Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne announced a $27.2-million investment Thursday in the development of next-generation nuclear technology he said will make energy more accessible to remote communities.

However, numerous Indigenous, scientific, environmental and citizen groups have called the technology a “dirty, dangerous distraction” from real climate action.

The money will go to the development of Westinghouse Electric Canada Inc.’s eVinci micro-reactor, a small modular reactor (SMR) the company says will “bring carbon-free, transportable, safe and scalable energy anywhere Canada requires reliable, clean energy.”

SMRs — a portable nuclear technology still in the development stage — are a good energy alternative for small communities, specifically remote Indigenous communities, which are currently reliant on diesel, Champagne said.

However, experts such as M.V. Ramana, professor at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, have found SMRs aren’t a practical solution when compared to renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar.

“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,” said Ramana.

“There is no viable market for small modular reactors, and even building factories to manufacture these reactors would not be a sound financial investment.”

There’s also sizable criticism around the kinds of nuclear waste SMRs are set to produce, as the process of making energy would leave toxic radioactive waste behind. Studies have documented some Indigenous communities' resistance to SMRs, and formal stances have been put out by groups such as the Assembly of First Nation Chiefs, which passed a resolution in 2018 urging the abandonment of SMR plans and funding.

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. So are the provinces of Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, which signed a memorandum of understanding expressing support for SMR technology.

Opponents say the money would be better spent on proven green tech, rather than small modular reactors, which they say are expensive and environmentally dangerous. #Nuclear #SMRs #Energy
Research and development of small modular reactors and advanced reactors. Photo by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories via Flickr

The action plan doesn't just focus on powering remote communities. It also notes “oilsands producers and remote mines” would benefit from the technology, which could provide “medium-term options for bulk heat and power that would be more reliable and cleaner than their current energy sources.”

But SMRs are still in the development stage, and any potential benefits they might have in slashing greenhouse gas emissions wouldn’t be felt soon enough to contribute to Canada’s climate target of a 40 to 45 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030, said the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick.

Susan O'Donnell, a University of New Brunswick researcher and member of the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development, called SMRs a “bad investment.”

“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?” she said.

“Indigenous leaders across the country oppose building nuclear reactors or storing nuclear waste in their territories because it contains ‘forever’ radioactive poisons.”

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Thank you, National Observer, for this article highlighting how the federal government is "backing the wrong horse" by subsidizing small modular nuclear reactors (SMNRs). With this article, the National Observer becomes one of the few media outlets to highlight the government's irresponsible diversion of limited public funds from cheaper, faster and immediately-available renewable energy, efficiency and storage technologies to new nuclear projects that will be too late, too slow, and too costly to save us from the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Money that has been spent on slower, more expensive new nuclear projects will NOT be available to build out cheaper and faster wind, solar, efficiency and storage that are ready and available now. What does the federal government not understand about opportunity costs?

So glad to read Chloe Logan's article about more public money being devoted to the development of Small Modular (Nuclear) Reactors. The grip that the nuclear industry has on Canadian energy policy is awful. It begins to rival that of the oil/gas industry, and similarly, it is an obstacle to speedy investments in the true climate change policies of energy conservation, wind, solar and geothermal technologies. Increasingly its clear that these new energy -saving and energy-generation technologies are the only hope for a speedy, effective challenge to climate change. We can build an integrated trans-Canada electricity soft-energy supply grid!

It seems to me that wind, solar and storage can be installed in rural communities too. That's technology that we have now, is far cheaper, and can not become a source of nuclear terrorism.

Nuclear, oil and gas are sunset industries. They enable concentration of power in far too few hands, leading to wars, oligarchical economic and political systems, and the catastrophic collapse of life-support systems. But governments keep propping them up. The U.S. Department of Defense is supporting the eVinci micro-reactor for deployment at its network of military bases around the world. And now the Government of Canada is providing Westinghouse $27 million for the eVinci. This is the opposite of a "just transition" - it will contribute to more inequality and insecurity.

Maybe instead of flushing $27 million away on dubious small nuclear reactors, the feds could fix First Nation water systems.
What could be more colonial than to saddle First Nations with unworkable, incredibly costly technology to meet their energy needs?
This is not green transition, it is green washing. We need climate action now, not empty distractions

If the cost of electricity is your only metric, then sticking with diesel is probably the best option for remote northern communities. Even throwing in some wind and solar is likely to be more economical than nuclear, because the fossil fuel generation required to back up the intermittent renewables already exists in the form of diesel generators. Nuclear would look much more attractive for this and almost all other applications if the cost of energy was substituted for the cost of electricity. The demand for energy in the form of heat far exceeds the demand for electricity in northern communities, and SMRs typically produce two to three times as much heat as they do electricity, whereas wind and solar PV cells (except hybrid) produce only electricity and no heat. Nuclear would also be more attractive if the electricity requirements of northern communities expanded beyond current levels, since the communities would then have to add either more diesel generators or long term storage (several months worth, which would be astronomically expensive) to back up intermittent wind and solar.

Bravo to Cloe Logan for her balanced informed treatment of the SMR issue. Canadians need more knowledge on the dangers of this toxic path the government seems intent on following, hand in hand with the nuclear industry.
As a new subscriber I look forward to more discussion on this important topic.

Thank you Chloe for covering this important issue. The government's backing of so called Small Modular Reactors is indeed a dirty and dangerous distraction. The same money invested in renewable energies would bring better and less costly energies to the grid that much sooner. Canada’s s ties to the nuclear industry and their false claims deserve a more thorough story. Hopefully the National Observer can see a way to give this more attention. Thanks again!

Nothing quite like a balanced article quoting sociologists (O'Donnell), the guy who wrote about China managing its coal plants better, reducing their carbon output (Ramana).

If you want "balance", somebody who's built or operated a reactor might be nice, or a professor of nuclear engineering - not all of whom like SMRs, and they just have more credibility.

Thank you N.O. for covering this crucial issue and focusing on this corrupt industry that seems to have a stranglehold on our abysmally ignorant and shortsighted politicians. I would hope that you will cover the evolution of Canada's policy on nuclear power and the waste generated more closely in the future because there is an essential, existential debate going on and if nuclear power is winning, we the people, are losing.

This is the industry whose iconic lie in the 50's was that nuclear power would be too cheap to meter. The reality today, as it turns out, is that mostly nuclear Ontario has much higher electricity rates than almost entirely hydro-based Québec.

Today, their central lie has been updated. Today they are peddling that 'nuclear is THE solution to replace fossil fuels' and that non-existent SMR technology will be the technology to do so. With SMRs scattered all over Canada's isolated hinterlands where nuclear expertise and timely accident response is rare, nuclear energy's unmanageable pollution risks will also be dispersed far and wide --- a nightmare scenario saddling 1000's of future generations with the management of these highly toxic wastes in a context of rapidly changing climate.

"Trying to solve global warming by building nuclear power plants is like trying to solve global hunger by serving the world caviar" --- Peter Bradford, former NRC Commissioner during the 3 Mile Island nuclear meltdown...

I’m of mixed opinion about nuclear tech. In general, I think it’s too expensive—just to build and run, let alone putting it to bed which, as everyone should know, has not been solved by a long, long shot. Those ecological-economic arguments should be enough to scratch any proposal to apply SNRs to any industrial or civic function.

Beware the bitumen industry which, beset by the inconvenient facts that the goo has to be cooked out of its sandy deposit, currently by way of burning fossil fuels, thus, virtually doubling the carbon footprint of a barrel of diluted bitumen, the lowest grade of petroleum except for asphalt. The shell game (excuse the pun) is to posit that using nuclear to supply the bitumen-smelting and -distilling heat would cut the footprint in half, making dilbit production not only “ethical” (as Jason Kenney calls it despite ubiquitous orphaned wellheads for which no money has been saved to put to bed, and downstream (and down-air-shed) tar-sands pollution proved to cause human health problems—let alone ecological damage), but “clean” too. Yeah, like “blue hydrogen” is pollution-free. The fact is, that barrel of dilbit, no matter how it’s got, is destined to be refined and combusted into the air (and low double-digit percentage turned into plastics). That’s what economical wind, solar and hydro alternatives are developed for—like, they already exist and are becoming more economical all the time.

Small Nuclear Reactors are just another razzle-dazzle. On surface it seems a good thing to reduce bitumen production’s GHG footprint, but factoring in the cost and environmental and economic problems of SMRs—not to mention security— the proposal is still a dud and we still have to reduce the end use of petroleum, not only its production footprint.

But, on the other hand, we need to know how SMRs work and who is using them in order to protect us from foreign deployment and or misuse of the technology, for whatever purpose, and I think it best for this purely research aspect to be conducted by a publicly owned and accountable agency. For my money, it’s not necessary to rationalize this research by applying it to industrial or civic functions: SMRs shouldn’t be propagated in finer and finer grains in our weirder and weirder world. It’s just not safe.

We need to recover surveillance capacity after the HarperCons privatized a substantial portion of public participation and regulation of the nuclear industry. If it was up to me, Atomic Energy Canada would be re-nationalized in the time it takes to split an atom.

Dear National Observer,
This article is excellent. A+

I agree entirely with the statements in this article. SMNRs investment should not be an alternative to Climate Change adaptation or mitigation strategy with the Government of Canada to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is a very "dangerous distraction" because the Authority, Accountability and Responsibility of the Government of Canada is lacking and has forfeited with the only objective of making business decisions. Canadians have no say (Social Acceptance) when these decisions are made. These decisions will not benefit our planet in the short or long term in Canada and globally.

Additionally, please find below are a few excerpts that I have written in a letter to the Government of Canada and 5 federal ministers in support of a petition I created in November 2020 at Change.Org and sent via email on March 3, 2022. This letter and petition were also submitted to the House of Commons committee to M. Alexandre Longpré, Clerk of the House Committee on Environment and Climate Change as a submission (Brief) to the committee members on March 4, 2022.

PETITION: Small Modular Reactors and Nuclear Waste Concerns - Domain: Public Concerns are Real.
CONTEXT: Small Modular Reactors Raise Nuclear Waste Risk, Distract from Real Climate Solutions. Ref.

Excerpts of this letter:

The current knowledge on nuclear electricity and ROI (return on investment) comparable to other renewable energy sources such as wind and solar is compelling and that nuclear energy is more expensive comparatively to other renewable energies such as wind and solar technologies. The taxpayer may no longer believe that nuclear energy is beneficial nor impactful on climate change.

There are many convoluted notions created by the nuclear industry and nuclear lobbyists that generate scientific disinformation about SMNR development, nuclear waste, nuclear energy and its value to combat climate change. More importantly, nuclear atoms (once created and activated) cannot be diluted nor deactivated and burying it underground will not resolve any issues for thousands of years and for generations.

As such, the following information was presented in this letter in support of this petition.


• A debate in Parliament on nuclear waste impacts of small modular nuclear reactors (SMNRs) and the economic impacts on the environment, communities (indigenous and non-indigenous) and human health and safety of the Canadian population has never been initiated by federal parliamentarians.

• Radioactive waste is dangerous, poses risks to all living things and must be kept out of the biosphere for as long as it poses a radioactive health hazard (many thousands of years) as well as the transport of nuclear waste across jurisdictions in Canada.

• Low carbon alternatives to nuclear technology for power generation are readily available, faster to deploy and do not generate radioactive waste such as wind and solar technologies. Moreover, the return on investment has not been demonstrated in an efficient and scientific manner according to a conclusive financial calculation for the tax payer.

• Federal support and funding for development of small modular nuclear reactors (SMNR) would be illogical in terms of generating radioactive waste for future generations.

• Nuclear energy and SMNRs are not an alternative renewable energy source to combat climate change. SMNR development and nuclear wastes are not recyclable or renewable materials and nuclear energy involves creating new elements not found in nature.

• The development of SMNRs carries real risks in terms of nuclear accidents, safety risks and catastrophic failures that cannot be overlooked or normalized simply to justify its benefits to the Canadian or international economy. We have already seen why the sale and use of fossil fuels as a source of energy (and not demonized) which have created devastating effects on the environment and the health of the world's population: climate change, temperature increase, floods, droughts, stresses thermal on the health of the population and the infrastructures, impacts of airborne particles on the respiratory tree and most importantly the impact on the world economy. Similarly, nuclear waste will have a significant long-term (thousands of years) impacts on the environment and human health without protection, mitigation or adaptation measures for generations. Nuclear waste will last for thousands of years as it cannot be deactivated.

• NRCan has postulated the belief that nuclear waste is recyclable in which is not scientifically accurate and remains a postulate built on a false premise by the nuclear industry. This is manufactured ignorance from the nuclear industry clouded by poor scientific judgment.

• Burying nuclear waste that cannot be deactivated does not resolve the issue of nuclear waste (anywhere) as keeping it out of sight from the general public does not make it a solution but rather it only hides its devastating impacts on the environment for thousands of years and for future generations underground (DGRs).

• There are no safe doses of radiation exposures in the workplace or the environment and that includes nuclear waste as it is extremely dangerous when released in the environment (air, water and soil). The major difference between industrial concentrations of nuclear materials and the nuclear materials used in medical applications are in fact the concentrations.

• We cannot dilute industrial concentrations of radioactive waste as it cannot be deactivated. Hence, the need for long term disposal for thousands of years and for generations. The toxicology concepts are clear for nuclear and nuclear waste health impacts whether in the environment or in the workplace. Nuclear energy kills all living things, not save them. Anyone handling nuclear waste as workers without appropriate protection, will die from radiation exposures and/or suffer health impacts like carcinogenicity. Imagine what happens in the general population and the environment when nuclear waste is released whether it is airborne, found in drinking water and more importantly, when an accident occurs (airborne). Once released, the governments (globally will not be able to alleviate the impacts) as everyone is impacted. The toxicological impact studies on the general population of nuclear exposures (and accidents) are clear and are well documented scientifically.

• Nuclear energy is not clean and not renewable because nuclear waste will last for thousands of years. It is apparent that the nuclear energy industry and lobbyists have not argued scientifically that nuclear energy is renewable and have not argued with clear scientific evidence that it is in fact a green energy with no plausible argument because nuclear waste cannot be deactivated.

It appears that the Government of Canada must intervene immediately to reduce nuclear waste and prohibit SMNR development as well as implement a moratorium on nuclear energy development for security reasons (Globally). Must I talk about the Russian war in Ukraine and nuclear wastes risks (Chernobyl disaster) or nuclear war? The plight and constructs of SMNRs or nuclear risks of nuclear wastes are not beneficial. We can no longer forfeit climate change or our future in the Oil Sands of Alberta or in Uranium geological structures in Canada for the reasons explained above.

Simon J Daigle, B.Sc., M.Sc., M.Sc(A)
Occupational Health Safety Expert, Industrial & Occupational Hygienist, Toxicologist,
Air Quality Expert - Environmental Sciences (Tropospheric Ozone),
Epidemiologist (Communicable and non-communicable diseases)
Earth & geophysical specialist (geophysics and physical geography)

Scientific references available upon request.