Some First Nation support in New Brunswick for small nuclear reactors | CBC News

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By Jennifer Sweet | CBC News

Moltex CEO says company has full support of all 15 First Nations in N.B. to develop SMRs

Companies trying to develop small modular nuclear reactors in New Brunswick are getting some support from an unlikely source.

An energy crisis is looming large, and SMRs have better potential than renewables in the short term, said Chief Terry Richardson of Pabineau First Nation, near Bathurst.

Richardson said he sees nuclear power as consistent with his cultural values.

“As First Nations, we are stewards of the land. Well, when we look at nuclear technology, it’s not a carbon emitter. So it’s not going to cause a problem. It’s going to actually solve the problem of carbon.

“If we don’t do something, we all know what’s happening with climate change.”

He describes the MOUs as “non-contractual, binding documents” that state a willingness to work together on development.

Details of exactly how his community and potentially other First Nations in the province may take part in SMR projects have yet to be negotiated, said Richardson.

“There’s going to be an opportunity to be involved on the equity side and that’s where we have to sit down and talk and discuss it and see where we’re going to go.”

After the initial development at Lepreau, ARC is talking about installing more SMRs in Belledune, Richardson noted, which could mean job opportunities in northern New Brunswick.

He also likes that Moltex is looking at reusing spent fuel rods, which it says would reduce the amount of toxic nuclear waste that already exists.

Study looks at SMR waste

A Canadian peer-reviewed study that came out last summer found the volume of waste from SMRs would be between double and 30 fold that from a typical reactor and that its chemical complexity would make it more difficult to manage.

Richardson said he is satisfied that plans are in place to deal with nuclear waste and added that maybe in the future there will be a way to recycle it.

“The problem we have right now is we’re going to have an energy crisis pretty soon. And if we don’t do something to address that energy crisis, we’re going to be in a world of hurt when we can’t turn the lights on.”

Moltex CEO Rory O’Sullivan told the legislative committee Wednesday that his company has the support of all 15 First Nations in the province to develop SMRs.

However, some other Indigenous leaders addressed the committee who have concerns about the SMR plans and the public investment in development.

Chief Hugh Akagi represents the Peskotomuhkati Nation at Skutik, which doesn’t have official recognition as a First Nation in Canada.

Akagi told the committee SMRs are a poor gamble in the face of other possible uses for public funds.

“I’m led to believe that our medical system needs money now. I’m told our education system needs financing now. I see homeless in our streets, food banks stretched to the limit now.”

Once the technology exists is a better time to consider public investment in purchasing it, he suggested.

Ron Tremblay, chief of the Wolastoqey Grand Council, an organization that’s based on more traditional Indigenous governance structure, also objected to pursuing SMRs.

He said the advice of Wolastoqi grandmothers is to ask whether a project will bring harm, whether the effects are irreversible and whether it may affect seven generations into the future. In the case of SMRs, the answer to all three is yes, he said.

Richardson acknowledged there’s a lot of skepticism about whether the technology will be viable by the 2030 target date. But he’s confident in the technology’s future, based on what’s been done already with nuclear power in submarines and on aircraft carriers.

There is currently only one operating SMR power plant in the world. It’s sitting on a barge off the coast of Russia.

Unanimous support is not needed to move forward, said Richardson.

“You’re going to have people who are not going to be happy, obviously, but you try to accommodate as best you can,” he said.

“We’ve been engaging our community. We’re letting our community know what’s going on. We’re looking at the benefits.”

Richardson said he “hates” hearing New Brunswick called a “have-not” province and thinks SMRs have the potential to change that.

“If we could export SMRs out of New Brunswick, even if we got one per cent of the export market, that could be huge.”

Richardson said he’d like everyone to be at the table for negotiations with their “big boy pants on,” and the sooner the better.

“If we’re not at the front of the bus, we’re going to be at the back of the bus.”

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