Extracting plutonium from used nuclear fuel? We need to know the risks

Radioactive waste must be kept isolated from all living things.

March 18, 2021

Extracting plutonium from used nuclear fuel? We need to know the risks

ROTHESAY, NB – The Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (CRED-NB) urges the governments of Canada and New Brunswick to tell New Brunswickers and all Canadians about the risks of the Moltex experiment announced today.

The announcement this morning in Saint John by federal Minister Dominic LeBlanc and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs was missing key information. Extracting plutonium from nuclear waste was banned in Canada by former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Today the ban has been lifted, marking a significant departure in Canadian policy.

We wonder: why did Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lift the ban that Trudeau senior imposed? Where is the peer review of this proposed research that addresses the significant weapons proliferation concerns as well as environmental risks? Was ANY peer review conducted of the research proposed for New Brunswick before granting $50.5 million today to Moltex Energy to develop their technology?

Our research has found that it is highly dangerous and polluting to “open up” the used nuclear fuel in order to extract the desired plutonium. Extracting plutonium creates a civilian traffic in highly dangerous materials that can be used by governments or criminals or terrorists to make powerful nuclear weapons without the need for terribly sophisticated or readily detectable infrastructure.

Why was our province selected for this dangerous and controversial process? What are the implications for New Brunswickers and our natural environment?

In 2019, after intensive lobbying by the nuclear industry, the new federal Impact Assessment Act project list excluded new nuclear projects at Point Lepreau. These new nuclear projects are exempt from a federal impact assessment. Who will answer our questions?

“Because these projects planned for the Bay of Fundy are exempt from a federal Impact Assessment, there are no opportunities for the public to learn and have their say about this risky, expensive and speculative process. Pyroprocessing has never been done anywhere before. Why was New Brunswick chosen for this dangerous experiment?” said Ann McAllister, member of CRED-NB.

“It’s shameful and irresponsible that both the Canadian and New Brunswick governments are supporting the extraction of plutonium from CANDU used fuel without reviewing the environmental and weapons proliferation challenges,” continued McAllister. “We have grave concerns about the risks being introduced to our Bay of Fundy and surrounding communities with no public discussion or debate in the Parliament of Canada or the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick,” she added.

The federal government has not yet developed a comprehensive policy and strategy for the oversight and management of our existing legacy of toxic radioactive waste, let alone the new types of deadly radioactive waste that would be generated by this new project.

“Some of the most contaminated sites on Earth – Hanford in the US, Sellafield in the UK, Mayak in Russia – are the result of large-scale reprocessing of used nuclear fuel that released dangerous long-lived radioactive material into the environment,” said Dr. Gordon Edwards, a nuclear expert who provides technical advice to CRED-NB. 

The Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (CRED-NB) advocates for our province to be a leader in Canada in the development of innovation in renewable energy and nuclear decommissioning technologies.

CRED-NB supports the Wolastoq Grand Council Resolution opposing nuclear energy and nuclear waste on traditional Wolastoq territory, here.

CRED-NB has endorsed the public statement signed by more than 100 public interest, Indigenous and civil society groups across Canada calling for an end to federal funding for new nuclear reactor development, here.


For more information:

David Thompson

Spokesperson, CRED-NB

H: 506-635-1297

Technical expert: Dr. Gordon Edwards

President, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility


cell: 514-839-7214

CCNR office: 514-489-5118

Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (CRED-NB)

PO Box 4561 • Rothesay • New Brunswick • Canada • E2E 5X3



Author: CRED-NB

Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick