The New Brunswick government and NB Power recently gave $10 million to two start-up companies to develop nuclear energy technology. Now the province is asking the federal government to give the two private sector companies even more public funding. Nuclear expert Gordon Edwards, who visited the province last week, said the nuclear industry, not the government, is driving this development.
“The nuclear industry is the pusher [of small modular nuclear reactors] and governments are the target,” he said, because the nuclear industry is dying and desperate to save itself. Edwards is the president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.
The nuclear industry is represented by the lobby group the Canadian Nuclear Association. NB Power’s vice president nuclear, Brett Plummer, is both the highest paid public servant in New Brunswick and a team member of the Canadian Nuclear Association.
The province and NB Power gave $5 million each to ARC Nuclear Canada and Moltex Energy Canada. ARC Nuclear is a US-based start-up company that recently opened its Canadian office in Saint John. The CEO and founder of ARC Nuclear is a venture capitalist investor with a background in real estate. Moltex Energy is a UK-based start-up company that also recently opened its Canadian office in Saint John.
After handing over $10 million in public funds to these two start-ups, the province is now supporting their request for $30 million in federal infrastructure funding to develop their prototype so-called small modular nuclear reactors (SMNRs) in the province. In a recent development, the province joined ARC Nuclear Canada, Moltex Energy Canada, the University of New Brunswick and NB Power in a new consortium promoting SMNRs that also includes the Atlantica Centre for Energy, Opportunities New Brunswick and Economic Development Greater Saint John.
Edwards made his remarks about the nuclear industry during a public webinar on March 13 recorded by the NB Media Co-op. His presentation focused on the risks of developing SMNRs in the province. He was originally scheduled to speak at a public event in Fredericton that evening but his presentation was changed to an online event following advice to restrict large public gatherings. Edwards’ two events in Saint John the previous day had gone ahead.
Edwards began his presentation by pointing out that the nuclear industry has been dying for many years and they are desperate for new customers. “If the nuclear industry can convince government to pour money into this for whatever reason, by misrepresenting its advantages and minimizing or even ignoring the disadvantages, the governments are being suckers. If Wall Street and the banks will not finance this, what is the role of the government to engage in venture capitalism of this kind?” he asked.
According to Edwards, there is no demand for small modular nuclear reactors. “You can’t have a business case with no customers. The nuclear industry is desperately fighting to try and stay alive. They are trying desperately to get government to pour money into this because that’s the only place they can get the money.”
Why would governments place their faith and public dollars in the nuclear industry? Edwards believes that governments are also desperate. “They can’t stop the petroleum industry. They bought a pipeline,” he said. “They are not cutting down on greenhouse gasses like they said they were going to. So they’re basically passing the ball to the nuclear industry, saying ‘OK, in 80 years you haven’t solved the problem of radioactive waste or of climate change, let’s see if you can solve it now.’ They are relinquishing their role as leaders and passing it over to the nuclear industry and letting them lead.”
Among the many other concerns raised about SMNRs during Dr. Edwards’ presentation include the key problem that there is no proven storage method for the highly dangerous radioactive waste that will be produced. In addition, the proposed nuclear projects in New Brunswick plan to use spent fuel from the existing Lepreau reactor, raising significant safety and national security risks.
Earlier this week, the NB Media Co-op published the video of the webinar and Dr. Edwards presentation: Small Modular Nuclear Reactors: Not Clean, Not Small, Not Green, Not Affordable. The video can be accessed here.
Susan O’Donnell is a member of the NB Media Co-op editorial board and the lead researcher for the RAVEN project that worked with other organizations to bring Dr. Edwards to New Brunswick.