Anti-nuclear groups criticize federal funding of new nuclear reactors

OTTAWA – Public interest groups across Canada are criticizing the federal government for funding small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) developments and are challenging the government to release the research and data that support its strategy.

Ministers Seamus O’Regan and Navdeep Bains last week 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 in the coming weeks.

The federal funding for new nuclear energy is opposed by groups from British Columbia to New Brunswick, including the West Coast Environmental Law Association, Friends of the Earth Canada, Greenpeace Canada, Canadian Environmental Law Association, Environmental Defence, Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick, Coalition for a Clean Green Saskatchewan, Concerned Citizens of Manitoba, Northwatch, Sierra Club Canada Foundation, Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive, Equiterre and the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, a Northwatch release notes.

The groups say “next-generation nuclear reactors are a dirty, dangerous distraction from tackling the climate crisis. Nuclear energy is not green, not clean, too costly and too slow to build.”

The groups charge that the federal government is trying to save the nuclear industry rather than saving the environment and protecting health.

The groups outlined many concerns. “SMR development is too slow to address the climate crisis. The 2020 World Nuclear Industry Status Report 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,” the Northwatch release notes. “A Canadian study found that energy from small nuclear reactors would be up to 10 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 even more expensive per unit of power than the current large ones.”

“Nuclear power creates fewer jobs than renewable energy,” the groups say. “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,” the groups argue. “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,” say the groups. “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 release also adds, “the federal government has never consulted the pubic about small modular reactors, which would create environmental risks and financial liabilities for Canadians.”