Letter to Treasury Board from women leaders across Canada re small nuclear reactors

September 21, 2020

The Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos, President

The Hon. Joyce Murray, Vice-Chair

The Hon. Bardish Chagger, Member

The Hon. Catherine McKenna, Member

The Hon. Chrystia Freeland, Member

The Hon. Jonathan Wilkinson, Member

Dear Mr. Duclos and Members of the Treasury Board:

We write to you as women community and Aboriginal leaders in science, medicine, law and environmental protection to request your urgent attention to the need for Canada to uphold its legal obligation, as a party to the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, to minimize generation of radioactive waste.

Radioactive waste is dangerous, poses risks to all living things and must be kept out of the biosphere for as long as it poses a radioactive hazard (many tens of thousands of years). Article 11 of the Joint Convention states that parties shall “ensure that the generation of radioactive waste is kept to the minimum practicable”. 

Small modular nuclear reactors, currently under consideration for taxpayer-funded development in Canada, would produce long-lived hazardous nuclear waste as part of normal operations. These reactors are proposed for Northern, remote and First Nations communities in some of Canada’s most fragile and globally important ecosystems. UNDRIP principles of free prior, and informed consent with indigenous communities have not been respected. 

Production of plutonium and other fuels for small modular nuclear reactors would create long-lived hazardous nuclear waste. Small modular nuclear reactors would themselves become hazardous, long-lived nuclear waste; too hot to handle after their short lifespan of a few decades, and too costly to transport, they would likely be abandoned in place leaving permanently contaminated, radioactive exclusion zones, a few hectares in size, everywhere they were deployed.

Low-carbon alternatives to nuclear technology for electricity generation are readily available, faster to deploy, much less expensive and do not generate radioactive waste. They also create more jobs. Small nuclear reactors are therefore not a useful or necessary climate change mitigation strategy.Canada can much more easily, cheaply and quickly get to net zero carbon with a combination of energy conservation and renewables. For details please see Environmental Petition 419 to the Auditor General of Canada.

Small nuclear reactor proponents tout the notion that small reactors will use existing nuclear waste for fuel. This is a dangerous fantasy. In reality, “recycling” radioactive waste creates more radioactive waste, passing the buck to future generations. Worse, reactor technologies that use recycled fuel require extraction of plutonium, creating serious national security risks associated with nuclear weapons proliferation. 

We submit that federal support and funding for development of small modular nuclear reactors would constitute an abnegation of Canada’s international commitment to minimize generation of radioactive waste. 

We urge you to bring this matter to the attention of your Cabinet colleagues, and cease all government support and taxpayer funding for small modular nuclear reactors.

Yours sincerely,

Anne Lindsey, MA, O.M., Winnipeg, Manitoba

Brennain Lloyd, North Bay, Ontario

Candyce Paul, English River First Nation, Saskatchewan

Dr. Cathy Vakil, MD, Kingston, Ontario

Dr. Dale Dewar, MD, Wynyard, Saskatchewan

Dr. Dorothy Goldin-Rosenberg, PhD, Toronto, Ontario 

Eva Schacherl, MA, Ottawa, Ontario

Ginette Charbonneau, Physicist, Oka, Quebec

Gretchen Fitzgerald, BSc, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Johanna Echlin, M.Ed., Montreal, Quebec

Dr. Judith Miller, PhD, Ottawa, Ontario

Dr. Kathryn Lindsay, PhD, Renfrew, Ontario

Kerrie Blaise, MSc, JD, North Bay, Ontario

Lynn Jones, MHSc, Ottawa, Ontario 

Dr. Martha Ruben, MD, PhD., Ottawa, Ontario

Pippa Feinstein, JD, LLM, Toronto, Ontario

Dr. Susan O’Donnell, PhD, Fredericton, New Brunswick

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