Extinction Rebellion New Brunswick (XR NB) organized a rally in Fredericton on Sept. 25, the Global Day of Climate Action, outside the office of Premier Blaine Higgs. Protesters called on the government to transition rapidly to renewable energy and stop their plans to develop new nuclear reactors in the province.
Jessica Spencer, an XR NB organizer and speaker at the rally, posted on Facebook that the COVID-19 pandemic has “given us a glimpse of how our government can and should respond to a global crisis.” XR NB is calling for immediate action on climate change. “This may be our last opportunity to make the deep systemic changes necessary to avert climate catastrophe.”
According to XR NB, the Maritime provinces are well-positioned to rapidly eliminate carbon-based power and reduce other emissions from fossil fuels. It is “distinctly possible for New Brunswick to be a leader in a transition to a Green Economy, without the need for nuclear energy.”
Other speakers at the rally included Ron Tremblay, the Chief of the Wolastoq Grand Council, and Chris Rouse, an engineer with New Clear Free Solutions. Rouse described the model he developed for NB Power to achieve a 95% renewable portfolio, based on least-cost sustainability principles. His model demonstrates how public investment into renewables will keep energy rates low and allow NB Power to pay down its debt and become profitable.
Doug Swain from XR NB attended the rally “because climate change is now reaching the endgame.” He added: “The issue is the very survival of our civilization and ultimately our species.” Swain said strong action needed to prevent unstoppable runaway climate change will require reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50% by 2030. “We have wasted the last 30 years by doing essentially nothing to address the climate crisis. Now is our last chance to take the required action.”
The NB Media Co-op has filed several stories about the lack of climate action by the Higgs Progressive Conservative government since it came to power in November 2018. In May 2019, during a debate in the Legislature, Premier Higgs said he wasn’t sure to what extent climate change was caused by humans. Green Party MLA Megan Mitton later said she believed the premier is not a climate denier but rather “a climate delayer, which in my opinion at this point in time is just as bad.”
David Coon, leader of the New Brunswick Green Party and MLA for Fredericton South, also spoke at the rally. Coon said that “Premier Higgs continues on a path toward small nuclear reactors that only exist on a computer, instead of proven renewable energy sources. It’s time for the government to invest in proven technologies that will lower our carbon emissions at competitive prices without radioactive waste.”
The promise of federal funding for two new nuclear reactors was an issue during the recent provincial election campaign. The week before the Sept. 14 election, Blaine Higgs told Brunswick News he had secured federal funding for the two nuclear companies and would make the announcement after the election.
Both companies are proposing to develop prototype nuclear reactors next to the existing NB Power Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station on the Bay of Fundy. Their plans include using a risky process, reprocessing, to access the high-level radioactive waste from the Lepreau CANDU reactor to make new fuel for the proposed reactors.
Many of the approximately 40 people at the Fredericton rally wore “More Nuclear? No Thanks!” buttons made and shared by the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (CRED-NB). The Coalition website has information missing from the Government of New Brunswick and NB Power website about the proposed nuclear reactors for the province.
Environmental activists in New Brunswick are monitoring the plans for new nuclear reactors with concern. The NB Media Co-op has published a series of commentaries about the proposed reactors, arguing they threaten the transition to renewable energy, will create new forms of dangerous radioactive waste, could revive fears of a “plutonium economy” are unlikely to be successful, and will produce energy more costly than renewable energy.
Instead of investing in new nuclear reactors, XR NB is demanding that the Higgs government “commit to transitioning the New Brunswick economy to net zero emissions by 2035, including retrofitting buildings with solar panels, investing in local and province-wide electric public transit, and making energy efficiency a priority.”
Susan O’Donnell is the lead researcher for the Rural Action and Voices for the Environment (RAVEN) project at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. RAVEN is a member of the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick, CRED-NB.