It’s a potentially dangerous mistake to pitch small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) as a potential electricity source or remote Northern communities, according to one of the 30 local, regional, and national public interest organizations that have come out against federal financial support for the technology.
“SMRs have emerged as the next big movement in nuclear power, boasting the ability to supply power to smaller electrical grids and remote, off-grid area while being smaller than traditional nuclear power plants,” CTV News reports. “The federal government has invested in research into the technology and is set to release an SMR action plan with a focus on Canada’s North by the end of this year.”
But the Canadian Environmental Law Association “says the government is missing key concerns, including the security of the reactors,” CTV says.
“They’re very inappropriate for remote locations. They’re very inappropriate for anywhere,” Executive Director Theresa McClenaghan told the TV network last week. “You’d be talking about creating new kinds of waste that we don’t already have in Canada” and “having to worry about very long distance transportation.”
She added that federal messaging and strategy date have missed the possibility that SMRs will add to the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation tied to civilian reactor systems. “That’s a serious risk for any nuclear technology,” she said. “But especially when you start to distribute the materials like this and have less control,” with the nuclear industry “hoping they can just leave the units without operators.”
And while the industry is touting SMRs as part of a 2050 decarbonization plan, “nuclear does produce greenhouse gases because you have to mine, transport, and refine. In fact, the full life cycle is two times as much as solar and six times as much as onshore wind.”
McClenaghan pointed to the risk that SMRs will be imposed on Northern, largely Indigenous communities in the same way that expensive, diesel generators were in the past. “The Northwest Territories Energy Strategy is calling for communities to decide,” and with affordable energy the top priority, she said there’s a lot of interest in hybrid systems that combine existing diesel sets with solar when the resource is available.