The federal government is delaying climate action by subsidizing small, modular nuclear reactor (SMR) development, over the objections of the remote, Indigenous communities the technology is supposed to serve as an alternative to diesel generators, opponents warned last week.
“There is no guarantee SMRs will ever produce energy in a safe and reliable manner in Canada,” the groups said in a release, after Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne announced a C$27.2-million grant for Westinghouse Electric’s $57-million bid to move its e-Vinci reactor toward licencing. They said systems of the type Westinghouse is developing “are not the energy answer for remote communities”, since they “do not compete when compared with other alternatives.”
In a study conducted in 2020, “the cost of electricity from SMRs was found to be much higher than the cost of wind or solar, or even of the diesel supply currently used in the majority of these communities,” the release added.
“Canadians want affordable energy that does not pollute the environment,” said Susan O’Donnell, spokesperson for the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick. “Why would we invest in unproven technologies that, if they ever work, will cost two to five times more than building proven renewables?”
“The nuclear industry is promoting a nuclear fantasy to attract political support while purging past failures—like cost overruns and project delays—from public debate,” said Kerrie Blaise, northern services legal counsel at the Canadian Environmental Law Association. “Before Canada invests any public dollars in this yet-to-be-developed technology, they must fully evaluate the costs of nuclear spending and liabilities associated with the construction, oversight, and waste of this novel technology.”
“Studies have shown that electricity from small modular reactors will be more expensive than electricity from large nuclear power plants, which are themselves not competitive in today’s electricity markets,” said M. V. Ramana, a professor at the University of British Columbia School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, one of the co-authors of the 2020 study. “There is no viable market for small modular reactors, and even building factories to manufacture these reactors would not be a sound financial investment.”
Last week, Champagne said the government is “laying the foundation for a better and more prosperous climate-oriented future. Westinghouse’s innovative technology will help deliver cleaner energy sources across Canada, especially in remote communities. This investment will play a critical role in fighting climate change, building on Canada’s global leadership in SMRs and securing jobs in Ontario’s energy sector.”
Ottawa is also looking to nuclear as one of the sources of fossil-free electricity for its green hydrogen strategy, iPolitics reports.
Last week’s government release added that SMR development will “help communities that rely on heavy-polluting diesel fuel to transition to a cleaner source of energy.” But the opposing groups say many of those remote settings are Indigenous communities, and SMR development isn’t the help they’re looking for. A December, 2018 resolution by the Assembly of First Nation Chiefs asked the industry to stop pursuing SMR development and the government to stop funding it, and “other Indigenous communities, including the Chiefs of Ontario, have passed resolutions opposing funding and deployment of SMRs”.