New Brunswick debates investing in SMRs

December 9, 2020, 9:44AMANS Nuclear Cafe

In an article published by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on December 7, politicians representing New Brunswick, Canada, debate the benefits and potential risks of investing in small modular reactor development. Two major parties in the province support SMR development, while the Green Party sees “danger signs.”

Pro and con: New Brunswick Minister of Energy Mike Holland said, “New Brunswick is positioned to not only participate in this opportunity, but to be a world leader in the SMR field.”

The Green Party, however, believes that supporting SMR development is like pouring public money down the drain, citing the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant refurbishment project that went $1 billion over budget.

(In July 2020, however, Point Lepreau completed a full year of uninterrupted power generation, producing nearly 100 percent of its capacity. In that time frame, it generated about $400 million worth of energy, and if this reliability continues it will pay off the cost of the refurbishment in reasonable time and provide carbon-free power for years to come.)

More con, more pro: The Greens used the millions of public dollars spent in the 1970s as another example of wasted investment in nuclear. The article also cites University of British Columbia professor M. V. Ramana, who estimates that a company would have to build and sell more than 700 SMRs to break even.

But Norm Sawyer, chief executive officer of ARC—one of the companies looking for funding from the New Brunswick government—said that a lot of the criticism “is really based on old technology.”

Climate change: The debate moved on to the topic of climate change. Canada’s national climate plan requires New Brunswick to phase out coal-fired power by 2030. Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan said, "We have not seen a model where we can get to net-zero emissions by 2050 without nuclear."

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