The Canadian Environmental Law Association supports a request for a federal enironmental impact assessment of a proposed small modular reactor project at Point Lepreau.
The Canadian government says small modular reactors are designed to have lower upfront capital costs and enhanced safety features compared to traditional reactors.
Two companies based in Saint John, ARC Clean Technology and Moltex Energy, have received tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer funding to develop reactors.
Nuclear energy does not emit carbon dioxide that causes climate change, though environmentalists have flagged safety and long-term waste concerns.
The Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick submitted its request for an impact assessment of the proposed small nuclear reactor demonstration project at Point Lepreau.
In a statement to CBC News, ARC Clean Technology said it "fully supports the important regulatory processes designed to protect the environment and well-being of Canadians."
The statement said ARC's small modular reactors offer safe, reliable and carbon-free power and "we are well prepared to participate in any environmental impact processes required by provincial and federal jurisdictions."
Kerrie Blaise, a lawyer with the Canadian Environmental Law Association, said impact assessments "allow us to consider the impact of a project before it develops."
She calls it a "look before you leap" approach. She said the assessments look at the risks, costs, harm to current and future generations, and the project lifecycle.
She said nuclear projects like reactors don't seem to be triggering the impact assessment process.
"What we're actually seeing is a rollback of the number and the expanse of projects that are actually being subjected to an impact assessment process," said Blaise.
The Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick said in its request that 15 groups across New Brunswick and Canada wrote letters of support for their request. One of the letters came from the Canadian Environmental Law Association.
The association looks at nuclear issues as part of its public-interest legal aid clinic, so Blaise said they were happy to lend their expertise with a letter of support.
Blaise said as a first-of-its-kind project, the small modular reactor project should "attract the most rigorous public review."
The minister of Environment and Climate Change, to whom the request and support letters are addressed, has until Jan. 2 to make a decision about whether there should be an impact assessment, said Blaise.
She said if an impact assessment is granted, that process will have to start and finish before a construction licence is granted.
Blaise said if the impact assessment is granted, it will provide clarity to "what is otherwise just a conceptual design at this time." She said it would put the project through a lens where they can look at waste production and how the project will uphold international climate commitments.
"The issues an impact assessment would review and the information the public would have access to is quite different than what you would see in a more narrow regulatory licensing proceeding."