When are the new nuclear reactors coming to New Brunswick?
It remains unknown when Premier-elect Blaine Higgs will announce his multimillion-dollar nuclear deal with the federal government. In a Telegraph Journal story on Sept. 9, Higgs claimed he had secured the deal to bring new nuclear reactors to the province but could only announce it after the election.
When Higgs makes the announcement, N.B Energy Solutions Corp., the shadowy company set up by the Gallant government, will finally have paid off for the nuclear industry.
The Corp. was set up in 2017 as a quasi NB Power subsidiary with no mandate letter or proper procedures and controls. The new entity received $10 million from the provincial government. It then handed $5 million each to two foreign start-up nuclear companies, ARC Nuclear from the US and Moltex Energy from the UK. Then the entity evaporated.
The CBC reported in December 2019 that N.B. Energy Solutions Corp. was quietly being shut down. In the report, Green Party Leader David Coon says the Corp. was doing “an end run” around the Energy Utilities Board (EUB).
It seems clear that the entity was established as an attempt by NB Power to stay outside public scrutiny, for the purpose of handing public funds to two start-up nuclear projects without oversight by the Energy Utilities Board.
Still unclear is the role the NB Power VP Nuclear played in this scenario. Brett Plummer is the highest-paid public servant in New Brunswick and a team member of the Canadian Nuclear Association, the lobby organization for the nuclear industry.
With their provincial government handout, both nuclear power start-ups set up offices in Saint John and promptly applied for funding from the federal government. According to Brunswick News reports, ARC Nuclear applied for $30 million and Moltex Energy for $70 million.
The final cost of the new reactors, if built as planned on the Bay of Fundy, will be more than $3 billion. No private investors have expressed interest in contributing.
Earlier this year, Premier Higgs was openly lobbying Infrastructure Canada to fund new nuclear reactor development but his overture to Minister Catherine McKenna did not pay off because the New Brunswick projects were not eligible for the Infrastructure Canada program.
However, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada’s Strategic Innovation Fund is more flexible. The Fund’s objective is to “spur innovation for a better Canada.”
During the election campaign, Blaine Higgs did not address many questions about the nuclear reactor projects that others are asking.
Why is the province investing in nuclear energy which is much more expensive than renewable energy?
How much radioactive waste will the new nuclear plants produce, compared to the waste they propose to burn up from the existing Lepreau reactor?
Will there be a public consultation on radioactive waste in New Brunswick?
What are some of the many other facts about the new nuclear reactors?
Will these reactors be the newest New Brunswick boondoggle?
Susan O’Donnell is a reporter for the NB Media Co-op and the lead investigator for the RAVEN project at the University of New Brunswick.