Next-generation nuclear technology “has no part in fighting the climate emergency,” Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said Tuesday as a handful of MPs joined anti-nuclear activists to voice concern about the federal government’s intention to expand nuclear power.

“It, in fact, takes valuable dollars away from things that we know work, that can be implemented immediately, in favour of untested and dangerous technologies that will not be able to generate a single kilowatt of electricity for a decade or more,” the Saanich-Gulf Islands MP said at a cross-party press conference.

Anti-nuclear activists and the Raging Grannies rally at Parliament Hill before a cross-party press conference on nuclear power and small modular reactors. Photo by Peter Stockdale

The comments came one day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada must produce more nuclear power in the years to come. The federal government is funding the development of small modular reactors (SMRs) with a stated aim of replacing coal plants, powering heavy industry operations such as the oilsands and providing electricity for remote, diesel-reliant communities.

Ontario, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Alberta have agreed to a joint strategic plan for deploying SMRs to “provide safe, reliable and zero-emissions energy to power our growing economy and population.” In 2019, approximately 38 per cent of New Brunswick's electricity generation was from nuclear, and Ontario is sitting at roughly 60 per cent.

Nuclear power is an energy source that doesn’t directly produce greenhouse gas emissions and provides a constant supply of power without fluctuations, making it an attractive alternative to fossil fuels. Still, critics argue the timelines, cost overruns and delays associated with building nuclear power generation facilities contrast with the need to immediately scale up fossil fuel-free energy to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The longevity of radioactive waste, which is hazardous to human health and the environment, also raises questions among critics, as do concerns about nuclear proliferation.

Susan O'Donnell with the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, Bloc Québécois MP Mario Simard, Liberal MP Jenica Atwin, NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice and physicist Ginette Charbonneau speak to media at a press conference on April 25, 2023. Photo by Natasha Bulowski

Susan O'Donnell, a member of the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick, warned: “SMRs create new types of toxic radioactive waste that would be very costly and difficult to isolate from the environment for millions of years.”

Some SMRs would extract plutonium — a radioactive, silvery metal used in nuclear weapons and power plants — mixed with other substances from nuclear fuel waste. But to do so undermines global nuclear weapons non-proliferation agreements, said O’Donnell, who is also an adjunct research professor in the environment and society program at St. Thomas University.

Next-generation nuclear technology “has no part in fighting the climate emergency,” Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said Tuesday as a handful of MPs joined anti-nuclear activists to voice concern about the feds' intention to expand nuclear.

May, Liberal MP Jenica Atwin, Bloc Québécois MP Mario Simard and NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice attended the cross-party press conference on April 25.

Atwin’s constituents in Fredericton, N.B., have lots of different perspectives on whether SMRs are the right choice, she said.

“I don't believe that all those voices are being heard, and some are louder than others,” said Atwin, speaking as “a concerned individual and a mother.”

May and Boulerice pointed to the influence of the nuclear industry on Parliament Hill and the close relationship between Natural Resources Canada and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, a federal Crown corporation and the largest nuclear science and technology laboratory in the country.

"They don't have to knock on the door to get into the house because they own the house," said Boulerice of industry lobbyists.

NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice addresses the media at a press conference about nuclear power in Ottawa on April 25, 2023. Photo by Natasha Bulowski

“There's no question that the nuclear industry has far more access to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission in terms of raising different concerns about SMRs” compared to the anti-nuclear camp, said O'Donnell.

The Canadian Nuclear Association issued a news release after the press conference saying it is “discouraging to see elected officials spread fear and misinformation, particularly on issues related to safety, regulatory oversight, and Indigenous engagement.”

“It is disingenuous to suggest that we can easily decarbonize through wind and solar alone, while at the same time doubling or tripling our total electricity demand to 2050,” John Gorman, president and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association, said in the release.

On Monday, Trudeau said Canada is going to have to produce “much more nuclear over the coming decades” to keep up with increased energy demand.

The expansion and maintenance of nuclear power in Canada will have to deal with its significant waste problem. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is currently in the process of selecting a site for an underground waste facility that will house all of Canada's nuclear waste. The two possible sites are in Ignace, in northwestern Ontario, 250 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay; or South Bruce, in southwestern Ontario, around 180 kilometres northwest of Toronto.

The deep geological repository will house used radioactive fuel rods and other nuclear waste through a worsening climate and even future ice ages. Currently, there are two waste facilities in development in the world, one each in Finland and Switzerland. France has also completed its site selection and will begin construction in 2027.

The NWMO recently signed a five-year extension of its current multi-year co-operation agreement with its French counterpart, Andra. The agreement allows for information- and knowledge-sharing around public outreach and communication, technological innovation and safety approaches.

In the press release for the signing, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson called Canada a "Tier-1 nuclear nation" whose top priority is safety.

But not all agree Canada should remain a nuclear-dependent nation.

“I think the prime minister needs better advisers,” said O'Donnell, in reference to Trudeau's recent comments that an expansion of nuclear energy will be necessary going forward.

When asked if any Conservative MPs were invited to participate in the press conference, O’Donnell said an invitation was extended to one MP who was unable to come.

Natasha Bulowski & Matteo Cimellaro / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
April 28, 2023, 11:50 am

This article was updated to correct a reference to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's comments on the need to expand nuclear energy, and to change the term "fusion" rod for the correct term "fuel" rod.

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none so blind as those who willfully refuse to see.
wind , solar in remote northern ( melting muskeg) locations in a year?
or toxic unstable pie-in-the-sky mini!!! nuclear plants in some mythical future! who is the dangerous, delusional fantasist in this scenario ?

to summarize: billions of tax dollars to private con artists huksters peddling “problem free” nuclear power ( for indigenous land of course where nothing bad or shoddy construction never happens…)

"provides a constant supply of power without fluctuations"
Doubtful. Climate change itself is kneecapping nuclear power.

"As France’s disastrous summer of 2022 taught us (half of its reactors were down for repairs) old nuclear technology is unreliable – anything but the 24/7 phenomenon that advocates claim."
"No, nuclear power isn’t the ‘big bazooka’ climate fix you might think" (CNN)

"Nuclear power plants are also expensive to build and run. France's state-backed nuclear energy operator is nearly €45 billion in debt and will become fully nationalized to ensure a steady energy supply.
"...currently half of France's aging nuclear reactors remain offline for repairs and scheduled maintenance that had been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, which plagued the fleet all year. An extreme summer heat wave put added stress on the system by limiting power plants' cooling capacity. Labor strikes further exacerbated the nuclear energy crunch."
"Europe's Energy Risks Go Beyond Gas" (NY Times)

"French nuclear plants that rely on the Rhône River for cooling water have had to shut down repeatedly. … So, during the sweltering 2022 summer, Électricité de France (EDF) powered down reactors not only along the Rhône but also on a second major river in the south, the Garonne. Altogether, France's nuclear power output has been cut by nearly 50% during the summer of 2022. Similar drought- and heat-related shutdowns happened in 2018 and 2019. (Independent Media Institute)

"[Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station in New Brunswick] is offline due to a partial power loss. The most recent shutdown follows a week-long stoppage in August due to equipment issues and planned summer maintenance that went a month longer than expected.
"…Ann McAllister of the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick says it shows the unreliability of the 'aging' plant.
"'It's had a history of outages, planned and unplanned, especially since the refurbishment, which was from 2008 to 2012. And these outages are extremely expensive.'
"CBC News reports unscheduled outages at Lepreau are priced between $28,500 and $45,700 per hour, depending on variables like the time of year and market conditions.
"As the plant continues to age, reliability will likely worsen, McAllister added.
"'The thing is, they've always sold it as a reliable source of baseload power … but that's because they've never created any alternatives.'
"'NB Power seems determined to remain a nuclear utility; they're locked into that mindset… It's just, 'nuclear is reliable' even when it's not reliable, and nuclear's backup is fossil fuels.'"
"Critics say Point Lepreau power loss shows unreliability and antiquity of nuclear" (National Observer)

John Gorman, president and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association: "It is disingenuous to suggest that we can easily decarbonize through wind and solar alone, while at the same time doubling or tripling our total electricity demand to 2050."

No one said wind and solar can do the job alone (hydro generates 60% of Canada's electricity) — or that it will be easy. We also need a massive buildout of storage and transmission. Power-to-X (P2X)* technologies provide even more flexibility.
*Power-to-X (P2X) solutions convert renewable power into other energy carriers for storage and later use; for use in distant locations; and for non-electric applications that require high-density fuels, heat, chemicals, etc..

For the same dollars, we can buy far more kWh with renewables. And far sooner. Nuclear also soaks up scarce capital, including government subsidies, and displaces future renewables. Nuclear has a negative learning curve.
"Indeed, in both the United States and France, the two countries with the highest number of nuclear plants, costs went up, not down, with construction experience."
M. V. Ramana: "Are Thousands of New Nuclear Generators in Canada's Future?

"The Real Obstacle to Nuclear Power" (The Atlantic)
"The warming clock is ticking—and replacing fossil fuels is much easier with nuclear power in the equation. And yet the industry, in many respects, looks unready to step into a major role. It has consistently flopped as a commercial proposition. Decade after decade, it has broken its promises to deliver new plants on budget and on time, and, despite an enviable safety record, it has failed to put to rest the public's fear of catastrophic accidents.
"…In the U.S., construction delays on the Georgia reactors and others drove Westinghouse, the company building them, into bankruptcy. France started building a new reactor at its Flamanville plant in 2007, planning to open it in 5 years; as of this writing, it is still not ready. Britain approved a major plant in 2008 and probably won't turn it on until 2027, and the project is 50% over budget. Delays and cost overruns are so routine that they are simply assumed. 'Nuclear as it exists today is clean, it's reliable, it's safe. But it's not affordable'—at least when it comes to building new plants—'and this is what's holding nuclear back from a much bigger role in fighting climate change.'"

Why do free-market conservatives support monolithic, govt-sponsored, taxpayer-funded nuclear power over free-market renewables? Nuclear power does not exist without massive subsidies. Every nuclear station in Ontario was built by the govt. If nuclear weren't massively subsidized, no one would touch it.
SMRs, blue hydrogen, and CCS are delay tactics to perpetuate the fossil-fuel industry. At taxpayers' expense. Distributed renewables — the most democratic form of energy available — are ready to go.

"Governments have no time to waste on 'fantasy PowerPoint designs' of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) that could never be built in time to save humanity from the climate crisis, says the author of an annual status report on the world nuclear industry.
"Mycle Schneider said the governments of Britain, Canada, China, Russia and the U.S. are wasting time and money on plans for these reactors when affordable renewable energy solutions to the climate crisis are readily available."
"'Fantasy PowerPoint Designs’ Won’t Deliver Nuclear Power in Time to Solve Climate Change" (Energy Mix)

"Most of the advanced reactors, especially the non–light water reactors, will confront significant challenges in meeting commercial deployment by 2050. While at least 10 advanced reactor developers currently aim to deploy their technologies by 2050 in the United States, there are no currently operating fueled prototypes of any of these specific advanced reactor designs in the United States; there are, however, some demonstration and commercial units of similar reactor designs in operation internationally. Moreover, the vast majority of advanced reactors are still in the early design phase. Depending on the maturity of the technology, advanced reactor developers face a range of challenges to bringing the proposed technologies to commercialization, including little or no direct operational experience of some designs at engineering scale; the lack of adequate capabilities to develop, test, and qualify advanced fuels and materials; and as a result, the potential considerable time for regulatory approval."
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. Merits and Viability of Different Nuclear Fuel Cycles and Technology Options and the Waste Aspects of Advanced Nuclear Reactors.

Nuclear fails on costs alone. Renewables provide a bigger bang for the buck to lower emissions, and are widely available now, unlike SMRs.
To promote reliance on SMRs is to delay climate action for decades. SMRs will not be deployable on a commercial scale for decades. Time we don't have.

There are in fact very few actual free market conservatives. Scratch any of 'em and it turns out they are in fact "subsidize the rich, just not the poor" conservatives.

The climate change problem with water for cooling aside, nuclear reactors are actually surprisingly unreliable anyway, more so as they get older. True, they don't break down very often--but when other power plants have some kind of problem, it gets fixed in hours or days; when nuclear power plants break down, it tends to be MONTHS.

So why do you think governments continue to waste money on nuclear fantasies.........even after years of cost overruns, delays,shutdowns....etc. etc. etc.???

My guess is that the corporations that build anything that depends on a tax subsidy don't actually care if it gets finished....or built on time, or on budget. They aren't interested in the real green renewables because these technologies are too simple, transparent, and essentially democratic.....they aren't BIG ENOUGH TO BE ABLE TO BUILK THE PUBLIC....they actually work, and work best if distributed.

The bloviated private capitalist sector prefers Big Mega Projects......that always take longer, cost more, and keep the hard hats working longer. It's about making a killing off the public dollar.....while convincing the public that simple isn't going to work, and small is not enough.

Unfortunately, the scam continues to work.........and our tax dollars will disappear down the black hole of nuclear everywhere, carbon capture, storage and utilization (all those CO2 pipelines reek of money for someone), LNG pipelines for fracked gas.....while the planet continues to heat up, and the fantasies of colonies on Mars keep Joe public from recognizing the End Game he's paying for.

Pretty sad for the grandbabies.

I've championed nuclear power (in newspaper comments columns, also occasionally with a vote) for about 45 years. I've got no problem with an investment in SMRs, but basically, it's on the off-chance that they just. might. work. And we are SO desperate for climate options that even a small chance is worth spending billions on. The overall green transition is surely trillions, so it's a fraction of 1% of the planetary transition budget.

Research is almost always a good idea - you may often find out stuff that you weren't looking for, and turns out to be valuable by surprise. What we shouldn't do is plan on the research paying off. My 45 years of support haven't been rewarded by impressive new technologies, not so far, so they look like a bad bet going forward.

We absolutely need fabulous amounts of storage, if we can't get something like nuclear or deep geothermal to work. Alberta and Saskatchewan literally need hundreds of Gigawatt-hours of storage, and R&D on both pumped-hydro and super-cheap batteries like the iron-air technology from Form Energy needs to be aggressive.

Well, it's true we need quite a bit of storage. But (solar and/or wind) + storage is still half or less the cost of nuclear, and comes on stream much, much faster. So nuclear just isn't part of the climate change solution. It's too expensive and too slow, and that goes triple for new, untested designs.

Research, sure. I have nothing against continuing quiet research on these SMR things, but that doesn't seem to be what's happening here. Rather, what we have is a moribund nuclear industry pouring all their PR into a hail mary pass, grabbing a technology some people have mused about and talking it up like it's perfect and wonderful and ready so they can gobble up mounds of sweet, sweet subsidies. SMRs don't seem to be a very good idea in the first place, even compared to normal nuclear reactors, so I'd certainly want to see quite a bit more research to figure out whether there's a shred of reality to the touted advantages, rather than see them rushed into production. Particularly since small reactors are fundamentally less efficient than large ones, the difference is supposed to be made up with mass production savings, and some of the designs touted are quite weird. If you want to make a bunch of these things, better have worked out the kinks in the design and figured out whether you can in fact do any useful mass production techniques on them before you start making them.

Incidentally, storage just got cheaper. I mean, there are lots of ways to do storage, not just batteries, but batteries are important. And there has been a lot of talk about the expense and, ultimately, scarcity of lithium, which is fair even if it's maybe been a bit overblown. However, one of the latest car models in China is a little EV with 300 km range that costs about 11,000 bucks (US, so maybe 15,000 Canadian?) whose batteries have SODIUM instead of lithium. Sodium, as in sodium chloride, as in salt, as in plentiful and cheap like borscht. We can make those forever.

The sodium ion battery (a hybrid with small amount of lithium) is a remarkable very recent invention. It will probably have double the energy density and range of yesterday's lithium ion (nickel manganese cobalt, which has dendrite/fire issues) and today's LFP (lithium iron phosphate). Sodium is cheap, and lithium has gone down in price by 65% in the last year or so, likely in anticipation of the announcement by China's CATL (the largest and most advanced battery company on the planet) about their release of the sodium battery this year.

The sodium ion hybrid battery has excellent cold weather performance and is stackable to multiple megawatt grid capacity. If they achieve 100 hours of storage (they're probably close) then intermittency becomes a non-issue. Stable base load power with solar, wind and batteries alone will offer THE answer to affordably scaling up renewables quickly in order to decarbonize the economy. Energy conservation will lower demand further, a bonus.

The recent announcement by Volkswagen to build the world's second largest battery plant in Ontario came on the heals of the CATL battery release in China. VW stated it will use the "latest" battery chemistry (likely a nod to sodium ion), but it's also a great opportunity to develop large scale grid storage batteries too and diversify away from a strictly automotive focus.

This is all part of meeting the climate challenge and about re-shoring manufacturing and tech R&D. Canada is very fortunate to be a part of that.

In the above light, I see SMRs as a tangential issue not based on consumer demand per se, especially when affordable solar + wind + batteries (and future geothermal) are already positioned to meet that demand today, which, it's true, will be at least double the nation's electricity consumption.

I wish emotions could be discarded in favour of neutral, independent analysis based on scientific evidence and best practices. The critics always use the existing waste as a legitimate argument against building more nukes, but that leaves them wide open to the criticism that they don't know what to do with the existing waste. Nuclear optimists see some SMRs designed to use the stored spent fuel rods as fuel recycled over and over for additional power generation, rendering it down to something that is orders of magnitude more manageable for deep burial.

So what is the Green Party's recommendation, continue to ignore the issue? Leave the existing highly radioactive waste glowing in pools of water for 200,000+ years? Do the Greens have plan to shut down nuclear power? If so, how? What are the sources of its rhetoric? Finding ways to dramatically reduce the toxicity of existing waste while benefitting from additional emissions-free power is obviously part of the collection of issues suppressed, stuffed under the table and labelled Not For Discussion.

There are reports either way on this topic based on varying degrees of genuine science; using plutonium and atom bombs to scare people is not an adult answer and will not address the problem of existing waste. It's also not a way acknowledge that medical isotopes for diagnostic scans are legitimately beneficial to humans, and have been an essential part of our healthcare system for generations. I also call bullshit on the most vociferous public critics who have gleamingly perfect teeth possible only with regular dental care with x-rays now and again. They may succeed in killing off nuclear power and could, if rational discourse prevailed, be part of the solution on dealing with radioactive waste. But they can never touch the topic of cobalt and other radioactive minerals being refined in nuclear reactors for medical usage.

Will SMRs and nuclear power be the largest component of an expanded renewable energy-based economy? Absolutely not. Solar is already the cheapest form of energy ever invented by civilization. Wind is right behind, and new battery chemistry has now closed the loop of the powerful triumvirate necessary to meet the world's demand for energy and remove carbon from the equation. SMRs are only an expensive niche consideration by comparison, but they are vociferously portrayed as the devil incarnate in some quarters.

To some people, the far, far more important byproduct -- with or without SMRs -- will be the speedy decimation of the internal combustion engine and the total disruption of the fossil fuel industry that has killed hundreds of millions more people than nuclear power ever has. Now THAT would be something worth celebrating. We might even get to break open the Prosecco before 2030.

Thanks for this.......its our perspective also. But I hadn\t heard about the sodium batteries.

We can go for weeks on end without much sun or wind. Cold snaps boost demand at the same time that sun is scarce and wind drops to zero. Storage alone will not keep the lights on in Alberta — much less operate the oilsands.
Transmission is key. No number of solar panels or wind turbines will be enough without the capacity to move electrons from where they are being produced to where they are needed.

In North America, for example, massive solar farms in the American Southwest could supply Western Canada in winter. Spring through fall, prairie provinces supply their neighbours with solar and wind. Wyoming supplies wind power to California. California sends solar power to Wyoming. Quebec supplies the NE U.S. with hydro.

If we can move dilbit to the Gulf of Mexico and Asia, we can move electrons from Arizona and New Mexico. If we can do it for fossil fuels, we can do it for electrons. Moving electrons around is standard practice — we need to expand the grid.

Some regions in the world may be able to self-sustain with renewables plus storage: e.g., northern Africa, southwest U.S. The rest need to import power when local renewables are unavailable and export power when abundant. That requires expanded transmission capacities: more transmission lines and continental grid interconnection.

The distribution of (renewable) power is less daunting than fossil-fuel distribution. Every region can generate some of its own power using a combination of solar, wind, and hydro. No city in Canada is self-sufficient in fossil fuels.
The average transport distance for electrons is far shorter than the average distance for fossil fuels. Fossil-fuel transport involves the daily transfer of vast volumes of hazardous commodities that require intensive processing. Build transmission lines for power, and you're done.

"The Price of Power: How to cut Canada's Net Zero electricity bill" (RBC)
"Option #1: Transmission
"Leveraging Canada's large geography, power can move from where it can be most efficiently produced to where it's needed. That would require swapping power between provinces that have good wind and solar resources and those with a lot of hydro. During periods with high solar and wind generation, we'd send renewable power to the hydro provinces, and at night or on calmer days, dispatchable hydro would return the favour. In most studies, this helps Alberta, Saskatchewan, BC, Quebec and the Maritimes decarbonize."

"How to fix high price of electricity and grid alerts in Alberta" (Calgary Herald)
"AESO could consider increasing the use of mechanisms and technologies such as demand response and distributed energy resources, both of which could provide reliable capacity when needed and are flexible enough to respond quickly to changes in the supply-demand balance caused by increasing levels of intermittent renewable generation.
"Demand response is a mechanism whereby customers earn revenue by reducing their energy use during times when the electricity system is experiencing high demand. It has the ability to mitigate prices by reducing pressure on the demand side during tight grid conditions. Demand response can also help to defer or avoid costly transmission additions.
"…Distributed energy resources (small modular units located closer to where power is used) such as pairings of wind/solar generation with storage, biomass, stand-alone electricity storage, small gas or hydrogen generation and hydrogen storage can provide flexible capacity or energy where needed. Possible medium to long-term strategies to ensure capacity is there when needed is to increase import capability via interties as well as implement policy changes that would encourage generation to locate closer to loads."