New Brunswick

Greens divided over taxpayer funding for small nuclear reactors

The federal Green Party is torn on an issue that has brought New Brunswick Liberals and Progressive Conservatives together: federal funding for the development of small modular nuclear reactors.

Too early to take a stand, N.B. candidates say as party splits on whether to urge feds to halt funding

Fredericton Green candidate Nicole O'Byrne says she's 'definitely of the mindset' that more study and more discussion are needed. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

The federal Green Party is torn on an issue that has brought New Brunswick Liberals and Progressive Conservatives together: taxpayer funding for the development of small modular nuclear reactors.

Party members were almost evenly split in a recent policy vote on whether Ottawa should fund companies such as ARC Canada and Moltex Energy, both based in Saint John.

The party's election candidate in New Brunswick Southwest, the riding that includes Point Lepreau nuclear generating station, said he believes Greens shouldn't rule out nuclear power as a way to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

"Basically it's because it's carbon-free," John Reist said. "It will reduce our dependency on coal and gas and gas-fired power."

Fredericton candidate Nicole O'Byrne also said it's too early to take a clear position on the issue.

"A lot of people think more study is needed and more discussion is needed, and I'm definitely of that mindset as well," she said.

John Reist, the Green Party candidate for New Brunswick Southwest, says Greens shouldn't rule out nuclear power as a way to lower greenhouse gas emissions. (Green Party of Canada)

    Last November, the federal Greens called for the federal government to halt all investment in small modular reactors.

    But in a policy vote held online this summer, 39.6 per cent of party members voted "red" to reject a resolution for "ceasing all federal funding for nuclear energy research," while 37.3 per cent of members voted "green" to endorse it.

    Twenty-three per cent of the members chose a third option, a "yellow" vote, meaning they needed to know more about the issue before deciding.

    Under party rules, a resolution must be accepted or rejected by 60 per cent of members or it is sent on to a plenary discussion at the next party convention, which is expected in November.

    "You've got to base public policy … on evidence, not on ideology, and I think that part of the reason it was sent back for further discussion within the party is that a lot of people want to continue to have the discussion about where this is," O'Byrne said.

    In the same policy process, more than 50 per cent of Greens supported a resolution to ban the reprocessing of nuclear waste, a key part of Moltex's technology.

    SMRs 'right for the province,' energy minister says

    The online Green policy votes wrapped up just before the federal election was called, and at a time when small modular reactor companies are benefiting from generous subsidies.

    In February, the New Brunswick government announced $20 million in funding for ARC Canada. A month later, Ottawa committed $50.5 million to Moltex Energy.

    University of New Brunswick researcher Susan O'Donnell, a Green supporter of O'Byrne and an opponent of nuclear power, said the industry has been effective at marketing SMR technology to politicians.

    "People are reading this stuff and they're believing it," O'Donnell said. "It's so relentless."

    Natural Resources and Energy Development Minister Mike Holland said Monday that support for the small nuclear reactor industry transcends the traditional Liberal-Conservative partisan divide. (Radio-Canada file photo)

    On Monday, provincial Energy Minister Mike Holland boasted at the official opening of ARC Canada's Saint John office that support for the industry transcends the traditional Liberal-Conservative partisan divide.

    "We must move forward past our political allegiances and just do what's right for the province, and SMRs are right for the province," he said.

    Calls for more evidence, more debate

    But O'Donnell said that so far, there's no peer-reviewed scientific evidence that SMRs are viable and can be working in time to replace coal and other greenhouse gas-emitting energy and meet carbon reduction goals.

    "They will not work within the time frame," she said.

    Opponents also say safety and nuclear waste are concerns.

    Reist said many Greens worldwide see nuclear power as a necessary alternative to fossil fuels and as a power source that can back up intermittent, less reliable renewable energy such as solar and wind.

    "We need a debate," Reist said. "I know right now we're getting a lot of arguments about nuclear power and whether or not we should be using it. … We need facts.

    "In the Green Party we should be having an open debate, with both sides, and talk about the issue, because we're just getting one side of the story." 

    O'Byrne said she has ardent anti-nuclear supporters but also a local party member who works at Point Lepreau and believes nuclear has a role to play if it's properly regulated.

    "There are a lot of different views on nuclear and there's so much ideologically driven conversation when it comes to nuclear that I would prefer to see a lot more evidence come out about the viability of nuclear, and the oversight and government regulation that would need to be in place to look at it," she said.


    Jacques Poitras

    Provincial Affairs reporter

    Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. He grew up in Moncton and covered Parliament in Ottawa for the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. He has reported on every New Brunswick election since 1995 and won awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, the National Newspaper Awards and Amnesty International. He is also the author of five non-fiction books about New Brunswick politics and history.


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