Public interest groups across Canada are criticizing the federal government for funding small nuclear reactor development and are challenging the government to release the research and data that support its strategy.
In October last year, Ministers Seamus O’Regan and Navdeep Bains announced a $20 million grant to Terrestrial Energy in Ontario to continue developing a molten salt reactor. More funding announcements for new nuclear reactors are expected.
The federal funding for new nuclear energy is opposed by over two dozen groups from BC to the Maritimes.
The groups say that “next generation” nuclear reactors, also called SMRs, or small modular reactors, are a dirty, dangerous distraction from tackling the climate crisis and charge that the federal government is trying to save the nuclear industry rather than saving the environment and protecting health.
They make the case that SMRs are not green, not clean, too costly, and will take too long to build.
SMR development is too slow to address the climate crisis
The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2020 says that developing new nuclear energy is too slow to address the climate crisis – as well as more expensive – compared to renewable energy and energy efficiency. No SMRs have yet been built and the models being proposed will take a decade or more to develop.
SMRs are more expensive than renewable energy
A Canadian study found that energy from small nuclear reactors would be up to ten times the cost of renewable energy. In the past decade, the cost of building solar, wind power, and battery storage has gone down dramatically, while the cost of building new nuclear reactors has gone up. Small reactors will be more expensive per unit of power than the current ones.
Nuclear power creates fewer jobs than renewable energy
Renewable energy is one of the fastest-growing job sectors in North America. An American study found that solar energy leads to six times as many jobs as nuclear power for each gigawatt-hour of electricity generated.
There are better sources of energy
Minister O’Regan has said repeatedly, without providing evidence, that there is no path to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions without nuclear energy. In fact, on the contrary, a new study of 123 countries over 25 years found that countries that invested in renewable energy lowered their carbon emissions much more than those reliant on nuclear energy.
SMRs are dirty and dangerous
The new “small” reactors, proposed to be built across Canada, will produce radioactive waste of many kinds. Some of the proposed models would extract plutonium from irradiated fuel, worsening concerns about weapons proliferation and creating new forms of radioactive waste that are especially dangerous to manage. The federal government currently has no detailed policy or strategy for what to do with radioactive waste, and no design or location for a deep underground repository where industry proposes to store high-level radioactive waste for hundreds of thousands of years.
The federal government has never consulted the public about SMRs, which would create serious environmental risks and financial liabilities for Canadians.
Canadian Environmental Law Association et al, press release, October 20, 2020
This article appears in our December 2020 | January 2021 issue.