A collection of 30 local, regional, and national public interest organizations from across the country is rallying against next-generation nuclear power development after the federal government announced a C$20-million infusion for the industry tied to its 2050 net-zero emissions target.
In a statement released yesterday, the groups describe (somewhat) small modular reactors as “a dirty, dangerous distraction from tackling the climate crisis,” adding that “nuclear energy is not green, not clean, too costly, and too slow to build.” Citing a Canadian study that concluded SMRs will be up to 10 times as expensive as renewable energy—with renewables and battery storage costs still falling fast—they say Ottawa “is trying to save the nuclear industry rather than saving the environment and protecting health.”
Last week, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains announced a C$20-million grant to Oakville, Ontario-based Terrestrial Energy to help it commercialize its version of an SMR. CBC says the dollars will preserve 186 jobs and create 52 co-op placements.
“By helping to bring these small reactors to market, we are supporting significant environmental and economic benefits, including generating energy with reduced emissions, highly-skilled job creation, and Canadian intellectual property development,” Bains said.
CBC cites three “major uses” that Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. is touting for SMRs—helping utilities replace the power produced by coal plants when they close, heating and powering off-grid mines and tar sands/oil sands facilities, and replacing diesel in remote communities.
The public interest groups brought together by the announcement cite a U.S. study that showed solar producing six times more jobs than nuclear per gigawatt-hour electricity produced. And they dispute Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan’s curious notion that there’s no path to net-zero carbon emissions without nuclear. “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,” they write.
The groups also take issue with any sense that SMRs are safe.
“The new ‘small’ reactors, proposed to be built across Canada, will produce radioactive waste of many kinds,” they write. “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.”
CBC has O’Regan promising a federal review to make sure its radioactive waste program meets the “highest international standards.”
“We do have to make sure Canadians trust the power system,” he said. “SMR technology allows us to minimize the amount of waste, and in some cases has the potential to recycle nuclear waste.”
Late last year, Rocky Mountain Institute Chair and Chief Scientist Amory Lovins argued the continuing pursuit of a nuclear option actually makes the climate crisis worse by blocking faster uptake of cheaper options. Last month, Mycle Schneider, Paris-based author of the annual World Nuclear Industry Status Report, said no version of an SMR will be in place to generate electricity before 2030—the IPCC deadline for humanity to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 45%.
“The industry is actually selling PowerPoint reactors, not detailed engineering, and it’s not the first time. They’ve been doing this for decades,” Schneider told The Energy Mix. “Nobody, not even industry, pretends they can produce anything before 2030.”