Selling off the Crown Jewels: Socialization of Costs and Privatization of Profits in the Canadian Isotopes Industry

This article explores the privatization process of a nuclear Crown corporation, the Radiochemical Company (rcc), under Brian Mulroney’s two Progressive Conservative governments. The rcc specialized in processing and commercializing radioactive isotopes for the medical market, an industry in which it was a global major player. Between 1984 and 1991, several stakeholders, including the rcc’s parent company Crown Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Resources, the Ministry of Finance, and the Canada Development and Investment Corporation, tried to define and shape the terms of the privatization. As a result, the process did not follow a straightforward path since it triggered conflicting political and strategic interests. Through the rcc’s case, this article provides a comprehensive account of the institutional mechanisms that were at play during the application of the Conservatives’ divestiture policy. Contrary to what the government’s rhetoric suggested, privatizing the rcc did not put an end to public spending in the medical isotopes business. The opposite actually happened as the rcc’s sale resulted in socializing the costs and privatizing the profits of this lucrative branch of the Canadian nuclear industry.

This content has been updated on 29 January 2020 at 10 h 11 min.