Federal Funding for New Nuclear Reactors Undermines Climate Action

The recently released 2022 federal budget announced investments in unproven nuclear reactor designs, dubbed Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). SMRs are proposed nuclear technologies which could  produce up to 300 megawatts of electricity for on-grid use in urban areas or power resource extraction projects in remote areas. 

SMRs are in the earliest of planning phases globally, and anticipated dates for operation in Canada are well into the 2030s. That’s one key reason civil society groups, including CELA, are urging the government to invest in climate solutions that are available and scalable now. This is the best way to ensure Canada meets its most critical of climate deadlines yet: halving emissions by 2030.

More than 120 civil society groups, including CELA and the Green Budget Coalition, have called on the federal government to turn away from SMRs and embrace more sustainable, renewable energy technologies. Investment in cost-effective, socially responsible renewables that can be built immediately is a key step in combating climate change. 

Instead, the federal budget includes SMRs in its 30% tax credit program for net zero technologies. Even with subsidies like this, SMRs are not cost-competitive with renewable energy. The budget also earmarks $50-million to boost the government’s ability to regulate SMRs. 

Even with this increased spending on regulation, the oversight for SMRs will be incomplete. SMRs were removed from the federal impact/environmental assessment process. Instead, they will be reviewed in a narrower licensing process that does not examine ecological, socio-economic, and sustainability impacts in depth. 

These concerns prompted CELA, the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick, and Regroupement des organismes environnementaux en énergie, Québec to issue a joint press release with our analysis of the federal budget and its key takeaways for SMRs .

Want to know more about SMRs? You can hear directly from experts, including Kerrie Blaise of CELA, in the recent webinar “Can Small Modular Reactors rescue nuclear power?” 

You can also find all of CELA’s SMR resources in the law reform section of our website

In Memoriam: Doug Macdonald

CELA is saddened to hear that our friend and colleague Doug Macdonald recently passed away. Doug served as the Executive Director of CELA’s former sister organization (Canadian Institute of Environmental Law and Policy), and he was Senior Lecturer Emeritus in the School of the Environment at the University of Toronto. He authored numerous books, peer-reviewed articles, and professional reports on Canadian environmental and climate change policy and politics. In addition to his extensive publications, Doug was an environmental advocate who was instrumental in founding the Canadian Environmental Defence Fund (now known as Environmental Defence). As a pioneer of environmental law and policy in Canada, Doug’s knowledge, expertise, mentorship, and insightful analysis will be greatly missed.

Nith River, Brant County. Photo credit: Theresa McClenaghan

Case Updates

Point Lepreau Nuclear Power Plant License 

The licence for a nuclear plant on the Bay of Fundy is set to expire and the operator, NB Power, is asking for an unprecedented 25-year licence renewal. The Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (CRED-NB) and CELA submitted a joint intervention to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission opposing the licence request. A blog by Susan O’Donnell of CRED-NB highlights CELA and CRED-NBs recommendations and preference for a shorter licence period that would allow the public to weigh in on critical issues which will arise during the next 25 years, from climate and emergency planning to plans for decommissioning and radioactive waste. Granting a 25 year licence would effectively silence the public for a full generation by removing the statutory requirement for a public hearing.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is holding a public hearing on May 10th, 11th and 12th, 2022 in Saint John, NB. Our team is expecting to attend in-person and the public is invited. A link to watch the hearing will be made available on the CNSC website.

CNL’s proposed Near Surface Disposal Facility at the Chalk River Laboratories site – EA and License Assessment 

CELA has submitted an intervention opposing Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ licence assessment and plans to construct a near-surface disposal facility for low-level radioactive waste at the Chalk River Laboratories site. CELA opposes the request due to unresolved issues and information gaps on the environmental impacts of this project.

Photo credit: Theresa McClenaghan

Law Reform Updates

Growing the Greenbelt Consultation

CELA submitted comments to Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) in response to Phase 2 of consultations on Growing the Greenbelt. CELA supports expanding the Greenbelt but we are very disappointed by MMAH’s decision not to include the Paris Galt Moraine in the Greenbelt area, especially because of its critical role to protect drinking water and combat the impacts of an ever-worsening climate crisis. Our comments identify opportunities to better protect critical recharge areas and ensure more fulsome protection of the Greenbelt.

Ontario’s “Best Practices” for Source Water Protection

CELA lawyers recently submitted a letter to Ontario’s Environment Minister regarding the province’s voluntary Best Practices for Source Water Protection. While the Best Practices document provides a useful compilation of general information about water and what individuals can do to protect it, CELA maintains that voluntary, non-binding guidance is an unacceptable substitute for effective and enforceable protection of non-municipal sources of drinking water under the Clean Water Act.

Floating Accommodations Over Waterways on Ontario’s Public Lands

CELA recently submitted comments opposing the use of ‘floating accommodations’ — a novel camping idea being proposed for Ontario waterways. This idea poses unique and significant risks to the environment and public health and safety, including increased exposure to sewage, grey water, and noise. Floating accommodations also pose risks to animal life and habitats, particularly for aquatic and shoreline species. 

Another Ministerial Failure to Comply with Ontario’s EBR

Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing recently posted a Registry notice that triggered a minimum 30 day public comment period under the Environmental Bill of Rights in relation to significant Planning Act changes proposed in Bill 109. However, halfway through the EBR consultation, Bill 109 was suddenly enacted and the Ministry amended the Registry notice to abruptly terminate the comment period. CELA has requested Ontario’s Commissioner of the Environment to investigate and report upon this latest example of Ministerial non-compliance with the EBR. Last year, the Divisional Court ruled that the Ministry contravened the EBR’s consultation requirements when it passed controversial amendments regarding Minister’s Zoning Orders under the Planning Act.

Keeping the Pressure on to Fix Amendments to Toxics Substances Law

As we reported in last month’s bulletin, Canada’s cornerstone environmental legislation needs to be fixed. CELA continues to urge the Government of Canada to adopt CELA’s recommended amendments to strengthen Bill S-5.

As a refresher, the federal government recently introduced Bill S-5 in the Senate, which proposed amendments to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). Containing the first major amendments to CEPA in over 20 years, the Bill seeks to fix things in the Act that aren’t broken and fails to correct things that aren’t working.

When CELA submitted our recommendations, we encouraged you to add your voice. We’re grateful to all that have done so. 

As an update, over 30 NGOs have signed on to support CELA’s submission. In a recent blog post CELA’s Joe Castrilli and Fe de Leon present government data and analysis demonstrating that emissions of cancer-causing agents expose gaps in CEPA that are not addressed by Bill S-5. And, the Bill has been sent to the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources.

As the members of the Senate Committee consider the Bill, they need to hear from you. Send an email to  the clerk of the Senate Committee on Energy, Environment and Natural Resources and copy Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault and Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos urging them to adopt CELA’s proposed amendments to Bill S-5. As before, you can use content from this blog post which outlines the key amendments that are needed to strengthen the Bill.

Photo Credit: Linda Pim

Webinars & Resources

Can Small Modular Reactors Rescue Nuclear Power? An Assessment from Canada

Despite being touted as a ‘climate solution,’ SMRs are unproven, dangerous, and expensive. There is also strong opposition to what could be Canada’s first SMR, proposed for Chalk River, from Kebaowek First Nation. CELA’s Kerrie Blaise and UBC’s M. V. Ramana spoke recently at the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center webinar about the impacts of SMRs in Canada.

Northern Focus: A webinar on Forestry, Sustainability and Public Engagement

CELA and Environment North presented their second annual Northern Services legal education webinar where students from Bora Laskin Law School in Thunder Bay profiled their research on critical health and environmental issues affecting Northern Ontario.

The webinar featured two presentations titled, “The Relationship between Caribou, Sustainability and Forestry in Northern Ontario” and “Protecting the Public Interest – a Case Study of Nuclear Waste and Community Consultation”. The presentations and a recording of the webinar are available here.

Mexico’s Failure to Protect the Vaquita Porpoise: The USMCAs first Environmental Test

The vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise is on the verge of extinction. Scientists estimate that there are fewer than 10 left in the world. Hear from experts about the critically endangered vaguita, the threats to its survival and habitat, including from illegal activity, and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USCMA) process to save the vaquita and hold Mexico accountable for its environmental commitments. CELA’s Kerrie Blaise moderates this webinar with Stuart Trews, Director, CCPA Trade & Investment Research Project.

Looking for a Publication?

In addition to the search function on our website, all our publications are listed in reverse chronological order on our website here, or you can view a full list here.  Looking for an older publication?  CELA’s archives contain all of CELA’s documents up until 2017.

You might also be interested in perusing the library housed by the CELA Foundation.

The CELA Foundation website is also home to the Environmental History Program, which includes interesting projects such as Environmental Beginnings and all the publications from the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.

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