More than 100 civil society groups across Canada, including nine in New Brunswick, signed a letter this week to the federal minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan asking to suspend all decisions about radioactive waste disposal until Canada has a sufficient radioactive waste policy in place. Everyone is invited to read the letter and view all the signatories here.
The New Brunswick civil society groups understand the urgency for having a strong nuclear waste management policy in place. Canada’s nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, is considering regulatory licence decisions on two Small Modular Nuclear Reactor projects that plan to open up the highly radioactive waste materials at Point Lepreau.
The NB groups are the Sustainable Energy Group (Woodstock), the Saint John Citizens Coalition for Clean Air (Saint John), Rural Action and Voices for the Environment (Fredericton), PEACE-NB (Saint John), Leap4wards (Saint John), Council of Canadians (Saint John Chapter), (Rothesay Chapter), (Fredericton Chapter), and the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (Rothesay).
The signatories to the letter, including prominent scientific experts across Canada, joined their efforts to protect Canadians and our natural environment from potential disasters resulting from mishandling and poor containment and storage of radioactive waste from existing nuclear reactors.
The accident in 2011 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan raised many concerns about the risks involved in having nuclear energy produced in New Brunswick. NB Power’s Point Lepreau nuclear power station sits on the shore of the unique, majestic Bay of Fundy. With the current storage of radioactive waste materials contained in 200 concrete sealed silos on site, the risks to the Bay and its residents along the shores remain worrisome.
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission produced an Integrated Action Plan On the Lessons Learned From the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident that led to improvements in seismic requirements in Canadian seismic codes and strengthening of the protection against seismic hazard at nuclear power and nuclear waste sites.
However concerns remain. In July 2010 a 3.2 magnitude earthquake was recorded in the Bay of Fundy with the epicentre offshore, close to Grand Manan Island. (CBC story) Other small earthquakes occurred in recent years in 2012 and 2015.
The potential for a catastrophic accident that would breach nuclear waste containment sites is only one of the many possible issues that could be addressed in a federal radioactive waste policy.
Other potential issues include the mining of uranium along with the long term mine closure process; transportation of radioactive waste materials; security systems to protect against terrorism and the illegal use of the plutonium in spent fuel cells; environmental and geographical safety assessments; and numerous other policy, regulatory and enforcement processes required for these reactors and the safety of all citizens.
The May 15 letter to the minister notes that in February 2020, the International Atomic Energy Agency found Canada’s Radioactive Waste Management Policy Framework “does not encompass all the needed policy elements nor a detailed strategy” necessary to provide a national strategy for long-term radioactive waste management in Canada. As a result the signatories are demanding that the development of Canada’s radioactive waste policy and associated strategy must be based on “meaningful consultation with Indigenous peoples and strong public engagement from the outset.”
Without a radioactive waste framework, all current and proposed nuclear energy projects are open to fiscal and environmental abuse, and protections are not in place to ensure the health and safety of future generations and the environment. For this reason, the signatories insist that Canada provide leadership and establish sufficient guidance and federal policy for the production, management and storage of all its radioactive waste.
The letter also demands that Canada establish objectives and principles to underly a nuclear waste policy and strategy. This requires the federal government to identify the problems and issues associated with existing and accumulating radioactive waste.
The federal government is currently reviewing proposals from two foreign companies with offices in Saint John to build prototype Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMNRs). The letter signed by the New Brunswick groups highlights some of the concerns expressed about the use of public funds to support these proposals. Given the uncertainty of these SMNRs and the technology involved, the Green Party of New Brunswick is questioning the province’s financial commitments to these SMNR projects.
Green Party Leader David Coon recently told a group of activists from across the province that “the Conservative and Liberal governments have always been pro-nuclear. The Green Party is the only dissenting voice advocating for investments in renewable energy projects and transitioning away from nuclear. We need a strong united voice to stop wasting public moneys on nuclear and to transition to a green economy as quickly as possible.”
Brian Beaton is a writer and the calendar coordinator for the NB Media Co-op.