Montreal - The sudden cancellation last week of the first small nuclear reactor project in the United States, the NuScale project, calls into question the economic viability of Canada's plans to develop and deploy small modular reactors.
Potential customers in Utah balked at the soaring projections for the cost of electricity the NuScale reactor would generate, and the project was unable to recruit other customers to buy its power.
Today, in response, civil society groups across Canada are demanding transparency and accountability for the costs of other small nuclear reactor designs planned in this country.
"Canada should stop writing blank cheques to nuclear promoters who can not deliver on their promises of cheap, reliable electricity,” said Gordon Edwards, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.
Transparency requirements in the U.S. forced NuScale proponents to disclose the projected costs of electricity to potential investors on a regular basis. This is not the case in Canada.
Earlier this year, the target price for electricity from the NuScale project rose by over 50 percent to $89 US per MWh ($122.99 Canadian) with indications that future increases would be forthcoming. Investor confidence was shaken, and the project was scrapped.
The NuScale reactor design has been in development for more than 15 years and the company’s first commercial joint venture with electrical utilities in Utah was launched in 2015.
Governments in New Brunswick, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta have committed to building small reactors, while the Quebec government is conducting feasibility studies.
However, none of the Canadian nuclear proponents have laid out the projected costs of electricity production. In New Brunswick, the government has changed legislation to force the electricity utility to purchase power from new nuclear reactors even when it is not the lowest cost option.
Three years ago, more than 140 civil society groups across Canada signed a statement calling the proposed new reactors a “dirty, dangerous distraction,” from real climate action.
Nuclear critics have consistently said these new reactor designs will take too long to develop, and will cost too much compared with existing proven renewable energy options, to deal effectively with the climate crisis that requires immediate action.
To date, federal and provincial taxpayers have subsidized these reactors through a $970 million low interest loan to Ontario Power Generation, more than $100 million in grants to private companies and public utilities in Ontario, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and millions more to research fuelling requirements for small reactors at Chalk River.
Civil society groups are demanding accountability for these costly nuclear developments. Without full transparency, taxpayers and ratepayers will be forced to subsidize these experimental reactor projects and pass on an unwanted economic debt legacy to our children and grandchildren, along with the radioactive waste legacy that all nuclear reactors are adding to every day.
Michael Poellet, President, Inter-Church Uranium Committee Educational Cooperative:
“Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) were meant to remedy the grossly excessive, over-budget costs of nuclear power generation. With the price of renewables dropping precipitously the economics of SMRs has only worsened. The cancellation of the NuScale project with its utility partner Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems demonstrates that commercial electrical generation with SMRs is not economically viable. Canadian federal and provincial governments must allow the economic realities to break the spell that enchantment with SMRs has over them.”
David Geary, Writer and Researcher, Clean Green Saskatchewan:
“Our group, Clean Green Saskatchewan, was always confident that NuScale and all other SMR startup enterprises, GE-Hitachi included [a new reactor design selected for Ontario and Saskatchewan], would fail because of the 'bottom line' ... i.e., the economics, the 'financials'. They simply cannot compete in the energy marketplace...compared to any other electrical energy producing technology.”
Jack Gibbons, Chair, Ontario Clean Air Alliance
“The failure of the most advanced small nuclear project in the U.S. to come even remotely close to being financially viable should be a wake-up call for politicians in Canada dreaming about castles in the sky. Counting on unproven new nuclear technology to provide low-cost power is like counting on snow in July. It is time for Premier Ford to follow Hydro Quebec’s example and develop a financially prudent plan to meet all of Ontario’s future electricity needs by investing in energy efficiency, renewables and storage. It doesn’t make sense to waste public money on high-cost, high-risk nuclear projects when we have much cleaner, safer and lower cost options to keep our lights on.”
Susan O’Donnell, Spokesperson, Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick
“Our provincial government is backing two nuclear start-ups and their experimental small reactor designs. These two designs are based on earlier reactors that never operated successfully commercially despite billions of dollars in public subsidies in other countries. We believe that despite the tens of millions of public dollars given to the start-ups so far, their costly boondoggles will never be built. In effect, our government is kicking the can down the road, delaying real climate action by betting on unicorns and fairy dust.”
Gordon Edwards, President, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility
“Public utilities are owned by the government. People elect the government. So every citizen is a shareholder in the utility company and deserves to be kept informed of all business decisions that they will ultimately have to pay for. In the midst of a climate crisis and crippling inflation, Spending Money Recklessly (SMR) is a terrible strategy. We should not delay climate action by wasting our time, our money, and our political will on speculative reactors that are all ‘first-of-a-kind’ experiments.”
Jean-Pierre Finet, Porte-parole, Regroupement des organismes environnementaux en énergie
“There is no social acceptability for nuclear energy in Quebec. Small modular reactors are not only costly, they take away government funding that would be better used on proven technologies such as heat pumps and heat storage. It is time that the Canadian government comes clean about the cost of this pseudo clean energy.”