By researching nuclear technologies, accepting funding from private industry and the state, and publicly advocating in favour of nuclear expansion, the University of New Brunswick (UNB) actively supports the exploitation of traditional Indigenous lands in so-called Canada.
UNB has received funding from a variety of private nuclear groups and government agencies over the years.
In 2019, UNB received half a million dollars from ARC Canada, a private corporation planning to deploy small modular reactors at the Point Lepreau generating station in Saint John.
One year later, Ontario Power Generation provided $1 million to Moltex Energy, UNB, and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories.
In 2021, the federal government allocated $561,750 to UNB’s Centre for Nuclear Energy Research.
Later, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories and UNB “entered into a partnership to pursue commercial opportunities for the nuclear power industry.”
UNB’s relationship with ARC Canada, Moltex, and the federal government represents an explicit alliance between public education, private capital, and the state. These institutions—deeply colonial as they are—share identifiable goals and joint commitments.
First, they share a naïve belief in the emancipatory potential of technological advancement. Second, they advocate in favour of unrelenting capital accumulation, market deregulation, and neoliberal policy. Finally, following these previous commitments, actors in both private industry and the public sector revel in the exploitation of traditional Indigenous lands as a means of extracting wealth and energy.
The province’s news media, government, and private industry are complicit in promoting these commitments and spreading disinformation on small modular reactors. Further, expanding the nuclear industry distracts policy makers from pursuing cheap renewable options.
Between 2018 and 2020, in a series of opinion pieces published in the Telegraph-Journal, Daily Gleaner, and Times & Transcript, UNB’s Herb Emery advocated in favour of nuclear expansion, rampant economic growth, and “shock therapy.”
In an article titled “Does an aging population prevent entrepreneurship?,” Emery lambasted New Brunswickers for rejecting a “future based on natural resource industries or expanding areas of strength like nuclear energy with small modular reactors.” Further, he stated that the province’s financial markets should be made “business friendly.”
Again, in a commentary published in July 2020, Emery claimed that industries including Irving Oil “aren’t doing anything to harm” New Brunswickers.
“If anything,” he wrote, “New Brunswickers have chosen to harm those industries.”
Finally, while writing in the Telegraph-Journal, Emery argued that the city of Saint John should enact “shock therapy” to decrease their debt.
“If this experiment in Saint John does not produce economic growth, then we could think about ‘shock therapy’ at the provincial level,” Emery explained.
Shock therapy is a form of neoliberal economic policy that advocates in favour of privatization and deregulation. In Russia, during the 1990s, neoliberal shock therapy paved the way for the rise of oligarchs like Vladimir Putin to seize power and centralize vast amounts of formerly public wealth.
Activist and author Naomi Klein popularized the term “shock therapy” in her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine. “In moments of crisis,” Klein wrote, “people are willing to hand over a great deal of power to anyone who claims to have a magic cure.”
In New Brunswick, climate change, ecological collapse, and corporate domination constitute our moments of crisis, while nuclear energy and small modular reactors represent the government’s magic cures.
Indigenous communities across the province reject these “magic cures” as hollow attempts to profit from traditional land, exploit natural resources, and ruin local habitats and ecologies.
In 2021, the Wolastoq Grand Council released a resolution stating that the development of nuclear energy and the storage of nuclear waste on traditional Wolastoq territory broke the terms of the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Further, on May 10, 2022, the Passamaquoddy Recognition Group intervened in a public hearing hosted by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, demanding that “the Government of Canada and the Government of New Brunswick immediately halt any further funding for nuclear reactors at Point Lepreau.”
“Chief Akagi has on several occasions let his concerns be known about the storage of nuclear wastes on his peoples’ territory,” the Passamaquoddy Recognition Group told the Commission. “Yet neither New Brunswick Power nor this Commission, nor the Government of Canada has undertaken to seek consent from Indigenous peoples to store hazardous wastes on this land, nor to negotiate agreement concerning the storage of hazardous wastes on this land.”
“The Peskotomuhkati did not surrender the lands or rights by way of the Peace and Friendship
Treaties, nor by any other means since, and nor have their rights been extinguished by the Canadian Government,” they added.
During the event, Chief Hugh Akagi of the Peskotomuhkati Nation directly addressed the Commission. “The nuclear story is no different from numerous other stories told throughout our territory since Europeans first arrived on our shores,” Chief Akagi explained.
“The temptation to use what was never theirs, creating their own rules, laws and regulations to
justify that use were all designed to dispossess the original peoples of their home, their livelihood, and what others consider their resources,” he added.
By presenting purely technological solutions to climate change, denying the sovereignty of the territory’s Indigenous nations, and exploiting the land’s natural resources, the state, private industry, and UNB are complicit in maintaining the country’s colonial legacies.
UNB’s financial and ideological commitments to nuclear expansion and neoliberal economic policy directly contradict their alleged commitment to Truth and Reconciliation.
Harrison Dressler is a master’s student in history at Queen’s University. He writes about Canadian history, labour, politics, and environmental activism (Author bio corrected, October 31, 2022).