of various designs, they could and should build one Candu reactor to use the spent fuel. If China follows through on plans to build 100 new reactors in coming decades, this could potentially mean 25 new reactor sales for Candu.
Sales cycles in the nuclear industry are long. It is still early in the game for Swafford and the new Candu. One thing is certain, new innovations, partnerships and financial players are emerging. As with other technology industries, your competitor today may be your partner tomorrow. Who would have thought years ago that western companies would be selling nuclear technologies to China? Who would have thought that China, France and Russia would be involved in building and financing a new reactor in Britain? These are the times we are now in. Candu is setting a course to be a player in this new world.
Chair, Future of Nuclear Advisory Board
President, Mindfirst Inc.