The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry Fukushima Chernobyl Mayak Three Mile Island Atomic Testing Radiation Isotope

Canada’s Feds forgo environmental assessment for controversial nuclear project

By Cloe Logan | News | December 23rd 2022

The federal government has decided not to require a controversial nuclear project to undergo an environmental assessment, prompting criticism from experts opposed to the technology who fear the rejection sets an “unfortunate precedent.”

New Brunswick’s primary energy provider, Énergie NB Power, has proposed the project, which relies on a small modular reactor (SMR) — a portable nuclear technology still in the development stage. The federal government and some provincial governments are betting on SMRs, which don’t produce greenhouse gas emissions, to replace coal and other fossil fuels as an energy source. However, many experts say the risks heavily outweigh the benefits: SMRs are expensive, experimental, produce toxic nuclear waste and are unlikely to be financially viable.

NB Power has plans to operate two SMRs and a spent fuel reprocessing facility at its current site on the Bay of Fundy, the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station. The Moltex SMR and spent fuel reprocessing unit are expected to be in operation by the early 2030s, while the ARC SMR will be up and running by 2029, according to the company. The latter project was being considered for federal assessment after a request from the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (CRED-NB) since it does not automatically fall under the federal assessment process. The Moltex project does because it will require recycling nuclear waste, according to CBC News.

The federal government is currently pushing the new technology through its SMR Action Plan, touting its ability to play an essential role in the pathway to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Likewise, the provinces of Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have signed a memorandum of understanding expressing support for SMR technology.

However, because SMRs are still in the development stage, any potential benefits they might have in slashing greenhouse gas emissions wouldn’t happen soon enough to contribute to Canada’s goal of cutting emissions 40 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, CRED-NB told Canada’s National Observer in March.

CRED-NB, comprised of 20 citizen groups and businesses and more than 100 individuals across the province, asked federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault in July to consider the importance of evaluating the SMR project under the Impact Assessment Act, a federal process that examines the environmental impacts of major projects, including all oil and gas, refineries, pipelines and liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities. The group raised concerns about its potential impacts to the surrounding environment, nuclear waste and Indigenous treaty rights.

The Passamaquoddy Recognition Group, representing the Peskotomuhkati Nation and the Wolastoq Grand Council, which has spoken out about how the storage of nuclear waste and continued funding for nuclear goes against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (UNDRIP), also sent letters of support.

In the initial request, CRED-NB notes concerns with “project splitting,” which is the “intentional breaking up of the project in its components parts” in order to get around the need for an impact assessment. In 2019, the federal government exempted nuclear reactors with fewer than 200 megawatts of thermal power and SMRs on pre-existing nuclear sites with fewer than 900 megawatts from the Impact Assessment Act. This came after lobbying from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the federal-level independent regulator of nuclear power, which raised concerns the assessment process would hurt the SMR industry in briefing notes obtained by Greenpeace.

Since there are two SMRs slated for the Point Lepreau site, the coalition argues they are essentially one project with different operators. However, assessing the ARC SMR individually means it falls under the megawatt limit.

In Guilbeault’s decision, he said an impact assessment for the SMR project was “unwarranted” because current legislative processes will address the issues raised by CRED-NB and that his decision was based on analysis from the Impact Assessment Agency. The project is set to undergo provincial assessment and will need to be licensed by the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, he noted.

In a submission to the Impact Assessment Agency, New Brunswick’s environmental assessment branch said concerns raised “would be expected to be addressed as part of the provincial [environmental impact assessment] review.”

However, CRED-NB stressed the federal government process is more thorough than a provincial assessment, which will come in 2023.

“The mechanism we had to uphold environmental justice has been denied,” said Kerrie Blaise, an environmental lawyer who assisted CRED-NB with the impact assessment request.

“The many unknowns and the potential for not only severe but irreversible impacts to the health of communities and the environment will not be subject to a rigorous public and cumulative effects assessment that an IA (impact assessment) provides. This is quite simply something that cannot be achieved by the nuclear regulator in their licence-specific assessment.”


December 25, 2022 - Posted by | Canada, environment, politics

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: