New Brunswick-based nuclear firm lands $7M in federal funding
By John Chilibeck, The Daily GleanerGeneral Energy
ARC Clean Technology looks to place 15 SMR reactors in New Brunswick by 2040.
Ottawa is handing over $7 million in funding to ARC Clean Technology, one of the companies that wants to develop small modular reactors in New Brunswick, even if concerns remain within the Trudeau Liberal cabinet over whether the country should invest in more nuclear energy.
Wayne Long, the Liberal MP for Saint John-Rothesay, made the announcement at ARC’s headquarters halfway up the Brunswick Square office tower on Monday morning.
He told the small crowd he was passionate about nuclear energy – the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station is just west of his riding – and had spent a good deal of time trying to convince his government about its potential.
He recounted that he made sure former environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson, now the country’s energy minister, had a good understanding of the companies that want to produce small reactors by arranging a meeting some four years ago.
The newest environment minister, Steven Guilbeault, is a former high-ranking Greenpeace official from Quebec, and harder to convince. His former environmental organization is against nuclear power, arguing it presents an unacceptable risk to humanity and the planet.
“I won’t deny that there’s been some difficult conversations and it’s been challenging,” Long told the audience. “But you have an ally in Minister Wilkinson in this industry, make no mistake about that. And I’ll be very transparent. With Minister Guilbeault, obviously, that was more challenging and continues to be more challenging. But he also understands that nuclear is part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
A potential schism in cabinet over further nuclear development is significant because ARC wants more public and private funding in the future to ensure it produces its first 100 megawatt reactor at Lepreau by 2030. A competitor, Moltex, has already secured $50 million from Ottawa to develop a different kind of small modular reactor in New Brunswick.
By 2040, ARC plans on having up to 15 reactors in New Brunswick, divided between Lepreau in the south and the Port of Belledune in the north, ready to produce electricity and provide power to heavy industry.
CEO and president Bill Labbe, fresh off a flight from South Korea where he talked to high-ranking nuclear officials in the Asian country, told Brunswick News he believed Monday’s announcement was just the start of federal funding. It has already secured $20 million from the provincial government.
“The dialogue and the relationship continues to build,” the executive said. “We need to continue sharing information and presenting it in a way that provides an understanding of the need. What is the challenge we have to get to net zero? We really need a clean grid and we also need clean industry. And industry needs a lot of energy so that they are carbon free.”
Critics such as the Green Party say New Brunswick could develop more wind and solar and backup battery power to meet its future energy requirements and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that threaten the planet, without the risk of nuclear accidents or the proliferation of weapons-grade materials.
The industry counters that Canada has an excellent nuclear safety record and the federal regulator can be entrusted to safeguard nuclear technology from bad actors who want to develop a nuclear bomb.
It also says small reactors have potential for industry with high energy demands, such as steel-making, chemical production and cement plants. They could theoretically produce energy at temperatures as high as 650 C, whereas a conventional reactor from Lepreau can only reach half of that temperature for power production.
Others point to the jobs it could create. Ross Galbraith, a long-serving labour leader with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, cited the 900 high-paid jobs at Lepreau, which has been running on and off for 40 years. The union also represents workers at 68 other nuclear reactors in North America.
The new model with small modular reactors would be different, Galbraith said, comparing Lepreau, a traditional CANDU reactor, to a massive airport, whereas small modular reactors would be more like individual planes that could be exported. Both models create lots of jobs, he said.
“Every credible estimate of our energy needs going forward in Canada and around the world states we need to double or triple our supply of electricity in the next 25 years. That’s a huge undertaking. The only way to do that is with high-proportion nuclear energy.”
That promise of jobs was perhaps best represented by Monday’s young emcee, Rachel Kierstead, a quality management specialist at ARC and an engineer in training, who graduated from the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton in 2020 with a chemical engineering degree.
“I couldn’t find work in the province and I had to move to Nova Scotia,” she said. “Shortly after moving, I reached out to ARC and in time they were able to hire me. And I happily moved back to my home province. The announcement we are making today is the next step in ensuring continued employment for New Brunswickers, including my four younger sisters who I hope will all be able to stay in the province.”