'Huge risk' nuclear deal will let Ontario push N.B. aside, says consultant

The head of a provincially owned energy development corporation says he's concerned Ontario will try to grab the lion's share of the economic benefits from proposed small modular nuclear reactors at New Brunswick's expense.

David Campbell says the recent agreement between New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan to work together on the reactors highlights the risk that Canada's largest province could use its size and clout to dominate the sector.

Campbell, an economic development consultant and chair of the New Brunswick Energy Solutions Corp., says Ontario has a long history of hoarding research, development and manufacturing, including when it involves federal funding.

"That's a huge risk," he said. "Do you see any aerospace plants in New Brunswick? Do you see any auto plants in New Brunswick? Do you see any of that stuff? No. Ontario will protect its own.

 "I think that's partly a concern here and you can quote me on that." 

N.B. companies get $10M

Two Saint John-based start-ups, ARC Nuclear Canada Inc. and Moltex Energy Canada, received $5 million of provincial money each through Campbell's organization to work on the reactors.

But Ontario companies including Terrestrial Energy and Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp. are also developing their own versions and looking for their own deals.

Ultra Safe has a partnership with Ontario Power Generation, a provincial Crown corporation, and is in talks with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., a federal Crown corporation. 

CBC

Premier Blaine Higgs and his counterparts, Ontario's Doug Ford and Saskatchewan's Scott Moe, signed a memorandum of understanding Dec. 1 "to work collaboratively in support of the development and deployment" of the reactors. 

The small reactors are intended to generate electricity without greenhouse gas emissions, helping Canada reach its 2030 reduction targets under the Paris climate agreement.

The SMRs also represent the latest attempt to turn climate policy into job-creation opportunities.

"We're trying to wedge ourselves in so that when Saskatchewan buys three or four of these things, a lot of the work and a lot of technical expertise, will be done here in New Brunswick," Campbell said.

Learn to share

But New Brunswick will have to be vigilant, he added.

"We do get pushed around, and I really hope in this case, 'no.' … All three provinces are going to want some economic piece of this pie, and I want to make sure we get our share."

Campbell said he was glad to see Ontario take part in the public announcement "because the other option is for Ontario behind the scenes to sort of squeeze us out." 

That concern was underscored at a media event Monday at ARC's Saint John office, where the company's Canadian CEO said it needs federal innovation funding that, so far, has not come this way.

"It's time for New Brunswick to get a little bit of it," Norm Sawyer told reporters. The company is looking for $20 million.

Energy Minister Mike Holland said the Dec. 1 agreement between Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick represented "a commitment to bind together and work in unison to help ARC reach access to whatever resources they need within the federal government."

Chris Young/Canadian Press

The text of the agreement, however, doesn't commit the three provinces to supporting any particular company. Holland explained in a written statement later in the day that he meant companies in all three provinces will "have a voice" thanks to the agreement. 

At the Dec. 1 news conference, Higgs brushed off questions about New Brunswick companies being edged out by Ontario.

"There will be enough to go around," he said.

"It's bigger than any one province, so it's not about 'can I keep this in the corner of New Brunswick,' albeit we certainly need some economic growth. … It doesn't create concerns. It creates opportunities." 

Sawyer said Monday there are some things "that won't be able to be done in this province," but ARC is telling all its potential suppliers that it expects them to have a presence in New Brunswick.

He pointed out Laurentis Energy Partners, a subsidiary of Ontario Power Generation, recently opened a Saint John office. "They're not doing any work for us but I think they got the hint," Sawyer said.

Minister dismisses fears

Energy Minister Mike Holland also dismissed the idea that Ontario would snatch away the bulk of the funding and activity surrounding the reactors. 

"I have no doubt there'll be other jurisdictions that will take advantage of it, but we'll be on an equal playing field," he said.

"Having a situation where we are an industry leader and compete on a level playing field is something that we haven't experienced a great deal in the past. We know this technology will develop and emerge in other areas, but it'll be awful nice for New Brunswick to be an industry leader." 

Submitted by ARC Nuclear

The non-binding three-province agreement says energy ministers and provincial utilities will agree on a feasibility report by next summer and a strategic plan for deploying reactors by next fall.

Sawyer said that with ARC already through the first stage of a vendor design review, the company is aiming to have a reactor operating by 2028. 

Holland said the provincial government is committing to allow ARC to set up operations at Point Lepreau, adjacent to NB Power's existing nuclear generating station.