Two companies working to generate a newer, cleaner type of nuclear energy in New Brunswick say they plan to include First Nation communities in economic opportunities to be had.
Moltex Energy CEO Rory O'Sullivan and Lance Clark, VP of commercialization and strategy with ARC Clean Energy, made their pitches to First Nations chiefs and representatives from across the country during the National Climate Gathering of the Assembly of First Nations in Fredericton on Tuesday.
"What we heard in the early stages is that priority one is equity participation, so that they can actually prosper from the project and not just be bystanders," said O'Sullivan, following his presentation.
"The second one is jobs and third, their businesses are being used to supply services.
"So that's what we're doing now — we're working to figure out how they can be real equity participants and real partners in the project, so that's the first step," he said.
N.B. Power must stop burning coal in Belledune by 2030 to comply with the federal government's climate change plan, and in order to fill the void that will leave in its grid, the utility is now working with ARC and Moltex in the development of nuclear technology.
Nuclear energy does not emit carbon dioxide that causes climate change, however environmentalists have flagged safety and long-term waste concerns.
Last year the province handed ARC $20 million, while Moltex received more than $50 million from the federal government.
The previous provincial Liberal government gave each of them $5 million.
ARC's 100 megawatt liquid sodium-cooled fast reactor is expected to be operational by 2029, while Moltex's 300 megawatt Stable Salt Reactor-Wasteburner and spent fuel recovery system are expected to be operational by the early 2030s.
Strained relations with province
Pabineau First Nation Chief Terry Richardson attended the panel presentation and said he's eager to partner with the companies on opportunities for his community, near Bathurst.
"I think it's great," he said of the technology, adding that, "we have a great relationship with ARC and with Moltex."
However, during a question period, Richardson told the company reps they must play a better role in pushing the provincial government to improve its relationship with First Nations.
"You probably know … our relationship with this provincial government is not a good one," he said.
"So I think it's important you bring that to the table, and let them understand there's a necessity for them to engage us as a First Nation … and come to us because the last thing they want is … restless natives, because that's what they're going to achieve and that's what they're going to get," Richardson said.
Attendees earlier heard from Jim Ward, the general manager of the North Shore Micmac District Council, who said consultation with First Nations has to happen, otherwise private sector projects will end up being challenged in court.
"You don't want to go there. It makes sense to work with us," he said, adding that more than 90 per cent of such cases are ruled in favour of First Nations at the Supreme Court.
Ward said First Nations have developed to the point where they now have strong technical and financial capacity, and more and more want to be partners in development projects that traditionally only involved the provincial or federal governments.
"We need to understand what those projects are, the ramifications they're going to have on our communities and talk to us about what kind of potential, what are the good opportunities that are the result," he said.
"First Nations don't just want to be part of the supply chain, we'd like to have equity in the company and the technology. We want to be at the table when decisions are made."