For immediate release – November 28, 2022
Belledune Port SMR announcement: Public relations stunt to promote a “dirty, dangerous distraction from climate action”
Today the Belledune Port Authority in New Brunswick announced plans to use an ARC-100 reactor to generate heat and power for industrial users at the port. NB Power is planning to apply for a site licence to develop the ARC-100 reactor at Point Lepreau on the Bay of Fundy.
The Belledune Port’s announcement today is a public relations stunt to make it appear that there is business interest in so-called “small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs),” an attempt to attract the government and private investment that the nuclear industry desperately needs to survive.
SMRs like the ARC-100 will need massive amounts of public funding to develop. The proponents have not released any costs, but the government of Saskatchewan has estimated it will cost $5 billion to develop an SMR. To date there have been almost no private investors for SMRs because they are such a bad investment.
The Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (CRED-NB) has endorsed a public statementsigned by more than 120 public interest groups across Canada calling an SMR a “dirty, dangerous distraction from climate action.”
The ARC-100 – a small modular nuclear reactor is a “first of its kind,” according to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. The reactor design includes using liquid sodium as a coolant, a material that reacts violently on contact with air or water. Sodium-cooled nuclear reactors have never been successfully commercialized.
Proponents claim the ARC-100 is “proven technology,” exaggerated claims based on the performance of a research reactor that operated under laboratory conditions for almost 30 years, relying on a highly enriched type of fuel that would never be allowed for use in a commercial plant.
In other countries, attempts to commercialize sodium cooled reactors have resulted in major environmental cleanups that were more costly than the original reactor builds.
The first commercial sodium-cooled reactor in the US (the Fermi-1 plant, just outside Detroit) suffered a partial meltdown and was quickly scrapped. The book “We Almost Lost Detroit” describes in detail what went wrong. In other countries, sodium fires and erratic performances led to the abandonment of sodium-cooled reactors in France (the Superphénix), in Japan (the Monju breeder), in Germany (the Kalkar plant), and in Scotland (the Dounreay reactor).
All of these shut-down sodium-cooled reactors have proven to be far more expensive to decommission than they were to build. The costs of radioactive decontamination are extraordinarily high in every single case. Although the laboratory reactor (the EBR-2) was shut down permanently in 1994, scientists are still – 27 years later – trying to extract the sodium metal from the highly radioactive used metallic fuel so that that high-level radioactive waste material can be safely disposed of without causing underground explosions due to sodium-water or sodium-air reactions, as happened in the case of the Dounreay reactor.
Environmental lawyer Kerrie Blaise says: “The nuclear industry is promoting a nuclear fantasy to attract political support while purging past failures – like cost overruns and project delays – from public debate. Before Canada invests any public dollars in this yet-to-be-developed technology, they must fully evaluate the costs of nuclear spending and liabilities associated with the construction, oversight, and waste of this novel technology.”
The federal Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC) has begun reviewing a formal designation request from CRED-NB to subject the ARC-100 for a full federal Impact Assessment (IA). A final decision from the Minister of Environment, Steven Guilbeault, is anticipated by January 2, 2023.
Despite the potential for significant environmental impacts, the ARC-100 SMR is currently exempt from IA. This exemption (due to successful nuclear industry lobbying) means there would be no comprehensive examination of the project’s risks, costs and benefits, and downstream impacts before a decision is made to site one in New Brunswick.
“As early as June of next year, NB Power wants a licence from the nuclear regulator to proceed with site prep for the ARC nuclear reactor. There are many challenges, however, a licence can’t address that an impact assessment can,” noted Ann McAllister, spokesperson for CRED-NB “For instance, what is the economic feasibility of the project? And, given that the ARC SMR has a sodium coolant – meaning its wastes will become a new class of highly radioactive and corrosive waste – what is its impact on existing radioactive waste storage plans? These are just a few of the critical issues the nuclear regulator won’t be weighing in on in deciding whether or not to grant a site prep licence.”
Building SMRs such as the ARC-100 on the Bay of Fundy at Point Lepreau is strongly opposed by both the Passamaquoddy Recognition Group and the Wolastoq Grand Council. Both organizations, as well as the Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Inc. representing the Mi’gmaw First Nations in New Brunswick, support the designation request by CRED-NB to subject the ARC-100 for a full federal Impact Assessment (IA).
For more information:
Ann McAllister, spokesperson
Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (CRED-NB)
Kerrie Blaise, environmental lawyer