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More nuclear reactors (SMRs): A bad investment for New Brunswick via NB Media Co-op

by Susan O’Donnell, Gordon Edwards, M.V. RamanaApril 4, 2021

The Government of New Brunswick has committed $30 million to develop two small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) projects on the Bay of Fundy next to the Point Lepreau reactor. The federal government contributed $56 million more in public funds to this scheme. These investments are unlikely to succeed and will delay climate action.

Both SMR designs are based on technologies with a known record of problems and commercial failures. More generally, SMRs are a bad strategy for tackling climate change: high cost and not ready. We have elaborated on the problems with SMRs in a longer briefing paper for Minister Mike Holland, which is available on the University of New Brunswick RAVEN project website.

The first design, the ARC-100, is based on the EBR-2, an experimental U.S. reactor never operated outside a laboratory. It uses molten sodium to cool the fuel. Such reactors have had numerous sodium leaks, causing fires and clean up problems. Some have suffered severe accidents, including partial nuclear meltdowns at the EBR-1 experiment and Fermi-1 power plant in the United States. Sodium cooled reactors have been more expensive to construct on a capacity basis than heavy water reactors like Point Lepreau.

The Moltex design is based, in part, on two reactors built decades ago at the U.S. Oak Ridge National Laboratory that operated for 100 hours and less than four years, respectively. The latter reactor’s operations were interrupted 225 times due to various problems. It is no surprise that no further molten salt reactors have been constructed.

Similar problems plague many “advanced” nuclear reactor designs. A recent report from the Union of Concerned Scientists in the U.S. laid out a range of safety and security risks associated with such designs. As explained in greater detail in an academic paper, such reactor designs are simply not ready for deployment or commercialization because of technical problems.

Both reactor designs for New Brunswick also envision chemical processing of irradiated (used) reactor fuel bundles. This theoretical “recycling” process will create new radioactive liquid waste streams, requiring long-term storage. It will also produce plutonium in forms usable in nuclear explosives, necessitating heightened security at Point Lepreau.

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