“Small Modular Reactors” are not part of a solution to the climate crisis

Speaker: Ms. May

Time: 07/06/2022 23:31:50
Context: Question

Ms. Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands, GP): Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today at Adjournment Proceedings. I have to say the hour is awfully appropriate. I am going to be following up on a question I asked in question period on May 2, related to what are called small modular reactors and their connection to nuclear proliferation, so it certainly is appropriate that the clock is approaching midnight. It reminds me very much that there is something called a doomsday clock that is kept up to date by the bulletin of atomic scientists. I just checked it and it shows we are 100 seconds to midnight.

The combined factors are increased threats of nuclear war brought on by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as well as the significant risk to the whole planet brought on by the climate crisis. These issues are related, and I related them in my question in the House on May 2. The answer from the Minister of Natural Resources was not sufficient and that is why I have brought it forward this evening.

The so-called small modular reactors are not part of any solution to the climate crisis. Moreover, they are untested and essentially experimental. Last, I again draw the attention of this place to the risk of nuclear proliferation.

Just to walk through those three points, the Minister of Natural Resources has said frequently in this place that there is no pathway to climate solutions that does not include small modular reactors. That is simply not true. Reducing greenhouse gases involves phasing out fossil fuels, cancelling the TMX and not pursuing Bay du Nord. These are tangible things that have nothing to do with nuclear. Nuclear is actually in the way. It is highly expensive. Per tonne of carbon reduced, it is about the most expensive way we can go and it also has a long timeline before we see any results from a decision to go with nuclear.

The fact that these reactors are untested and essentially experimental has not had enough attention in this country. I turned to an expert in the area, Professor Allison M. Macfarlane, as a source. She is actually the former chairperson of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and is currently at the University of British Columbia.

She told this to the CBC:

Nobody knows what the numbers are, and anybody who gives you numbers is selling you a bridge to nowhere because they don’t know…

Nobody has ever set up a molten salt reactor and used it to produce electricity.

A molten salt reactor is exactly what the Government of Canada and the Government of New Brunswick are throwing tens of millions of dollars at, to a private-sector operator who proposes this and has been approved to go ahead and build it. It is being reviewed at this moment, but the money is flowing toward a molten salt reactor that will use plutonium from the spent fuel at Point Lepreau in order to create this unproven technology and allegedly to produce electricity.

It is all very much in question, except for one thing. There is a huge risk in taking plutonium from spent fuel. It is the kind of risk that existing nuclear non-proliferation treaties are very careful to prevent us from doing. If we are promoting a global plutonium economy, even a tiny, infinitesimal amount of plutonium in the hands of terrorists could create a dirty bomb. In the hands of other countries around the world, there is the very large risk that they will produce a nuclear weapon.

We had this experience in 1974 when Canada gave India one of our CANDU reactors. It turns out that these new SMRs, as reported in The Globe and Mail this week, produce far more nuclear waste than conventional reactors. They produce two times to 30 times more.

Therefore, I ask the government to think twice. This is a mistake. This is radioactive snake oil.