For more than a year, renewable energy and anti-nuclear activists in New Brunswick and across the country have watched nuclear industry lobbyists re-position their product as the solution to the climate crisis. Indeed, days before the Throne Speech, federal Natural Resources minister Seamus O’Regan claimed that nuclear power was necessary for Canada to meet its net-zero emissions target.
Given its legacy of toxic radioactive waste, nuclear energy would not be considered “clean technology” by most Canadians. However the nuclear industry has been working hard to scrub its image.
Making nuclear power “clean” was a goal of the December 2019 memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by the premiers of New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan and more recently, Alberta, to develop the nuclear industry’s latest offering, so-called “small modular nuclear reactors” or “SMRs.”
The MOU committed the parties to “work co-operatively to positively influence the federal government to provide a clear unambiguous statement that nuclear energy is a clean technology and is required as part of the climate change solution.”
The Throne Speech is evidence the nuclear industry lobby has succeeded.
On Sept. 23, the Trudeau government promised to “ensure Canada is the most competitive jurisdiction in the world for clean technology companies,” to move forward with a “Clean Power Fund,” to invest in “next-generation clean energy,” and to cut the tax rate in half for companies making zero-emissions products.
New Brunswick is expected to be the first province to receive federal funding for new nuclear reactors. In a shadowy deal, the province and its public utility NB Power gave $5 million each to two start-up nuclear energy companies, from the US and UK, that then established offices in Saint John and applied for federal funding.
Federal funding for the two companies and their nuclear reactors was a campaign issue during the recent provincial election. Both the Liberal and Progressive Conservative party leaders claimed they were the best person to bring the new reactors to New Brunswick. The week before the election, Blaine Higgs told Brunswick News he had secured federal funding for the two companies.
Both companies plan to develop prototype nuclear reactors next to NB Power’s Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station on the Bay of Fundy. They both propose to use a risky process, reprocessing, to open up the existing irradiated fuel bundles from the Lepreau reactor to make new fuel for their prototype reactors. Legislation passed by the Trudeau government exempts the two projects from environmental impact assessments.
Opposition is building in the province to the plans for new reactors in New Brunswick.
Since last December, the NB Media Co-op has published a series of commentaries about the risks involved with the proposed nuclear reactors, information missing from the Government of New Brunswick and NB Power websites, including the new radioactive wastes produced and poor economic outcomes.
In May, the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (CRED-NB) was formed to advocate for a nuclear-free renewable energy future. In July, the Coalition launched a public awareness campaign: More Nuclear? No Thanks!
On Sept. 25, the Global Day of Climate Action, CRED-NB member Extinction Rebellion New Brunswick (XR NB) organized a rally at the Fredericton office of the premier, calling for a rapid transition to renewable energy without more nuclear energy development in the province.
Speakers at the rally included David Coon, leader of the New Brunswick Green Party and MLA for Fredericton South, Ron Tremblay Chief of the Wolastoq Grand Council, Chris Rouse of New Clear Free Solutions, and Jessica Spencer and Doug Swain from XR NB.
National opposition is forming against the federal government’s plans to support new nuclear reactors.
Greenpeace Canada stated that including nuclear reactors in the Throne Speech shows that Minister O’Regan and the Trudeau government “are suffering from nuclear amnesia.”
The Sierra Club Canada Foundation started a letter-writing campaign to minister O’Regan: “Take Action, new nuclear is not part of a path to net-zero.”
David Suzuki made headlines with his reaction to O’Regan’s endorsement of nuclear power: “I want to puke.”
In the months ahead, renewable energy and anti-nuclear advocates across the country will be working together to raise public awareness of the significant risks of developing new nuclear energy instead of transitioning rapidly to renewable energy to address the climate crisis.
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.
An earlier version of this article was published by Rabble.