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Small Modular Reactors in Canada: Eroding Public Oversight and Canada’s Transition to Sustainable Development

Abstract

The civil nuclear power industry has been moribund since prohibitive construction costs and the Chernobyl disaster effectively halted the construction of new reactors in the 1980s. With many of Canada’s nuclear reactors now approaching the end of their operational lives, the survival of the civil nuclear industry is increasingly viewed as contingent upon the commercialization of so-called ‘Small Modular Reactors’ (SMR). SMRs are compact nuclear reactor designs, producing from 1 to 300 MW of electricity, with design features promised to overcome the challenges that have historically prevented the expansion of nuclear power. Canadian SMR proponents argue that due to their small size, SMRs are suitable for providing power for resource extractive and heavy industries, decentralized on-grid generation, and replacing diesel generation in remote communities. Proponents also portray SMRs as a needed component in a low-carbon society. Nevertheless, recent events indicate that the success of this technology is contingent upon the lessening of Canada’s environmental and safety requirements, and government shouldering the risks accompanying their development and operation. This chapter will explore the alleged barriers to SMR development in the context of past failures to commercialize new innovative reactor designs. It will also consider how industry-based policy and law reform requests undermine public oversight of nuclear safety in Canada and impedes Canada’s transition to sustainable development.

Keywords

  • Environmental Protection
  • Sustainable Development
  • Nuclear Renaissance
  • Oversight
  • Nuclear Power
  • Nuclear Waste
  • Public Dialogue
  • Transparent Decision-Making
  • Nuclear Nonproliferation
  • Small Modular Reactor
  • Regulatory Capture
  • Polluter Pays Principle
  • Intergenerational Equity

Kerrie Blaise is Legal Counsel at the Canadian Environmental Law Association.

Shawn-Patrick Stensil is a Senior Energy Analyst at Greenpeace Canada.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Richardson 2017, 15.

  2. 2.

    Canadian Small Modular Reactor Roadmap Steering Committee (2018) A Call to Action: A Canadian Roadmap for Small Modular Reactors. Ottawa, Canada, p. 9 [SMR Roadmap].

  3. 3.

    Government of Canada (2019) Government Grants and Contributions. https://open.canada.ca/en/search/grants/reference/nrcan-rncan%7CGC-2018-Q4-06790 and https://open.canada.ca/en/search/grants/reference/nrcan-rncan%7CGC-2018-Q4-06759. Accessed 30 Jan 2019.

  4. 4.

    SMR Roadmap, 9.

  5. 5.

    SMR Roadmap, 2.

  6. 6.

    SMR Roadmap, ii.

  7. 7.

    Flint 2013.

  8. 8.

    World Commission on Environment and Development 1987, 8.

  9. 9.

    Richardson 2017, 122.

  10. 10.

    Benevides and McClenaghan 2016.

  11. 11.

    de Sadeleer 2002, 21.

  12. 12.

    Gibson et al. 2008.

  13. 13.

    Sovacool and Ramana 2015.

  14. 14.

    Ibid.

  15. 15.

    SMR Roadmap, 10.

  16. 16.

    Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (2008) Corporate Plan Summary: 2007–2008 to 2011–2012, 5.

  17. 17.

    For the purposes of this paper, references to the ‘nuclear renaissance’ refer to the period between 2000 and March 2011 when the nuclear industry and Canada asserted that climate change and the prospect of new cheaper reactor designs would relaunch the construction of new reactors.

  18. 18.

    SMR Roadmap, 2.

  19. 19.

    Nuzzo et al. 2005.

  20. 20.

    AECL (25 Sept 2009) ‘Briefing Note’, obtained through ATI request.

  21. 21.

    Hamilton (14 July 2009).

  22. 22.

    Ontario Power Generation (2006) Annual Report - 2005.

  23. 23.

    Hydro-Quebec 2012, p. 2.

  24. 24.

    Government of Ontario, Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan 2017: Delivering Fairness and Choice, pp. 50–51.

  25. 25.

    Spears and Ferguson (30 June 2011).

  26. 26.

    Schneider et al. 2018, 17.

  27. 27.

    These repairs, also referred to as refurbishments, involve the removal and replacement of the reactor core as well as the replacement of other life-limiting components.

  28. 28.

    Letter by the Canadian Environmental Law Association et al. to the Honourable Justin Trudeau (Office of the Prime Minister), 8 March 2016. http://www.cela.ca/sites/cela.ca/files/Trudeau-NuclearReview.pdf.

  29. 29.

    Blaise et al. 2019.

  30. 30.

    National Diet of Japan 2012, p. 16.

  31. 31.

    Ibid., 21.

  32. 32.

    Kurokawa and Ninomiya 2018.

  33. 33.

    Carpenter and Moss 2014, p. 13.

  34. 34.

    IAEA Safety Standards, Government (2016), Requirement, p. 4.

  35. 35.

    Campbell 2016.

  36. 36.

    MacKenzie and MacLachlan 2009.

  37. 37.

    Hamilton 2010.

  38. 38.

    Nuclear Safety and Control Act, SC 1997, c 9.

  39. 39.

    Atomic Energy Control Act, s 9(1)(a). See also Johannson and Thomas 1981.

  40. 40.

    At the time of the Atomic Energy Control Board’s founding, the President of Eldorado Nuclear Ltd—one of the companies whose activities were regulated by the AECB—sat as of one five members on the AECB; ibid.

  41. 41.

    As the CNSC is a federal authority vested with powers to conduct environmental assessment, in addition to licensing and regulation Canada’s nuclear industry, it was subject to review by the Expert Panel.

  42. 42.

    Minister of Environment and Climate Change 2017.

  43. 43.

    SMR Roadmap, p. 21.

  44. 44.

    SMR Roadmap, p. 2.

  45. 45.

    Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission 2019.

  46. 46.

    CNSC, Briefing Note for Management Committee (MC)—Small Modular Reactors (SMR): Readiness to Regulate, obtained through ATI, Request # A-2016-00010.

  47. 47.

    SMR Roadmap, Regulatory Readiness Working Group—Final Report, ii [Regulatory Working Group Report].

  48. 48.

    The Senate Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources, Report of the Committee, 28 May, 2019. https://sencanada.ca/en/committees/report/74834/42-1; Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, Discussion Paper on the Project List, May 2019. https://www.impactassessmentregulations.ca/consultation-on-the-proposed-Project-List?preview=true.

  49. 49.

    Gibson et al. 2016; Gibson 2006, p. 182.

  50. 50.

    Gibson 2006, p. 178.

  51. 51.

    Noble 2010, 5; World Commission on Environment and Development 1987, paras 59–60; Swaigen 1981, 246.

  52. 52.

    In the context of CEAA 2012, see Markvart 2014; in the context of of the IAA, see section 22(1)(h) which requires an assessment of a project’s contribution to sustainability.

  53. 53.

    Regulatory Working Group Report, 41.

  54. 54.

    SMR Roadmap, 23 and 9.

  55. 55.

    Regulatory Working Group Report, 34.

  56. 56.

    Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012.

  57. 57.

    UN Economic and Social Council 2018.

  58. 58.

    Jociute 2012.

  59. 59.

    CEAA, 2012, s 19; IAA, s 22.

  60. 60.

    Hoedl 2019, p. 22.

  61. 61.

    Ibid., 23.

  62. 62.

    Ibid., 28.

  63. 63.

    Canadian Nuclear Association (6 April 2018), Submission on Bill C-69 to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. https://cna.ca/news/submission-on-bill-c-69-to-the-house-of-commons-standing-committee-on-environment-and-sustainable-development/.

  64. 64.

    Regulatory Working Group Report, p. 37.

  65. 65.

    See Canadian Environmental Law Association 2018; see also CELA 2018.

  66. 66.

    The CNSC has publicly recognized that they do not consider socioeconomic aspects in their review of projects, see Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (2018) Transcript of Proceeding dated 28 June 2018.

  67. 67.

    Eaton et al. (2018), Information Note for the President—Meeting with Cameco, 12 April 2018, obtained through ATI, EDOC# 5476531, A-2018- 00061, 5.

  68. 68.

    Natural Resources Canada (2018), Scenario Note and Annotated—NRCAN Portfolio Heads Meeting, Agenda April 12, 2018, obtained through ATI, EDOC# 5504411, # A-2018-00061, 3.

  69. 69.

    The Impact Assessment Act received Royal Assent on 21 June 2019, and SMRs remain exempt from its scope.

  70. 70.

    SMR Roadmap, ii.

  71. 71.

    Natural Resources Canada 2011, 20 [Status of Remove Communities].

  72. 72.

    Borrows 2002, 32.

  73. 73.

    CNSC 2018.

  74. 74.

    Status of Remote Communities, 20.

  75. 75.

    United Nations General Assembly 2014, para 71.

  76. 76.

    United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2008), Article 19.

  77. 77.

    SMR Roadmap, 19.

  78. 78.

    As the Supreme Court of Canada recognized in Haida Nation v British Columbia (Minister of Forests), 2004 SCC 73, ‘The duty to consult and accommodate is part of a process of fair dealing and reconciliation that begins with the assertion of sovereignty and continues beyond formal claims resolution. The foundation of the duty in the Crown’s honour and the goal of reconciliation suggest that the duty arises when the Crown has knowledge, real or constructive, of the potential existence of the Aboriginal right or title and contemplates conduct that might adversely affect it’.

  79. 79.

    Imai, p. 46.

  80. 80.

    Imai, p. 49.

  81. 81.

    Canadian Small Modular Reactor Roadmap (12 June 2018) Workshop 3: Off-Grid Northern and Remote Communities, Iqaluit, May 10–11 2018, p. 11.

  82. 82.

    SMR Roadmap, p. 27.

  83. 83.

    Ibid.

  84. 84.

    Gibson 2006.

  85. 85.

    Nuclear Fuel Waste Act, SC 2002, c 23 [NWFA].

  86. 86.

    Ibid.

  87. 87.

    Sadeleer 2002, 21.

  88. 88.

    NFWA, s. 2.

  89. 89.

    NFWA, s. 4.

  90. 90.

    Nuclear Waste Management Organization 2004.

  91. 91.

    Nuclear Waste Management Organization (2004) Ethical and Social Framework, June 24 2004.

  92. 92.

    Advisory Council to the NWMO (2005) Nuclear Waste Management Organization—Advisory Council Final Report, 22 September 2005 [NWMO Final Report].

  93. 93.

    NWMO Final Report.

  94. 94.

    Canadian SMR Roadmap (2018), Waste Working Group Report, July 2018, p. 3.

  95. 95.

    SMR Roadmap, p. 66.

  96. 96.

    Belyea and Rickard 2018.

  97. 97.

    Carpenter and Moss 2014.

  98. 98.

    SMR Roadmap, p. 25.

  99. 99.

    Sadeleer 2002, p. 50.

  100. 100.

    SMR Roadmap, p. ii.

  101. 101.

    Minister of Natural Resources to Theresa McClenaghan (Canadian Environmental Law Association) and S-P Stensil (Greenpeace) Minister’s Response to Petition 350, 9 September 2013, Response to Question 14.

  102. 102.

    Pelzer 2000, p. 435.

  103. 103.

    Vanden Borre 1999, 38.

  104. 104.

    Ameye 2010.

  105. 105.

    McClenaghan 2017, pp. 57.

  106. 106.

    Black-Branch and Fleck 2018, pp. 2 and 46.

  107. 107.

    Gibson et al. 2008.

  108. 108.

    Id, pp. 53, 66, and 85.

  109. 109.

    Glaser et al. 2015.

  110. 110.

    Glaser et al. 2013; Locatelli and Mancini 2011, p. 212.

  111. 111.

    Frieß et al. 2015, p. 731. While not taking into account SMR designs proposed for Canada, a review of a generic sodium-cooled SMRs by Frieß et al. is instructive.

  112. 112.

    Ibid.

  113. 113.

    Regulatory Working Group Report pp. 27, 40.

  114. 114.

    Ibid., 30.

  115. 115.

    Frieß et al. 2015, p. 730.

  116. 116.

    Sovacool and Ramana 2015.

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Blaise, K., Stensil, SP. (2020). Small Modular Reactors in Canada: Eroding Public Oversight and Canada’s Transition to Sustainable Development. In: Black-Branch, J., Fleck, D. (eds) Nuclear Non-Proliferation in International Law - Volume V. T.M.C. Asser Press, The Hague. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-6265-347-4_11

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