Saskatchewan environment minister Warren Kaeding has sent us a response to the letter we sent in March about the inappropriateness of small modular nuclear reactors in the face of the climate emergency.
It’s a classic example of a ministerial failure to engage with the arguments – not one of our three detailed points is addressed. He merely says that the Saskatchewan Growth Plan identifies SMNRs as “a reliable clean energy option that have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and serves to support the expansion of renewable energy sources”. Just an assertion. No attempt to argue his case. When we look at the aforesaid “growth plan” (the relevant bit is on page 46), we don’t learn much more, but a few things are implicit:
(1) The province has no plan to get to net zero carbon electricity – just possibly 80% non-fossil by some time in the rather distant future.
(2) It appears that they are assuming a longterm cap of 50% on renewables – with another 30% coming from expensive and currently unproven nuclear options.
(3) Closely related to this, they cannot think beyond the old “baseload” approach to grid management.
(4) Given that this is a government committed to maximising the growth of energy-intensive extractive industries, we can assume that they also intend a substantially expanded grid – so under their plan the 20% coming from fossil fuels maybe some time in the 2040s will be a lot more than 20% of the current SaskPower output.
This is a plan for pretending that they are doing something about the climate emergency, not a plan for actually doing something.
SMNRs, coal+CCS+EOR and the current rush to build gas-fired power stations all come from the same place. They are all presented as climate responses. But in reality none of them can genuinely address the emergency. SMNRs cannot deliver on time or within a reasonable budget (and bring additional serious risks). The CCS at Boundary Dam still – after seven years – falls far short of the claims made for it, and it still enables an increase in oil production and consumption. Fossil gas combustion produces carbon dioxide – not as much as coal, but when we add in the methane leakage from gas extraction and transportation it arguably presents just as serious a climate problem. They are all dangerous distractions from the crisis in which the world finds itself – a crisis which results of putting corporate interests (and “growth”) ahead of human and ecosystem wellbeing. And they are all designed to perpetuate those very same corporate interests.
This is not inevitable. Countries throughout Europe are reconfiguring their electricity grids to enable the renewables revolution, shifting away from the old “baseload”-centred approach. Plans for zero-GHG-emissions electricity grids are being developed worldwide. It’s long since time for the political leaders in Saskatchewan to listen and learn.