SAINT JOHN, NEW BRUNSWICK - In a deeply disappointing decision for the environment and public oversight, Steven Guilbeault, federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, has ruled against a full federal Impact Assessment (IA) for a small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) proposed by New Brunswick Power at Point Lepreau in New Brunswick.
This decision comes in response to a request
submitted by the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (CRED-NB) on July 4, 2022, calling for an IA for this first-of-its-kind nuclear project in Canada. Letters of support for CRED-NB's request were submitted by the Wolastoq Grand Council, and Indigenous organizations representing the Peskotomuhkati Nation and the Mi'gmaq First Nations in New Brunswick and over 300 public interest groups and individuals.
the need for an IA for the proposed SMR project, the Minister found it would be “unwarranted” as the concerns raised by Indigenous peoples and members of the public would be considered as part of the licensing process by the nuclear regulator and within New Brunswick's Clean Environment Act.
“The Minister’s choice not to designate the SMR for an assessment goes against their commitments to sound, science-based decision-making and public participation,” noted Ann McAllister of CRED-NB, reacting to the news of the Minister’s decision. “This lack of a precautionary approach is especially dismaying given that sodium-cooled nuclear technology – of which this SMR is one – has a known history of accidents and has never been successfully commercialized, despite repeated attempts over the decades.”
“The mechanism we had to uphold environmental justice has been denied,” reacted Kerrie Blaise, an environmental lawyer who assisted CRED-NB with the IA request. “The many unknowns and the potential for not only severe but irreversible impacts to the health of communities and the environment will not be subject to a rigorous public and cumulative effects assessment that an IA provides. This is quite simply something that cannot be achieved by the nuclear regulator in their license-specific assessment.”
“By refusing an IA for the SMR project at Point Lepreau, the Minister suggested the concerns about the project raised by CRED-NB would be dealt with by a provincial Environmental Impact Assessment,” said Dr. Susan O’Donnell, Adjunct Professor at the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University, and CRED-NB member. "The provincial process is not as comprehensive as the federal IA. However in its submission, the Government of New Brunswick stated that a provincial EIA would address all the concerns raised in the CRED-NB request, and that the premier has confirmed that a provincial EIA review, including public consultation, will be required before the project can proceed. We look forward to that comprehensive provincial review in the new year."
Pressure from the nuclear industry lobby changed federal environmental assessment law in 2019, exempting SMRs below a certain threshold from undergoing a full environmental IA. The only way for this project to have undergone an IA, was at the direction of the Minister. The Minister’s decision sets an unfortunate precedent, weakening our impact assessment laws and ability for broad public participation.