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North Bay environmental group uneasy with investment in small modular reactors

In remote communities and mining operations, diesel is often the main power source. But this is at odds with the reality that Canada has to reduce emissions and slow climate change.

Researcher says a communications plan about the science of small nuclear reactors is needed

The federal government says it's investing $20 million in the nuclear industry to help Canada meet its target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but environmental groups, particularly in the north, say they don't want them here. (Terrestrial Energy)

In remote communities and mining operations, diesel is often the main power source. But this is at odds with the reality that Canada has to reduce emissions and slow climate change.

Last week the federal government pledged $20 million for developing small modular reactors — SMRs. They are smaller than a conventional nuclear power plant and can be built in one location before being transported and assembled elsewhere.

But two dozen interest groups — from Greenpeace to Mining Watch — are challenging the claim that these are the energy sources of the future.

Northwatch in North Bay is among them. Spokesperson Brennain Lloyd says there are different designs being researched but they have one thing in common:

"They will be yet another source of radioactive waste and radioactive risk," she said.

In a news release, the groups say "next generation" nuclear reactors are a dirty, dangerous distraction from tackling the climate crisis — taking the position that nuclear energy is not green, not clean, too costly and too slow to build.

Lloyd says the federal government doesn't have a plan to deal with that waste and wonders if it will end up in one of the two irradiated waste disposal sites in Canada, one of which is in the northwest between Ignace and Dryden.

But a professor at Laurentian University says there's the big picture to consider.

Francois Caron, who is affiliated with a non-profit mining research and innovation centre called MIRARCO, says new technology should be explored. The group has put a proposal in to FedNor for funding to develop a communications plan about the science of small nuclear reactors. And that could help address the concerns that people and organizations might have.

"Sometimes the beliefs are based on perceptions and sometimes the perceptions are not necessarily correct," he said.

Caron says the issue is controversial and he doesn't want to come out either in favour or against the smaller reactors — rather he wants to present the big picture.

But Lloyd is adamant about small reactors that are still in development.

"It won't work. It's not part of the path to net zero or reduced emissions."

She says research funding should instead be given to projects that involve solar or wind power.

Atomic Energy of Canada Limited says it sees three major uses for SMRs in Canada: helping utilities replace energy capacity lost to closures of coal fired power plants, providing power and heat to off-grid industrial projects such as mines and oil sands developments, and replacing diesel fuel as a source of energy and heat in remote communities.

The development of room-sized, transportable nuclear reactors is being touted as the energy source of the future, especially for mining, but environmental groups, particularly in the north, say they don't want them here. 8:37

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