New Brunswick

'Many issues' with modular nuclear reactors says environmental lawyer

Modular nuclear reactors may not be a cure for the nations carbon woes, at least that’s what one environmental lawyer believes.

Three premiers have agreed to work together to develop the technology

Theresa McClenaghan, executive director of the Canadian Environmental Law Association, said she doesn't think modular nuclear reactors are "a viable solution to climate change.” (CBC)

Modular nuclear reactors may not be a cure for the nation's carbon woes, an environmental lawyer said in reaction to an idea floated by three premiers.

Theresa McClenaghan, executive director of the Canadian Environmental Law Association, said the technology surrounding small reactors has numerous pitfalls, especially when compared with other renewable energy technology.

This comes after New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Ontario Premier Doug Ford agreed to work together to develop the technology.

Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp.'s Micro Modular Reactor Energy System is designed to fit in a standard shipping container. The company is partnering with Global First Power and Ontario Power Generation, who are in talks with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. and the CNSC about preparing a site for a reactor at AECL's Chalk River Laboratories. (Ultra Safe Nuclear)
Small modular reactors are easy to construct, are safer than large reactors and are regarded as cleaner energy than coal, the premiers say. They can be small enough to fit in a school gym.  Designs have been submitted to Canada's nuclear regulator for review as part of a pre-licensing process.

The premiers say the smaller reactors would help Canada reach its carbon reduction targets but McClenaghan, legal counsel for the environmental group, disagrees.

"I don't think it is the answer," said McClenaghan. "I don't think it's a viable solution to climate change."

McClenaghan said the technology behind modular reactors is still in the development stage and needs years of work before it can be used on a wide scale.

"There are many issues still with the technology," said McClenaghan. "And for climate change, the risks are so pervasive and the time scale is so short that we need to deploy the solutions we already know about like renewables and conservation."

Waste, security concerns: lawyer

While nuclear power is considered a low-carbon method of producing electricity, McClenaghan said the waste that it creates brings its own environmental concerns.

"You're still creating radioactive waste," said McClenaghan. 

"We don't even have a solution to nuclear fuel waste yet in Canada and the existing plans are not taking into account these possibilities."

McClenanghan believes there are national security risks with the plan as well.

She said having more reactors, especially if they're in rural areas, means there's a greater chance that waste or fuel from the reactors could be stolen for nefarious purposes.

"You'd be scattering radioactive materials, potentially attractive to diversion, much further across the country," said the environmental lawyer.

With files from Harry Forestell and CBC News at 6

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