By Sam Arnold, Telegraph Journal, Monday, November 18, 2019
We recently learned that the $13 million investment by NB Power and the Regional Development Corporation in Joi Scientific for the production of hydrogen from seawater may be a gamble that is unlikely to pay off.
New Brunswick residents should also be aware that the NB government and NB Power have committed to take taxpayers and ratepayers on another multi-million dollar energy gamble attempting to revive nuclear power. This has all the markings of another fiasco. As well, the Government of Canada has designated billions of dollars for a similar attempt to save the nuclear industry. We are wondering – as you may be – why this did not go public prior to, or during, the federal election.
The nuclear industry is unprofitable and has continually been on life-support. No new nuclear plants have been built in Canada or the U.S. for decades. The costs are too high and the risks too great to be competitive. The decommissioning costs are still unknown and will surely become an additional financial nightmare. No long-term safe storage of nuclear waste has yet been established or developed.
Despite these major obstacles, the nuclear industry is determined to keep the dollars flowing their way. It is now promoting a new technology, still on the drawing boards, called small modular nuclear reactors (SMNR). NB Power and the provincial government have made agreements with two companies, Moltex Energy Canada Inc. and ARC Nuclear Canada Inc. to invest $5 million each to support building one unit that could eventually be chosen for the mass-production of hundreds of SMNRs for the Canadian market.
In 2012, the Harper government slashed the number of projects requiring environmental assessment, arguing that only the biggest projects have an impact on the environment. In 2019, the Trudeau government’s controversial Impact Assessment Act (Bill C-69) and its key regulation (the Physical Activities Regulations, better known as the “project list”) came into force. Under the new rules, nuclear reactors generating up to 200 million watts of power, and their waste storage sites, can be built anywhere without an environmental assessment. Furthermore, the federal government has quietly reserved up to $27 billion dollars to fund SMNR development in Canada with no accountability to taxpayers or the environment.
How is NB’s $10 million SMNR gamble likely to conclude? The estimated cost to manufacture one SMNR is at least $500 million. But to be profitable, a manufacturer would need to sell 800 to 1,000 units. This unlikely prospect is the big gamble for NB Power and the NB government. A federal government subsidized consortium is working on six different SMNR designs at Chalk River, Ontario to determine which one is best for commercialization. Canada will also face stiff competition from China, Russia and other countries. In view of this high-risk situation, it seems particularly unwise for NB Power and the provincial government to gamble still more investments on another unproven nuclear technology. Even in the unlikely scenario that the SMNR technology is eventually found to be profitable, the likelihood of NB’s SMNR winning out over all the competition is small.
The obvious least risky and proven alternative for NB Power and the NB government to invest in is renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy storage capability. This would not only help meet the legislative commitment made to New Brunswick’s Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP), it would help bring about the needed transition to the low carbon economy (LCE) that the Conservative government, the Liberal Party and the Green Party have all agreed to implement. Most importantly, this will help our generation responsibly pass on a livable planet to our descendants.
The jobs that can quickly be created in renewable energy and energy efficiency retrofitting will not only surpass the number of jobs that may eventually be created building SMNRs, they would be spread around the province much sooner, and not be concentrated only in the southern part of the province.
By contrast, the SMNR proposal will take over 10 years of development before production could even begin, thereby not helping to meet the 1.5-degree limit set by climate experts in response to the climate emergency. With no certainty that a New Brunswick-built SMNR is chosen for commercialization, it defies common sense and economic logic to invest public money in SMNR development when already proven and affordable clean renewable energy and energy efficiency options promise so much more with virtually no risk.
Sam Arnold is with the Sustainable Energy Group – Carleton Chapter