Public interest groups release a policy for Canada to manage radioactive waste for the public good

Public interest groups release a policy for Canada to manage radioactive waste for the public good
Ottawa – Today a national coalition of public interest groups released “An Alternative Policy for Canada on Radioactive Waste Management and Decommissioning.” The Radioactive Waste Review Group is submitting the alternative policy and a meeting request to Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Natural Resources Canada.

The Alternative Policy mirrors in order and content a draft policy released in February 2022 by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). However, the Alternative Policy integrates important changes to bring the policy in line with fundamental principles of transparency, safety and the public good.

Nuclear research and development, and the use of nuclear technologies, produce radioactive waste: gases, liquids, sludges or solids containing a nuclear substance. Radioactive wastes are by-products of nuclear fuel production and nuclear reactor operation.

Recognizing that radioactive waste can remain hazardous for very long periods of time, the Alternative Policy provides principles and guidance to waste producers, and facility owners and operators, to ensure they manage radioactive waste to protect health, safety, security and the environment over the long-term.

The Alternative Policy respects the five principles for radioactive waste management formulated by the Anishinabek/Iroquois Alliance: no abandonment; monitored and retrievable storage; better containment, more packaging; away from major water bodies; and no imports or exports of radioactive wastes.

The national organization Nuclear Waste Watch convened the Radioactive Waste Review Group in 2019. Their Alternative Policy development process included two years of meetings, information exchanges, consultations and submissions with civil society, public interest and Indigenous groups across Canada.

Canada must create a publicly-owned agency, independent of the nuclear industry and government agencies that promote nuclear power, to oversee the management of radioactive pollutants and decommissioning of nuclear facilities. The new agency would ensure that waste management target schedules are respected and reports on progress are made available to the public,” said Theresa McClenaghan, Executive Director of the Canadian Environmental Law Association.

“Bearing in mind the danger of radioactive waste, and that future generations will have to assume responsibility in case of containment failure, it is essential that radioactive waste producers, owners, facility operators, governments, Indigenous peoples, scientific experts, civil society groups and other interested Canadians and communities regularly contribute to planning, developing, reviewing and implementing an integrated strategy for radioactive waste management. This is not something that should be left to industry alone,” said Brennain Lloyd spokesperson for Northwatch

Uranium mine and mill tailings represent a very large volume of long-lived radioactive waste in Canada. An adequate and realistic “polluter pays” principle and monitoring must be implemented to ensure polluters provide secure and adequate financing, including a contingency fund for future remediation efforts, while following strict management practices that prevent damage to human health or the environment,” said Michael Poellet, representing the Inter-Church Uranium Committee (ICUC) in Saskatchewan

Radioactive waste must be characterized and classified according to a national standard, with provision made for careful retention of records, knowledge and memory of radioactive waste. Future risks associated with waste storage, handling, packaging, transport and long-term management must be kept to a minimum,” said Ginette Charbonneau, Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive

Our Alternative Policy ensures that detailed plans for disposal of radioactive waste will be prepared at project inception. The industry must not continue its haphazard approach to waste disposal, as we are currently experiencing at the Chalk River site next to the Ottawa River,” said Dr. Ole Hendrickson, representing Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area

“Our Alternative Policy forbids reprocessing technology in Canada, which extracts plutonium from high-level nuclear waste. This would end the current plans to reprocess nuclear waste in New Brunswick. There is considerable evidence that reprocessing spent nuclear fuel creates nuclear weapons proliferation risks and international relations concerns,” said Dr. Susan O’Donnell, representing the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick
For further information:
Brennain Lloyd, Northwatch, brennain@northwatch.org
705-497-0373 or cell: 705-493-9650
Theresa McClenaghan, Canadian Environmental Law Association, theresa@cela.ca  416-960-2284 ext 7219

Also available as a PDF document HEREDisponible aussi en français ICI​

Gordon Edwards CBC interview on SMRs

The CBC Saint John Information Morning radio show interviewed Dr. Gordon Edwards, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility on April 1, 2022. The link to the CBC interview recording is HERE.

Here’s the transcript.

CBC Saint John
New Brunswick is one of four provinces planning to develop small modular nuclear reactors. The government made this announcement this week and pitched this as a safe and clean power source. The Energy Minister calls it an exciting step forward in energy innovation. And yesterday on this show at around this time, we spoke with Professor Assam Hussain with the Canadian Nuclear Society, who said much of the same, but not everyone sees the potential in this technology. Gordon Edwards is the president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility and a longtime consultant on nuclear issues. Good morning, Mr. Edwards.

Gordon Edwards
Good morning, Julia. How are you? 

CBC Saint John
I’m very well. So what did you think when you heard that four provinces are going to be moving ahead with this with these plans for SMRs. 

Gordon Edwards
To tell you the truth, I felt very sad, because I think we should be dealing with the climate emergency. This is an emergency, it’s not something we can postpone for 10 to 20 years. And when you talk about building new nuclear reactors that haven’t even been built or tested previously, we’re really talking about kicking the can down the road, rather than dealing with the problem quickly. Renewable energy, for example, is four times cheaper than nuclear at the present time. And it’s about four times faster to get deployed. So if you want to do something quickly, you should be investing in things that are quick. And energy efficiency, saving energy, and renewables are far cheaper and faster than nuclear. So I think I consider it a step backward rather than a step forward. 

So officials from this group of provinces, which includes New Brunswick, who are involved in this development plan, say that it is safe and it’s reliable, and it’s clean. And this is the only way that we’re going to get to net zero before 2050. What would you say to that? Well, it’s not safe and it’s not clean. We’ve seen situations, for example, we just heard about troops in Russia, and Ukraine, who dug foxholes near a nuclear reactor and now they have radioactive contamination on their bodies. And they, some of them got radiation sickness and they had to leave. The problem is that nuclear is not clean. It produces hundreds of radioactive materials which become pollutants, some of them are released into the environment. And that’s true with the small ones as well.  And they become radioactive wastes themselves, even the buildings can become radioactive waste. 

In fact, I just finished yesterday putting in a report to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission about the $700 million fund that has been put aside to decommission the Point Lepreau reactor eventually, to take it apart. It all has to be done very gingerly, because it’s all, the whole structure is radioactive at that point, and it becomes a huge amount of radioactive waste. The same thing happens with small reactors.  You know, yesterday, yesterday, I heard professor Hussain talk, and he said that there are three letters S small M modular R reactor. He left out the letter N, Small Modular nuclear reactor. And the reason they don’t like to talk about the nuclear part is because that’s where the problem is. The problem is, it’s not clean. It produces waste that lasts for hundreds of 1000s of years. And it’s not safe because if you had, for example, if you deployed these things in Europe and Africa and around the world, anytime there’s a conflict–armies coming in and bombs going off–you have the possibility of the spread of radioactive poisons over very large areas.

CBC Saint John
To for you, this is black and white. This is not safe is what you just said like what why is there such a push to develop this technology? If for people like yourself that so clear? 

Gordon Edwards
Well, the reason is, the industry is not doing well. By the time I graduated from high school in 1957, all of these ideas were already old ideas, there are no really new ideas. And some of the reasons, these reactors have already been built back 50 years ago, 40 years ago, only on an experimental basis, and none of them became commercially successful at that time.  And now they’re trying to revitalize them. Why? Because the industry is not doing well. 

For example, here in Canada, you’ve got the Point Lepreau reactor in New Brunswick, and we have one in Quebec here. Those were among the last reactors ordered in North America, because since 1978, there haven’t been any new reactors ordered and built and brought to brought to the marketplace. There have been a few that have been thought about, for example, there were four down in the southern United States, giant ones that were planned almost 20 years ago, and two of them have been cancelled, even after spending billions of dollars on them, because the costs were just skyrocketing. And the other two are not yet completed.  

So it’s terrible when you have an emergency and you’re waiting 20 years for, for an energy supply that just isn’t coming. And that’s what’s going to happen, I’m afraid in Canada. The reason why the Premiers are investing in this is because they have been given a sales pitch by a lot of new startup companies that are very eager to rescue the nuclear industry from oblivion.  Over the last 25 years, the share of nuclear electricity, in terms of world electricity has been on a steady decline. It was 17% of global electricity back in 1997. And today, it’s only 10%. And it’s still going down. So it’s really the fate of the nuclear industry that they’re trying to rescue, the nuclear industry. They think that it’s going to keep their promises. But one of the things we found about nuclear is it doesn’t always keep its promises. In fact, in this case, I think it’s almost impossible, because the cost is going to be too great. And the delay is going to be such that it’s not going to be giving us any relief from climate change for at least 10 or 20 years, if ever.

CBC Saint John
Let’s talk about the cost side of this, because that is significant. You know, yesterday in my conversation with Assam Hussein with the Canadian Nuclear Society, you know, the $5 million for the first for the first of these reactors, it’s the first of its kind technology. So what is the effect when that kind of expenses incurred is diverted away from other technologies that might be more deployable.

Gordon Edwards
You put your finger on it right there. This is called opportunity cost. And by the way, it was $5 billion, he was talking about 5 billion for the first small modular reactor, in hopes that later reactors would be a little cheaper. But in fact, reactors have … in Ontario, they wanted to build new reactors some time ago at Darlington, big ones, and it priced itself right out of the market, the government said we just simply can’t afford $23 billion for new reactors. I don’t think New Brunswick can afford $5 billion for new reactors.  

So I think they’re dreaming in Technicolor. Over 100 Canadian organizations have signed a declaration saying that these small modular reactors, which are not real, they don’t actually have working examples of them, they’re going to be building the very first of a kind. They actually constitute a dirty, dangerous distraction from the real job of fighting climate change using technologies that we know work. And that we know what the cost of them really will be.  So yeah, I think the the cost is going to kill it. And people are not going to be able to afford them. And they’re going to wish that they had spent that money on something that really works. 

Now the other thing is that you put the money into it, the $5 billion, let’s say, and then it produces waste that has to be dealt with, let’s say 20 years later, 30 years later, you have all the waste that costs more billions of dollars. And then you have the decommissioning. The decommissioning, that’s just taking them apart. That costs billions of dollars as well. So you end up spending more and more money on things that you really wish you had spent more wisely. 

CBC Saint John
So the the promise or the expectation is that these reactors will I believe burn spent fuel. Is there no way to deal with that waste safely or to recycle it? 

Well, burning spent fuel is actually a misnomer. There’s no way you can burn spent fuel what you can do is you can extract about 1% of the material in the spent fuel, the used fuel, it is called plutonium. And by extracting the plutonium you can use that as nuclear fuel. That’s correct.  But the problem with plutonium is it’s also what’s used to make bombs for example, the Nagasaki bomb back in 1945 was made from plutonium. North Korea makes its atomic bombs using plutonium. Pakistan made its bombs using plutonium. So did India, so did the United States of America and the mighty five powers, they use plutonium as a nuclear explosive. So the problem with using plutonium as a fuel is you make it accessible for other purposes as well, that means you can make it accessible for bombs. By spreading these reactors around the world as they hope to do, they’ll be putting plutonium into countries that don’t yet have plutonium. And anybody can, even a terrorist group, if they can get their hands on the plutonium once it has been separated from the used fuel, then they can use that to make bombs. So it’s spreading the bomb as well.

CBC Saint John
Is it your view that there is no room for nuclear energy at all in our decarbonisation effort as a society?

Gordon Edwards
The existing reactors, certainly are playing a role temporarily because they’re they are providing energy, which is carbon free at the point of burning, at the point of producing the electricity. But new reactors are not a good investment, because as they say, too expensive, too slow and too problematic.  And the fact is that renewables have really been outperforming nuclear around the world at a very tremendous pace. 

And, you know, when you think about electrical car, for example, what is it that drives an electrical car, it’s not a nuclear reactor, it’s a battery. A battery is what holds the electricity so that the car can drive and that battery then has to be recharged. Well, it doesn’t matter where that electricity comes from. That electricity can come from a nuclear plant, but it can come from solar or wind. And it doesn’t matter if the sun is not always shining or the wind is not always blowing, you charge the battery. The future of of the the world in terms of clean energy is going to be dependent on batteries. If we want electricity to run our transportation sector, it’s got to be done using batteries. As soon as you perfect good batteries the way Tesla has done.  Tesla not only had batteries for his cars, by the way, but he also built industrial scale batteries that are used by Pacific Gas and Electric in California to replace diesel generators, instead of having diesel generators. They have large industrial scale Tesla batteries, and they use that to store excess electricity, so that when they need more, they simply plug into the battery and use that rather than a diesel generator to get more. That’s what we should be doing. Canada would be very smart to invest in batteries. That’s where the future really lies.

CBC Saint John
Gordon Edwards, thank you for sharing the other side of this debate with us this morning. Appreciate your time.

Gordon Edwards
You’re very welcome. Thank you.

CBC Saint John
That was Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. He is a consultant on nuclear issues. And if you have thoughts on this or any other story that you’re hearing this morning, always enjoy hearing from you on talkback, you can give us a call at 6327747 or toll free at 1-800-632-7743.

Energy efficiency is the largest, cheapest, safest, cleanest way to address the crisis

Interview in The Guardian with Amory Lovins, HERE:

But just as with the 1970s oil shocks, the problem today is not where to find energy but how to use it better, he says. The answer is what he calls “integrative, or whole-system, design,” a way to employ orthodox engineering to achieve radically more energy-efficient results by changing the design logic.

“In 2020 the world added 0.4 gigawatts more nuclear capacity than it retired, whilst the world added 278 gigawatts of renewables – that’s a 782-fold greater capacity. Renewables swelled supply and displaced carbon as much every 38 hours as nuclear did all year. Where nuclear is cheap, renewables are cheaper still and efficiency is cheaper than that. There is no new type or size or fuel cycle of reactor that will change this. Do the maths. It is game over.”

Federal government delays climate action, funding for new nuclear development is opposed by Indigenous, civil society and public interest groups

Federal government delays climate action, funding for new nuclear development opposed by Indigenous, civil society and public interest groups

Burlington, March 17, 2022 – The Government of Canada is further delaying climate action with an announcement of $27.2 million in funding today to develop a Small Modular Nuclear Reactor (SMR). There is no guarantee SMRs will ever produce energy in a safe and reliable manner in Canada.

During his remarks for the announcement, François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, as well as Westinghouse representatives, said that the technology to be developed, the e-Vinci reactor by the Westinghouse Electric Company, will be suitable for remote Indigenous communities currently using diesel energy.

However, research has demonstrated that small modular nuclear reactors such as the type Westinghouse is proposing are not the energy answer for remote communities. The researchers–Froese, Kunz & Ramana (2020)–concluded that the economics of SMRs do not compete when compared with other alternatives. The cost of electricity from SMRs was found to be much higher than the cost of wind or solar, or even of the diesel supply currently used in the majority of these communities.

Many of these remote communities currently using diesel energy are First Nations. In December 2018, the Assembly of First Nation Chiefs in Assembly passed resolution 62/2018, demanding that the Nuclear Industry abandon its plans to operate Small Modular Nuclear Reactors in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada, and demanding that the Government of Canada cease funding and support of the Small Modular Nuclear Reactors program.

Other Indigenous communities, including the Chiefs of Ontario, have passed resolutions opposing funding and deployment of SMRs.

Public interest and Indigenous groups across Canada say funding SMRs will divert critical funds away from renewable energy projects which are safe, proven and scalable now – which is key if Canada is to meet its climate target of 40 to 45% emissions reductions by 2030. It is impossible for an SMR to be developed in Canada by that date.

This funding announcement comes on the heels of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate which was unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. The urgency of the climate crisis means Canada must prioritize solutions that are economical and quick to deploy – Small Modular Nuclear Reactors fail on both counts.

To date, more than  120 public interest, Indigenous and civil society organizations from coast to coast to coast have endorsed a public statement against federal funding for new nuclear reactors, noting new nuclear energy is too slow to address the climate crisis, and renewable alternatives provide more jobs, quicker pathways to net zero, and avoid the concerns about nuclear weapons proliferation.

SMRs are untested and unproven new versions of old reactor designs, producing anywhere from 1 MW to 300 MW of electricity. While the nuclear industry claims their designs will be cleaner and safer, they will still produce long-lived radioactive waste. Despite public assurances of SMRs’ ‘passive’ and ‘inherent’ safety, SMR vendors and suppliers would also be protected from liability in the event of an accident – a concession by governments to the nuclear industry because of the inherent hazard that private nuclear investors do not want to underwrite.

Similar recommendations to halt government financing of SMR projects have been made by the Green Budget Coalition (GBC) of 23 leading Canadian environmental and conservation organizations. Their budget recommendations for 2022 included that the federal government “eliminate funding for Small Modular Nuclear Reactors – and reallocate investments towards renewable technologies that are proven, socially acceptable and scalable now.”


“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.”

–        Kerrie Blaise, Northern Services Legal Counsel, Canadian Environmental Law Association

“Funding new nuclear technologies is a bad investment – a waste of both time and money, that delays real climate action. 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? Indigenous leaders across the country oppose building nuclear reactors or storing nuclear waste in their territories because it contains ‘forever’ radioactive poisons.”

–        Prof. Susan O’Donnell, Coalition for Responsible Energy Development (CRED) in New Brunswick

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

–        M. V. Ramana, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia

– 30 –

Media contacts:

Kerrie Blaise, Northern Services Legal Counsel, CELA
Email: kerrie@cela.ca
Tel: 416-960-2284 ext 7224

Susan O’Donnell, PhD, Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (CRED-NB)
Email: Susanodo.unb@gmail.com
Tel: 506-261-1727

Gordon Edwards, PhD, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR)
Email: ccnr@web.ca
Tel: 514-489-5118  

New Brunswick’s offshore wind energy resources could replace our coal and nuclear energy

NB Power must close its Belledune coal energy plant by 2030. The utility is betting that new nuclear reactors (SMRs) will be built by that date to generate replacement energy. However offshore wind power could replace not only Belledune but also the Point Lepreau nuclear plant, and developing wind power would eliminate the need for more nuclear reactors. We can look to the U.S., the U.K. and the E.U. for guidance. Read the article by Martin Bush, published by the NB Media Co-op, HERE.

Letter to Banks: nuclear power is a terrible investment

CRED-NB is one of 13 New Brunswick groups and 65 other groups across Canada that signed a letter sent to the CEO’s of the six big banks this week. The letter urges the banks to EXCLUDE nuclear from its responsible investment portfolio. The letter is on our home page, and we’re encouraging everyone to download a copy of the letter to your own bank, and send it to your bank manager. More info HERE.

Participate in the Point Lepreau nuclear reactor licence hearing

NB Power has applied for a 25 year licence to run the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generation Station (PLNGS) until 2047. The current licence is for five years and expires in June this year.

CRED-NB and the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) will be intervening in the upcoming hearing by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to review the NB Power application.

The CNSC hearing period is open now. Click HERE to see how to participate.