On Tuesday this week, the Higgs government formalized its support for the development of new nuclear reactors (so-called small modular nuclear reactors, SMRs) in New Brunswick.
The throne speech claimed: “If New Brunswick can develop advanced SMRs right here at home and achieve just 1 per cent of the estimated Canadian market, it would mean $190 million in annual direct and indirect impacts to New Brunswick.”
It is unclear how the government calculated its revenue projections. Federal government documents identify the Canadian market for SMRs as remote communities, primarily Indigenous communities currently relying on diesel fuel to generate power.
However, research on the business case found that a Canadian market for SMRs does not exist.
In addition, the Assembly of First Nations, representing all remote First Nation communities across Canada, passed a motion in December 2018 demanding “that the Government of Canada cease funding and support of the Small Modular Nuclear Reactors program” because of nuclear energy’s legacy of toxic radioactive waste.
The proposed reactors are still on the drawing board and will take a more than a decade to develop. Every reactor design will have stiff competition: more than 50 SMR designs are in development globally. The cost of the most advanced SMR project to date has already doubled its estimated cost – from $3B to more than $6B.
Similarly, the two prototype reactors proposed for New Brunswick will require significant funding to materialize. The Moltex reactor, one of the two, will cost more than $2 billion.
It is unclear where the money will be coming from. There are no private sector investments for these risky ventures. Getting the funds from the federal government will be a tricky political manoeuvre. The Bloc Québécois, the NDP and the Green party all issued statements recently opposing federal funding for SMRs.
Additionally, there is no support from environmental groups to spend public funds on nuclear energy development. Dozens of organizations from coast to coast have called the proposed nuclear reactors a dirty, dangerous distraction from tackling climate change.
New Brunswick is the first province to promise SMR development in a throne speech. Researchers, activists and others monitoring nuclear energy news across Canada will be watching the government’s next move to turn its throne speech promise of nuclear revenues into reality.
Susan O’Donnell is the principal investigator of UNB’s RAVEN project, a member of the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (CRED-NB).