Is nuclear energy green or not? Feds send mixed messages, critics say

As the government invests in small modular nuclear reactor projects, its planned new green bond program specifically prohibits investment in nuclear power.

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The Liberal government is accused of sending mixed messages about the nuclear industry and how it can help adapt to a green environment.

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The week the Liberal government invested $27.2 million in a promising new small modular nuclear reactor — but at the same time, its Green Bond program, intended to boost environmentally friendly programs, specifically excludes investment in nuclear energy.

The dispute shows mixed support for the industry at best, critics say.

Chris Keefer, president of Canadians for Nuclear, said excluding nuclear from green bonds doesn’t make sense because Ontario has shown it can help decarbonize a grid.

“We need to invest in the biggest hit for decarbonisation, but we don’t have much time. We have limited resources so we need to invest in what works,” he said. “These decisions have to be made based on this science and I think the Liberals see themselves as a party of science.”

On Thursday, Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne announced a $27.2 million investment in Westinghouse Electric in Burlington, Ont. The funding will help Westinghouse with its small modular reactor named the eVinci Micro-Reactor, a $57 million project.

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The proposed reactor would be small enough to be transported on a large truck and could deliver up to five megawatts of power, enough to power remote work sites or hundreds of homes.

Champagne said the reactor has huge potential, especially for small northern communities looking to become carbon neutral.

“What’s really exciting about this one is that it has the potential to obviously decarbonize some of our communities, which are heavily reliant on diesel as a fuel source,” he said.

The announcement is the government’s third investment in an SMR company, but in contrast, the government’s planned new green bond program specifically prohibits investments in nuclear power.

The green bond program was announced in last spring’s budget and detailed rules were released earlier this month. Green bonds would be part of Canada’s broader debt program, but the money would be specifically diverted to environmentally friendly programs, such as climate change adaptation measures, other forms of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

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Keefer pointed to the closure of coal-fired plants in Ontario as a major factor in meeting its climate goals and that while renewables have played a role, nuclear has played an important role in replacing electricity needed.

“We achieved the largest greenhouse gas reduction in North American history with the elimination of coal, which was 90% fueled by nuclear energy,” he said. .

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  2. Canada's Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault speaks during a press conference at the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on November 12, 2021.

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Adrienne Vaupshas, ​​spokeswoman for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, said Canada’s green bonds meet international standards.

“Canada’s green bond framework is fully aligned with international green bond standards and market expectations,” she said.

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The green bond program also excluded investments in fossil fuels, arms manufacturing, alcohol, gambling and tobacco.

Champagne said just because nuclear can’t be funded with the green bond program doesn’t mean the government can’t help but promise new projects.

“We want to support all renewable energy that could help us decarbonize and be a leader in the 21st century economy,” he said. “We have other sources of funding, to make sure that we would be able to help these innovations that we’ve seen now, for example, in small modular reactors.”

Several countries like the UK that have issued green bonds have excluded nuclear, but there is no universal agreement on what makes a bond green. Last fall, Ontario’s Bruce Power issued $500 million worth of green bonds that were quickly bought up by investors.

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Keefer said the popularity of Bruce Power’s bid made it clear there were plenty of environmentally conscious investors willing to invest in nuclear.

“There was $3.5 billion of investor interest in this fund, so it was seven times the interest in terms of what they were actually offering,” he said.

We need to invest in what works

Keefer said that with the enormity of the climate change challenge, the government should not ignore nuclear power.

Keefer said there had been strong industry support from some members of the Liberal government, but other cabinet ministers, including Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, had appeared less supportive.

Tory MP Kyle Seeback, the party’s environment spokesman, said the exclusion of nuclear as well as liquefied natural gas did not think of the big picture.

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“This ideology-based exclusion of two of the most abundant sources of low- and no-carbon fuels in Canada flies in the face of science and is an insult to Canada’s 76,000 nuclear workers and the thousands of others who work in LNG,” he said. noted.

Seeback said there’s no reason nuclear and LNG shouldn’t be in the mix.

“These important sources of energy meet all the environmental, social and governance investment criteria, but the Minister has excluded them. Conservatives believe these energy sources must play a role in the future of Canada’s emissions reduction plan and the global path to a low-carbon future.

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