National legal group supports impact assessment request for New Brunswick’s nuclear reactors

The Canadian Environmental Law Association supports a request for a federal environmental impact assessment of a proposed small modular reactor project at Point Lepreau.

The Canadian government says that small modular reactors are designed to have lower initial capital costs and improved safety features compared to traditional reactors.

Two Saint John-based companies, ARC Clean Technology and Moltex Energy, received tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer funding to develop reactors.

Nuclear power does not emit carbon dioxide that causes climate change, although environmentalists have pointed to long-term safety and waste issues.

The Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick has submitted its application for an impact assessment of the proposed small nuclear reactor demonstration project at Point Lepreau.

In a statement to CBC News, ARC Clean Technology said it “fully supports important regulatory processes designed to protect the environment and the well-being of Canadians.”

The statement said ARC’s small modular reactors provide safe, reliable, carbon-free power and “we are well prepared to participate in any environmental impact process required by provincial and federal jurisdictions.”

The ARC 100 reactor developed by Advanced Reactor Concepts. ARC Clean Technology said it “fully supports important regulatory processes designed to protect the environment and the well-being of Canadians.” (CRA Nuclear Canada)

Kerrie Blaise, a lawyer at the Canadian Environmental Law Association, said impact assessments “allow us to examine the impact of a project before it develops.”

She calls it a “look before you jump” approach. She said the assessments looked at risks, costs, damage to current and future generations and the life cycle of the project.

She said nuclear projects like reactors don’t seem to trigger the impact assessment process.

“What we’re actually seeing is a reduction in the number and scope of projects that actually go through an impact assessment process,” Blaise said.

The Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick said in its request that 15 groups across New Brunswick and Canada have written letters of support for their request. One of the letters was from the Canadian Environmental Law Association.

The association looks at nuclear issues through its public interest legal aid clinic, so Blaise said they were happy to lend their expertise with a letter of support.

Blaise said that as a one-of-a-kind project, the Small Modular Reactor project should “attract the most rigorous public scrutiny.”

The Minister of Environment and Climate Change, to whom the request and letters of support are addressed, has until Jan. 2 to decide whether there should be an impact assessment, Blaise said.

She said if an impact assessment is granted, that process will have to start and end before a building permit is granted.

Blaise said if the impact assessment is granted, it will clarify “what is otherwise only a conceptual design at this time”. She said this would put the project into a lens where they could look at waste generation and how the project will meet international climate commitments.

“The issues an impact assessment would examine and the information the public would have access to are very different from what you would see in a closer regulatory licensing process.”

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