New Brunswick Greens skeptical of small modular reactor memorandum of understanding

WATCH: Premier Blaine Higgs has joined forces with the premiers of Ontario and Saskatchewan, pledging to develop small modular nuclear technology to fight climate change. Silas Brown reports.

New Brunswick’s Green Party leader is questioning the province’s decision to join forces with Ontario and Saskatchewan to develop nuclear technology intended to curb emissions.

Premiers Blaine Higgs, Doug Ford and Scott Moe signed a memorandum of understanding on Sunday to work together on the development and implementation of Small Modular Reactors (SMR), but the leader of the New Brunswick Greens says many questions remain when it comes to the unproven technology.

“In a sense they’re making a choice. Doug Ford and Blaine Higgs are making a choice saying we are going nuclear, we’re not going renewable,” David Coon said.

“It is again, beyond understanding when we know the cost of renewables, they continue to get cheaper and cheaper, we know that they’re proven technologies, we know how they work, and we know that they have zero carbon impacts, so what’s the problem?”

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SMRs are designed to run on spent fuel of other reactors and are much smaller. The reactors would be designed to be used alone, or linked together, creating more power. The reactors could even be added to existing nuclear plants, something the New Brunswick government is exploring for the reactor at Point Lepreau.

At a press conference on Sunday Higgs said renewables are not sufficient to meet New Brunswick’s energy needs.

“Why nuclear, why now? If you look at the spectrum of energy and how we’re going to provide and meet the demands in a zero emitting industry, it’s not going to happen by wind and solar, and it’s gotta be technology like this,” Higgs said.

The New Brunswick government has previously invested in SMR technology, spending $10 million in 2018 to help establish a nuclear research cluster. Coon says the cost is simply not worth the potential benefits, particularly when the technology is at least five to ten years away from being viable.

“Million upon millions of government money will have to flow into these,” he said.

“It’s going to be very expensive for the taxpayer too, so it doesn’t make any sense. The spin is unbelievable.”

Coon said investments would be better placed in utility-scale battery storage to help power utilities better take advantage of wind and solar power. Saint John Energy is currently working with Tesla to build such a system.

Currently there are two companies in New Brunswick attempting to develop SMR technology, ARC Nuclear and Moltex Energy. The CEO of ARC Nuclear Norman Sawyer says SMR is not intended to replace green technologies, but rather provide a level of power stability to the grid.

“Nuclear is not going to do it by itself, it’s a supporting function, it’s part of the equation to reduce CO2 emissions,” Sawyer said.

“If you truly look at it solar and wind are not the solution, it just wouldn’t work. If you power to your hospitals and your schools and your homes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, those technologies do not do it.”

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Sawyer believes that the new types of reactors can be built more efficeintly than the large CANDU-style reactors like Point Lepreau. Sawyer estimates that the 700 megawatt reactor at Point Lepreau would cost about $7 billion to replace. ARC is estimating it’s 100 megawatt reactors will cost a cool $600 million a piece. The hope is that over time the costs become lower and by the fifth to seventh reactor the price could be around $500 million.

But that depends on what happens over the next ten years and one of the necessary pieces will be federal involvement. Sawyer says Arc Nuclear has been speaking to Ottawa over the last year, and if the necessary strides are to be made to get these reactors to market, help is likely going to be needed.

“I would say that this depends on the federal government assisting provinces that want to deal with climate change with nuclear,” he said.

“I think the federal government has to step up.”

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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