In a recent commentary, Andrew Waugh, the political editor for Brunswick News, opined that Premier Blaine Higgs doesn’t mind being called a pragmatic and “progressive” premier. Higgs appears to be gaining this reputation by keeping Cannabis NB as a government agency, now that it’s turning a profit; by creating his “made-in-NB” carbon tax; and for projecting deficit budgets for three successive years totalling $760 million or more. Higgs has also not moved to undo the moratorium on shale gas fracking in New Brunswick as he is cognizant of ongoing strong public opposition.
The premier may not yet realize that working ambitiously to meet and exceed the climate and pollution reduction targets established by the Paris Accord is not only progressive but also the wise thing to do. Higgs’ support of new nuclear development, however, is neither progressive nor wise.
The previous Brian Gallant government entered into two highly speculative energy gambles.
The first gamble was Joi Scientific, where NB Power squandered $13 million “investing” in the Florida-based company claiming to efficiently produce hydrogen gas from seawater to generate electricity. Premier Higgs put a stop to the deal once it became clear that this was an unproven ruse.
The second gamble was giving $10 million to two foreign-owned nuclear companies wanting to design and build small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) at Point Lepreau (ARC-100 and Moltex SSR). But instead of cancelling the initial gift, Higgs tripled it to $30 million in a contract with ARC, being well aware that the final cost to the province will be much higher and without any guarantee of successful completion.
What the premier fails to comprehend is that the solution to meeting our energy needs does not lie in risky and unproven technologies. Rather, it is by working in harmony with the natural ecosphere and biosphere that has always served humankind.
Renewable energy technologies like wind and solar already exist and work remarkably well, with the cost of their electricity steadily falling while the price of nuclear power (and fossil fuels) continues to rise. New Brunswick would be prudent to increase its investment in renewable energy while concurrently reducing energy consumption through efficiency and building retrofits. Revenue from the carbon tax could finance this endeavor with no financial gamble on unproven SMNRs, and without the need for a costly designated regulator to ensure its safe use.
Nuclear power, on the other hand, has required a regulator ever since it started over 70 years ago. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is that current regulator; it has an annual budget of $175 million paid by Canadian taxpayers. Many opponents of nuclear power are convinced the CNSC is doing a better job serving the nuclear industry than the people and environment taxpayers pay them to protect.
The $20-million contract the province signed with ARC has tied the premier’s hands monetarily for years to come with no guarantee of success. Instead, it promises that large sums of money will be spent by taxpayers and investors over the next decades on a nuclear gamble that is likely to only benefit this industry.
New nuclear development is not needed and is counterproductive to fighting the climate crisis. Moreover, this gamble is far more likely to worsen the unsolved problem of safely handling and storing nuclear waste for the very long term, pushing the end cost of nuclear even higher, and certainly increasing electricity bills. Nuclear power has always been a moral, pragmatic and economic dilemma that we will continue to lose.
The clear, common-sense choice for Premier Higgs is renewable energy. Instead, he has chosen the same flawed path that two previous premiers, Richard Hatfield and Brian Gallant, have taken on nuclear power, gambling with the province’s future using highly speculative and risky technology, rather than taking the more ethical, economical and far safer pragmatic path that Higgs says he favours.
But there still is the faint hope that Premier Higgs may change his mind, as he did with Cannabis NB. But how much is the province’s future now tied to the developing nuclear hub at Point Lepreau?
Samuel Arnold is a retired teacher, musician, composer and concerned citizen. He is a member of the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development (CRED-NB) and the Sustainable Energy Group (SEG). He lives in Woodstock, N.B.
Ann McAllister is the music director at Silver Falls United Church in Saint John and a retired teacher. She is a member of the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (CRED-NB) and the Saint John Chapter of the Council of Canadians. She lives in Rothesay, N.B.