December 7, 2019

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Pallister unaware of premiers' pact on nuclear energy

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister was blindsided by news three of his counterparts were pursuing studies into small-scale nuclear reactors, a technology a Manitoba town sees as its economic future.

"I was surprised about it, as much as a number of my colleagues were," Pallister told the Free Press, at the sidelines of Monday’s premiers’ conference.

“I was surprised about it, as much as a number of my colleagues were,” Premier Brian Pallister told the <em>Free Press</em>. (Nathan Denette / Canadian Press files)</p>

“I was surprised about it, as much as a number of my colleagues were,” Premier Brian Pallister told the Free Press. (Nathan Denette / Canadian Press files)

On Sunday, the premiers of Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick signed an agreement to promote small modular reactors (SMRs) — leaving Manitoba as the only province under Trudeau's carbon tax to not be part of the effort.

SMRs are auditorium-sized reactors that can power remote communities. The pieces are built in one spot and shipped to an assembly point, where multiple units can connect to power large towns.

The three premiers argued this technology could power carbon-capture systems for coal and oil plants, and replace diesel in remote communities.

They say this could reduce emissions independent of Ottawa imposing a carbon levy, though experts believe it may take a decade to actually create and install commercially viable SMRs.

Manitoba has an abundance of hydroelectricity, which Pallister noted, saying he doesn’t see his government actively supporting SMRs at this point.

"We may have more to say on this at a later time, but right now we're focused on issues of a national concern that unify us (…) at this meeting, and probably for the foreseeable future," he said Monday.

The Whiteshell town of Pinawa has a former federal nuclear plant that is in the years-long process of being decommissioned. Last year, an American company filed an application to build a $150-million SMR demonstration site on the grounds.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe (from left), New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs and Ontario Premier Doug Ford signed an agreement Sunday to promote small modular reactors (SMRs) — leaving Manitoba as the only province under Trudeau's carbon tax to not be part of the effort. (Chris Young / Canadian Press files)</p>

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe (from left), New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs and Ontario Premier Doug Ford signed an agreement Sunday to promote small modular reactors (SMRs) — leaving Manitoba as the only province under Trudeau's carbon tax to not be part of the effort. (Chris Young / Canadian Press files)

The mayor of Pinawa, a town 113 kilometres east of Winnipeg, is meeting with provincial officials next week about those efforts.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the reason only three premiers were part of the agreement is because his province produces uranium while the other two have large-scale nuclear efforts underway. He said other provinces are welcome to get on board.

"This is exactly the innovation and technology that I think is necessary in addressing what is a global challenge," Moe told the Free Press.

He said no physical locations have been pinpointed for SMR production, though Pinawa might have a role to play in producing these units.

"They very may have, and likely will have, a role, as many of the private entities are doing the research with respect to where this technology is going."

Last year, an American company filed an application to build a $150-million SMR demonstration site in Pinawa. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)</p>

Last year, an American company filed an application to build a $150-million SMR demonstration site in Pinawa. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)

In Saskatchewan, "we have some catching up to do, quite frankly," Moe said.

The Sunday agreement, which includes no funding commitments and precludes "legally binding or enforceable rights or obligations," has the three provinces committing to work to support the development of SMRs.

The memorandum they signed suggests they will lobby Ottawa to help regulate the sector, and provide support for research and testing through public energy companies.

The premiers also aim "to positively influence the federal government to provide a clear unambiguous statement that nuclear energy is a clean technology and is required as part of the climate change solution."

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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