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Talk Nuclear

Let’s talk facts: Nuclear waste cannot be used for non-peaceful purposes in Canada. Period.

By John Gorman, President & CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association
August 19, 2021

In March of this year, the federal government announced $50.5 million in funding to Moltex Energy to develop new small modular reactor (SMR) technology in New Brunswick. 

SMRs will play a critical role in Canada’s efforts to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and provide economic benefits for New Brunswick. 

Moltex is developing a Stable Salt Reactor – Wasteburner (SSR-W) that will produce emissions-free energy through the Waste To Stable Salts (WATSS) process that recycles existing nuclear waste. This technology has the potential to transform nuclear waste into fuel for new reactors.

When dealing with new nuclear technologies one of the issues that must be tackled is addressing misconceptions and fear-mongering – and instead to focus on the facts. 

Here are the facts: the recycling process used by Moltex has been designed to ensure it is impossible to produce weapons grade material, despite what some critics have suggested. 

Moltex’s fuel recycling process is not the same as ’conventional’ reprocessing, which is used in some other locations around the world. With conventional reprocessing, the output is pure plutonium, which gives rise to the proliferation concerns. However, this process is not only complex and very expensive, it also would not be acceptable or in any way feasible in Canada.

Here’s why – the main output of Moltex’s process is an extraction of the transuranics (including plutonium), which is suitable as fuel for the SSR-W. If someone wished to use this material for other purposes, a conventional reprocessing facility would be required. This would be a total breach of Canadian and international regulations. 

Canadian nuclear energy technology today has no connection to weapons programs or proliferation. There is no practical way to use Canadian reactor technology to produce nuclear weapons. Canada has only used its reactor technology for peaceful purposes such as electricity generation, medical diagnosis, and cancer treatments. Any suggestion to the contrary is simple fearmongering and a distraction from the real conversation – that if we are to achieve net-zero, we need all available technologies at our disposal, including nuclear. Remaining open and receptive to opportunities new technologies present and allowing space for a fulsome R&D process is the only way we will identify new tools to meet the challenges before us.

The nuclear industry has always been subject to – and open to – rigorous independent review, scrutiny, and regulation. Such independent regulation includes transparency and public scrutiny of nuclear facilities which are regulated at both the Canadian level by the CNSC (Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission) and the international level by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). 

Moltex’s R&D is being strictly monitored by the CNSC, which is responsible for ensuring the safe use of nuclear energy and materials in Canada and implementing Canada’s international commitments on the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Moltex cannot be granted a licence unless CNSC experts agree it is safe. Through the CNSC, Moltex is also engaging with the IAEA to ensure their technology and practices are in line with international best practices.

We will only meet climate change goals through a swift transition to clean energy sources. This will require the adoption of existing and emerging low-carbon technologies, including SMRs. New reactors such as SSR-Ws can ensure Canada remains a global leader in the development and deployment of these important technologies.