03/15/2013 06:06 EDT | Updated 05/15/2013 05:12 EDT

Canadian nuclear suppliers make sales pitches in U.K.

Canadian nuclear suppliers are off on a trade mission to the United Kingdom this week.

Ten companies that supply parts and services to CANDU reactors are hoping to pick up some of the work that's being created as Britain expands its nuclear program.

The Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries represents almost 200 companies and about 30,000 workers that supply parts and services to the CANDU fleet of reactors.

The organization has held trade missions in the past to Romania and Argentina. But this week marks the first time it has gone to a country that has never built a CANDU reactor.

President Ron Oberth says with the recent expansion of the nuclear industry in Britain, many of the companies in the U.K. supply chain are new.

Beyond CANDU

He's hoping this week Canadian companies can market expertise they've gained from working with the CANDU reactors over the past two decades.

"Those are capabilities that we bring that we acquired through our work in the CANDU industry. We now want to broaden out into other non-CANDU programs in countries like China, the U.S. and the U.K. in particular," Oberth said before leaving for London.

Oberth says it's not that the supply chain is separating itself from the CANDU brand, but it wants to create new markets, beyond that one type of reactor design.

"Other than the reactor core itself, there are many similar features, similar types of equipment valves and pumps and piping and consensers. Those are common across all reactor types," Oberth said.

"So while we want to emphasize the uniqueness of CANDU we also want to emphasize the fact that having capability in the CANDU field well qualifies us to supply other types of reactors as well."

That's a smart move, according to energy analyst and commentator Tom Adams. He argues the CANDU brand is in trouble.

"The worldwide CANDU fleet is a small fleet of aging reactors. There are many of them shutting down. So the fleet is shrinking. The federal government's support in Canada, that was the lifeblood for that industry, is drying up. SNC-Lavalin, the new custodian for the brand, is itself battling for its own survival," Adams said.

"So you add up all these factors and it really doesn't look like there is likely to be a long-term future for CANDU."

U.K. building reactors

SNC-Lavalin is part of this trade mission too. In June, 2012 it made a short list for a contract to build two to four new reactors that would use some of the spent fuel from the U.K.'s current fleet of nuclear power plants.

Adams doubts whether this trade mission will impact the outcome of that bidding process.

Oberth said while his organization hopes CANDU will be successful, it won't happen for some time.

"The main reason for our visit is to look at the expanding opportunities across a number of sites in the UK for reactors, that would be provided by other vendors than CANDU."

The Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries will attend a one-day workshop put on by the Canadian High Commission on Monday, before attending a two-day U.K. Nuclear Conference and Trade show.

The members then visit the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Sheffield before traveling on to Sellafield to visit the nuclear fuel recycle and nuclear waste management centre there.