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Romania: President Asks Canada For Help Building Nuclear Reactor

  • Carol Macivor

Ottawa, 28 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Romanian President Emil Constantinescu is in Toronto today for the second leg of his week-long visit to Canada.

Constantinescu is to have talks with Ontario provincial officials on how to expand trade ties. Bilateral trade last year totaled $147 million, with Romanian enjoying a $4 million surplus. The president and his delegation are also scheduled to meet with senior officials of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited.

Canada and Romania signed (May 26) three new co-operation agreements. The agreements cover mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, research and development of nuclear energy and technology and closer co-operation between Eximbank of Romania and the Export Development Corporation of Canada to promote trade contacts.

Constantinescu and 12 other Romanian cabinet ministers arrived in Canada on Sunday. After meeting with Prime Minister Jean Chretien on Monday, he said Romania needs more financial assistance from Canada to complete a second nuclear reactor at the Cernavoda complex on the Danube River, about 180 kilometers east of Bucharest. Constantinescu said, "We have had a very direct and open discussion on this. The only problem for Romania is that of the financial arrangements. I have asked for a financial system more favorable to Romania."

In 1978, Canada and Romania signed a deal to build the first of what was to be a multi-reactor complex at Cernavoda using the Canadian-designed CANDU (short for Canadian Deuterium) reactors. At the time, Canada extended a $1 billion loan for the construction.

Work on the reactor was plagued with problems from the beginning. Costs soared, there were allegations that former Communist dictator Nicolai Ceausescu was using slave labor and, eventually, the International Atomic Energy Agency moved in and halted construction when it found poorly poured concrete and faulty wiring.

In the early 1990's, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. took over management of the project to complete the first reactor. In April of 1996, Canadian Prime Minister Chretien visited Romania to commission the first reactor. It is the only nuclear facility in Eastern Europe using a western-designed reactor.

Work on a second reactor stopped in 1995, due to a lack of funds. It is about one-third finished and that is what Constantinescu wants help with from Canada. It is estimated that it will cost another $1 billion to finish reactor number two.

Romanian Industry Minister Radu Berceanu, told reporters that his country wants a 30-year loan with a 10-year grace period as well as more Romanian participation in decision-making and management on the project. However, the head of the Canadian Export Development Corporation, Ian Gillespie says that while financial talks "have been going on for some time and are continuing, an agreement would be premature at this particular juncture."

Later today, the Romanian delegation will fly to Montreal - where Constantinescu receives an honorary degree - and on to Quebec City for meetings with provincial leaders. He travels tomorrow to the small town of Willingdon, Alberta - the original site of the town of Boian where the first significant group of Romanian immigrants to Canada settled 100 years ago.