Groups urge federal government to ban polluting nuclear technologies from fund

Media release by Coalition for Responsible Energy Development (CRED), New Brunswick

Citizen and environmental groups are urging the federal government not to fund polluting nuclear technologies in the upcoming budget, and to instead invest in truly clean and renewable energy solutions across the country.

The federal government recently handed $70.5 million to private-sector companies in Ontario and New Brunswick to develop their designs for more nuclear reactors. Critics have denounced these handouts and are demanding that the federal government ban polluting small modular reactor (SMR) technology from the Clean Energy Fund announced in the Throne Speech.

The federal government is working closely with the nuclear industry and the provinces of Ontario, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan to rebrand nuclear power as “clean energy.” Meanwhile, the uranium fuel chain has left a devastating legacy of radioactive poisons in First Nations and small communities across Canada.

Nuclear reactors create irradiated fuel that contains numerous radioactive materials that remain hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years. The process that the nuclear industry terms “recycling” only involves transferring these radioactive materials to other waste streams. No place exists on the planet that is licensed to safely store these “forever” pollutants.

More than 100 public interest, Indigenous and civil society organizations from coast to coast have endorsed a public statement against federal funding for new nuclear energy, including the United Church of Canada, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Canadian Federation of University Women, Climate Action Network and Équiterre.

The groups are in solidarity with the Assembly of First Nations, the Chiefs of Ontario, and the Wolastoq Grand Council in New Brunswick that have all demanded that the federal government stop funding new nuclear reactors and cease generating more radioactive waste.

Critics say that the $70.5 million spent by the federal government so far would be a ‘drop in the bucket’ compared to the huge needs of private sector nuclear start-up companies. Their reactor designs could cost up to $2 billion to develop to a point when these could be licensed for construction.

The designs proposed are based on unproven technologies and will take a decade or more to develop, with no guarantee that they will be commercialized successfully. They will not be ready in time to help meet Canada’s climate targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

recent report by Canada’s Green Budget Coalition, made up of 25 leading environmental organizations, states that: “The federal government should provide no support for the development of SMRs.” The Coalition says that indirect subsidies for the nuclear industry – such as protection from accident liability, and sharing waste responsibilities with the private sector – also do not belong in the federal budget.

Leading international bodies have also remarked on the dismal outlook for SMRs and nuclear power in general in climate action. For instance, the 2020 World Nuclear Industry Status Report analysis found that investing in new nuclear energy is too slow to address the climate crisis, compared to investing in proven renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“Funding new nuclear technologies is a bad investment – a waste of both time and money, and it delays real climate action. Canadians want affordable energy that does not pollute the environment. Why would we invest in unproven technologies that, if they ever work, will cost two to five times more than building proven renewables? Indigenous leaders across the country oppose building nuclear reactors or storing nuclear waste in their territories because it contains ‘forever’ radioactive poisons, ” says Professor Susan O’Donnell, Coalition for Responsible Energy Development (CRED) in New Brunswick

“Investing in unproven, next-generation nuclear technology is a dirty, dangerous distraction from tackling the climate crisis. Why are we locking Canadians into high cost electricity and accepting the liability for the nuclear industry when we have safe, renewable technology that is scalable now? We need to rapidly transition to a carbon-free electricity system, not invest in an energy system that we already know is plagued with delays and cost overruns. New nuclear simply can’t get us there on time,” says Kerrie Blaise, Northern Services Legal Counsel, Canadian Environmental Law Association.

“Several studies have shown that electricity from small modular reactors will be more expensive than electricity from large nuclear power plants, which are themselves not competitive in today’s electricity markets. There is no viable market for small modular reactors, and even building factories to manufacture these reactors would not be a sound financial investment,” says M. V. Ramana, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia

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