ARC-100 SMR: Does the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada do anything other than recommending not to do impact assessments?

December 23, 2022

The ARC-100 reactor is a proposed sodium-cooled “small,” “modular,” nuclear reactor (SMR). It is one of two nuclear reactors comprising a proposed demonstration project at the Point Lepreau nuclear site in New Brunswick along with a Moltex Energy molten salt SMR and spent fuel reprocessing unit.

​​In July 2022, a coalition of groups from New Brunswick, and other provinces asked environment minister Steven Guilbeault to designate the Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Demonstration Project at the Point Lepreau nuclear site for assessment under the Impact Assessment Act.  Small modular nuclear reactors have been on the drawing board for decades. Serious accidents have occurred in prototype reactors. Spent fuel reprocessing is highly controversial due to attendant risks of serious accidents and nuclear weapons proliferation.

Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area provided a letter in support of the designation request, in part because Canadian Nuclear Laboratories in Chalk River is conducting work to produce fuel for the ARC-100 reactor.

On December 22nd Minister Guilbeault denied the request for impact assessment, following an analysis done by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada. 

One must ask: Does the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada do much anything other than recommending not to do impact assessments?

In November 2022 the Agency provided the following information about all its completed assessments under the new Act (which entered into force in August 2019):

Phase or Assessment TypeHighway and RoadsMines and MineralsOil and GasPorts and HarboursBridgesN/ATotal
Planning06212011
IA by Agency2210005
IA by Integrated Assessment0010001
IA by Review Panel0011002
IA by Substitution0020002
Regional Assessment0010034
Total28.  822325

So the answer to the question is no, the Agency doesn’t appear to do much in addition to recommending against doing impact assessments. It has completed an average of eight assessments per year since 2019.

According to the Government Electronic Directory Services there are 360 staff in the Agency.

As outsiders with a keen interest in seeing the serious impacts of nuclear energy and radioactive waste thoroughly assessed, it appears that the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada might be a tad overstaffed for its underwhelming performance.

Given the numerous serious potential impacts, we find it to be irresponsible that the Agency recommended against an assessment of the Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Demonstration Project at the Point Lepreau nuclear site.

The Agency also recommended in 2021 against a regional assessment of radioactive waste management in the Ottawa Valley, despite a very clear need and a call for one by the City of Ottawa and many civil society groups.

The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada is a disappointment. It appears to be yet another government body prioritizing the needs of industry over the safety and well-being of Canadians and their supporting ecosystems.

Dec 24/2022 Further to Ole’s comment below, the Agency appears to turn down dozens of requests every year, and to ONLY do assessments that are required by the legislation and captured by the seriously flawed project list.

6 thoughts on “ARC-100 SMR: Does the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada do anything other than recommending not to do impact assessments?

  1. If you enter “Request for designation” in the search box of the Impact Assessment Registry, you’ll find more than 2100 entries! These include submitted requests, letters of support for requests (though most of these are NOT posted), and responses from the Agency. The Impact Assessment Act and the Agency itself are clearly in need of reform

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