Hon. Gary Lunn (Minister of Natural Resources, CPC)
moved that Bill C-5, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House to present Bill C-5, the nuclear liability and compensation act. This legislation will replace the 1976 Nuclear Liability Act.
The purpose of this bill is to update the insurance framework that governs the nuclear industry and protects the interests of Canadians. This is an area in which we as a federal government have a responsibility to take action. The existing insurance framework was introduced in the 1970s and has become outdated in the last 30 years.
Today, I would like to explain a bit more about our role in this area, the principles of the insurance framework, and the modernizations this bill proposes.
The history of nuclear energy in Canada goes back some 75 years. For the past 30 years, nuclear power has been an important part of Canada's energy mix. Currently, there are 22 nuclear reactors in Canada providing over 15% of our electricity needs. These reactors are located in three provinces: Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.
The operators of these reactors are different in each province. In Ontario, Ontario Power Generation and Bruce Power are the operators. In New Brunswick, it is New Brunswick Power. In Quebec, it is Hydro-Québec, which has safely managed its nuclear program for more than 30 years.
Decisions on the appropriate role, if any, that nuclear energy plays are decisions made by individual provinces. As I have said before, at the end of the day it will be up to each and every province to decide on its own energy mix, but we will be there to support them if they believe nuclear power should be part of their energy mix.
The responsibility of providing an insurance framework for the nuclear industry falls under federal jurisdiction. The Government of Canada has a duty to assume responsibility in this area. I am pleased to say that we are doing just that.
Canada addressed this responsibility with the enactment of the Nuclear Liability Act of 1976. This legislation established a comprehensive insurance framework for injury and damage that would arise in the very unlikely event of an incident. It is the framework in existence today. Both this earlier legislation and Bill C-5, now before the House, apply to nuclear power plants, nuclear research reactors, fuel fabrication facilities and facilities for managing used nuclear fuel.
The framework established under the legislation of 1976 is based on the principles of absolute and exclusive liability of the operator, mandatory insurance, and limitations in time and amount. These principles are common to the nuclear legislation in most other countries such as the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan. These principles are just as relevant today as they were when the original act was introduced.
Let me explain these principles in more detail.
Absolute liability means there is no question as to who would be at fault in the unlikely event of an accident. There is no need to prove that an operator was at fault in an accident, only that injuries and damages were caused by the accident.
As well, the legislation holds the operator of the facility to be exclusively liable for civil damages. In other words, no other business, organization, supplier or contractor can be sued for these damages.
This has two advantages. First, it makes it very easy for those who would make a claim for damage. They know who is liable. They do not need to prove fault or negligence. The other advantage is that exclusive liability allows the insurance industry to direct all of its insurance capacity to the operators.
The principle of mandatory insurance is straightforward. All nuclear operators must carry a prescribed amount of liability insurance in order to be licensed to operate its facility. This is a widely accepted practice across the world in countries generating nuclear energy.
The Canadian regime also places limitations on liability in both time and amount. In terms of the amount, the maximum that is payable under the current 30 year old legislation is $75 million. As well, injury and damages claims must be made within 10 years of an incident.
These underlying principles of Canada's existing nuclear insurance framework both protects the interests of Canadians, ensuring that they are covered in the unlikely event of a nuclear incident, and provides the certainty and stability that allows the nuclear sector to develop.
The insurance framework makes it easier for claimants and guarantees that funds are available to provide compensation.
Although there have been no major claims under the act, it has served as an important safety net for Canadians. At the same time, it has provided the stability and security needed to support the continued development of Canada's nuclear power industry.
Although the basic principles underlying the existing legislation and insurance framework remain valid, the act is over 30 years old. It needs updating to keep pace with international norms and standards.
The bill is intended to strengthen and modernize Canada's nuclear insurance framework through an all-encompassing package of amendments. It would put Canada in line with the internationally accepted compensation levels and it would clarify definitions for compensation: what is covered and the process for claiming compensation.
The bill is a culmination of many years of consultation involving extensive discussions with major stakeholders, including nuclear utilities, the governments of nuclear power generating provinces and the Nuclear Insurance Association of Canada. They wanted to be consulted and they have been.
Canada's nuclear compensation and liability legislation should be consistent with international nuclear liability regimes. This requirement goes beyond financial issues related to liability and compensation. It extends to definitions of what constitutes a “nuclear incident” and what is a “compensable damage”, and so on.
Consistency brings Canada a broader national benefit. It makes it possible for us to subscribe to international conventions we do not already belong to should we wish to subscribe in the future. There are two international conventions that establish compensation limits: the Paris-Brussels regime and the Vienna Convention.
In the case of the Paris-Brussels regime, the maximum compensation is approximately $500 million Canadian, available through a three tier combination of operator, public and member state funds.
The Vienna Convention sets the minimum liability limit at approximately $500 million Canadian. The operator's liability can be set at $250 million by national legislation, provided public funds make up the difference to $500 million.
Although Canada is not a party to either of these conventions, it has participated in them in order to monitor international third party liability trends and other issues of interest, such as definitions of nuclear incidents and the extension of time limits for death and injury claims. It encourages investment in Canada. It also levels the playing field for Canadian nuclear companies interested in contracts abroad. These companies may be inhibited from bidding because of uncertainty about liability and compensation issues.
Consistency is important for a more fundamental reason. It demonstrates Canadian solidarity with other nations on issues of safety and liability. And, as a major user and exporter of nuclear power technology, Canada must uphold its reputation for uncompromising excellence, responsibility and accountability.
The key change proposed in Bill C-5 is an increase in the amount of the operator's liability from $75 million to $650 million. The current limit of $75 million is outdated and unrealistically low. Changing this limit balances the duty for operators to provide compensation without burdening them with huge costs for unrealistic insurance amounts. This increase would put Canada on par with most western nuclear countries.
It is important also that what is proposed in this bill is consistent with international conventions, not only on financial issues but also in regard to definitions of what constitutes an incident, what qualifies for compensation and so on. These enhancements would establish a level playing field for Canadian nuclear companies that will welcome the certainty of operating in a country that acknowledges international conventions.
Both the current insurance framework and Bill C-5 contain limitation periods restricting the time period for making claims. Under the current act, claims must be made within 10 years of an incident. However, since we know today that this is not adequate, the limitation period has been extended under Bill C-5 to 30 years for personal injury claims.
Both the current legislation and Bill C-5 provide for an administrative process to replace the courts in the adjudication of claims arising from a large accident.
The new legislation clarifies the arrangements for a quasi-judicial tribunal to hear claims. The new claims process would ensure that claims are handled equitably and efficiently.
In developing this legislation, we needed to be fair to all stakeholders and to find the right measures to protect the public interest. I firmly believe that the proposed legislation fully meets this challenge.
We have consulted with nuclear operators, suppliers, insurers and provinces with nuclear installations and they are supportive of the changes I have described. It is our intent to continue this practice and that stakeholders with expertise are consulted as the necessary regulations are drafted.
I know that some nuclear operators may be concerned about the cost implications or higher insurance premiums but they also recognize that they have been sheltered from these costs for some time. Suppliers welcome the changes as they provide more certainty for the industry. Nuclear insurers appreciate the clarity provided in the new legislation and the resolution of some long-standing concerns.
Provinces with facilities have been supportive of the proposed revisions to the current legislation. Municipalities that host nuclear facilities have been advocating for revisions for some time. They are supportive of the increased levels of the operator liability and improved approaches to compensation.
Parliamentarians have also spoken on this issue. In 2001, the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources recommended that the government increase the mandatory operator liability limit from $75 million to $600 million.
In short, Bill C-5 was not developed in isolation.
The evolution of policy was guided by consultations with key stakeholders over the years and by experience gained in other countries.
I will now broaden my remarks and talk about the context within which I put forward the proposed legislation. As I said earlier, nuclear energy in Canada has a long history that goes back some 75 years. I should note that never in the history of Canada have we had a significant nuclear incident. We are a leader in peaceful development of this technology.
To highlight one of the great Canadian success stories, Canada is a leader in the production of radioisotopes, an element produced by nuclear reactions. Isotopes have been put to dozens of uses that have improved agriculture and made industry more efficient. Their most significant applications, however, have been in medicine where they have performed wonders in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease.
It is a little known fact that Canada supplies 50% of the world's reactor-produced radioisotopes for nuclear medicine and is used for the treatment of cancer and in over 12 million diagnostic tests each and every year. I believe the medical isotopes produced here in Canada are used in some 76,000 medical procedures each day.
The most widely used radioisotope is produced at AECL's Chalk River laboratory and prepared at MDS Nordion's facility in Ottawa. The short half life of this radioisotope requires efficient transportation around the world. Shipments are on airplanes within 24 hours of the material coming out of the reactor. Globally, an estimated 76,000 people benefit from these diagnostic procedures each day.
The improvements provided by Bill C-5 are now necessary for Canada to remain a leading player in the nuclear industry.
Much of our work in the nuclear industry has been to produce electricity, electricity to provide home comforts, to drive industry and to promote jobs across the country. Nuclear electricity has contributed to a healthy environment and affordable clean energy.
Purely from an environmental point of view, one has to consider nuclear power as a clean, greenhouse gas emission-free technology. Our government recognizes that Canada needs this type of clean energy. We need to encourage the development of all types of clean energy in Canada.
I believe that as an emerging energy superpower, Canada must become a clean energy superpower.
Under our eco-action plan, we are contributing to the development of clean energy technologies and practices that will provide cleaner air, reducing pollution and greenhouse gases and sustaining both our environment and economic competitiveness.
These cleaner sources involve hydroelectric power, wind, solar, tidal, biomass and other forms of renewable energy. I see nuclear power as part of that clean energy mix that will advance Canada as a clean energy superpower.
However, in order for Canada to advance in clean energy production, we need the certainty provided by the appropriate and up to date nuclear reliability framework to protect Canadians and provide stability to this important industry.
Canada's nuclear safety record is second to none in the world. Nuclear power is an important part of Canada's diversified energy mix. Now we need to update and modernize our nuclear insurance framework to reflect international norms and continue to provide the protection Canadians deserve. For this reason, I would ask all members to support this legislation.
Mr. Omar Alghabra (Mississauga—Erindale, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-5. I want to thank the minister for tabling the bill and I also want to take this opportunity to thank department officials for providing me with an informative and educational briefing session yesterday afternoon.
As the minister extensively outlined, the bill is a housecleaning bill which updates the 1976 act and reviews the liability limit that was set in that act. He also did talk about the fact that it is a culmination of many years of discussions and consultations. In fact, I am aware that the Senate tabled a committee report a few years ago that recommended adjusting that limit. So this is a very important bill and I will be recommending to my caucus and my leader that we support it and send it to committee. In committee we will be doing our job as official opposition listening to stakeholders and experts, and we will review the bill in detail.
Since I am given the opportunity today to speak on this bill I want to discuss the importance and the significance of the energy file to our country. Energy is an important dimension of the triple E triangle. The triple E triangle is made up of energy, environment and the economy. Energy relies and has an impact on the environment. The economy depends on energy and this ongoing circle or triangle is very important and significant to the future and success of our country.
Unfortunately so far, the Conservatives have presented no national energy strategy. They have outlined no vision and have not acted. I want to take this opportunity today to call on the Conservatives to put some energy into their energy plan and produce real action and an outline for Canadians of what they plan on doing for this sector.
The Prime Minister always likes to talk about how Canada is an energy superpower, but he has yet to outline for members of this House and for Canadians what he means by that and what he plans on doing with that power. I agree with him that Canada is rich in natural resources. Canada is rich in skills and talent. Canada is a major producer of energy to the world, but what are we doing about that? We need real action and a real plan.
I want to take this opportunity to highlight an example that I would call on the Prime Minister to follow. The Ontario Liberal government under the premiership of Dalton McGuinty has just outlined a 20 year energy plan to set a strategy for the Province of Ontario for the electricity production system. The plan talks about conservation, renewable energy, nuclear and natural gas, power production, and this is a really important milestone in the history of the Province of Ontario. Obviously this was overdue after the eight years of mismanagement by the Conservative government in Ontario.
I would like to call on the Minister of Natural Resources and the Prime Minister to review this plan and to follow the lead that was set by Premier Dalton McGuinty in outlining a 20 year plan for energy supply needs.
Energy supply, energy suppliers, economists and industry talk about the need for energy predictability, and so far we are lacking that at the national level. We need to talk about conservation, about renewable energy plans, new technology, environmental consideration, and about our short term, medium term and long term goals.
My Liberal leader has already taken a leadership role on that and he has outlined various plans to address these concerns. My leader has talked about his carbon budget to address our environmental need for meeting the most important challenge that our planet is facing, climate change. We cannot sustain the rise of greenhouse gas emissions and we must put in a plan to deal with this increase.
My leader has clearly and strongly outlined what we could do about confronting this challenge. He set an ambitious target of 12,000 megawatts of renewable power, almost 10% of our total electrical power. He has outlined a vision of how to get there and that we must get there by 2015. We talk about energy conservation and working with industries and Canadians on how to achieve those goals.
Obviously nuclear energy is an important component and an important source of electricity as we face the rise in increasing needs. Greenhouse gas emissions are garnering greater attention than before. This deserves more debate and thoughtful discussion.
The Minister of Natural Resources said earlier this year that we are a nation of energy consumers and we must be prepared to have an open discussion about nuclear power. I could not agree with the minister more, but I am still waiting for the open discussion that he talked about. I am still waiting to receive an invitation to those discussions. I am hearing from stakeholders and Canadians in general that there is a great concern about the increased secrecy and lack of accountability when it comes to nuclear energy in particular.
It was reported in 2006 that the Prime Minister had been engaged in discussions in the global nuclear energy partnership initiative. It has been more than a year and we have yet to receive any information about what the Prime Minister plans to do, what the Prime Minister has committed Canada to doing and what the Prime Minister has in mind.
There is an increased shroud of secrecy, lack of accountability and an avoidance of openness. There are many unanswered questions. This initiative brings forward many issues to which Canadians want answers, for example, on waste disposal and the production of nuclear power. There are many unanswered questions. The government which claims to be a champion of accountability and openness appears to be avoiding this discussion. It does not want to reveal any information.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs did not want to answer questions earlier this month about his discussions with our international partners. It appears as though this discussion has become too radioactive for the Conservatives. I am not clear as to why. Even though they wanted to talk about it initially, all of a sudden it is a matter of secrecy and darkness.
We in the Liberal Party want to shed light on these discussions. We want to be involved in the discussions. We want all Canadians to be involved in the discussions. We call on the minister and the Prime Minister to open up the discussions and invite thoughtful debate.
I understand that the Conservatives do not appear to be that energetic about this discussion. I understand there is no political excitement in this topic, but it is very important for Canadians. We as elected officials must play our roles and accept our responsibility toward Canadians by engaging in debate. It is incredibly important for the well-being of our country economically, environmentally and socially.
I call on the minister and the Prime Minister to show leadership and to heed the calls of economists, engineers, environmentalists, other stakeholders and Canadians in general to follow the lead of the Liberal Party leader and the Ontario Liberal premier and articulate a national energy strategy that can set the tone for the next few years. This would create predictability for the industry and energy producers. It would respond to the needs of Canadians and put them at ease with regard to the many unanswered questions.
Mrs. Claude DeBellefeuille (Beauharnois—Salaberry, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this important government bill, specifically, Bill C-5, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident.
We recall that this bill was introduced by the Minister of Natural Resources during the previous session of Parliament and had to be introduced in this House again after prorogation. It was quickly reinstated and has now been assigned the number 5, which says a lot about this government's priorities.
I would first like to give an outline of the bill and briefly put it into context. Like many environmental stakeholders, the Bloc Québécois has noted a renewed interest in nuclear energy, across Canada and around the world. In Canada, we have been hearing a lot about it since the current Conservative government was elected. A number of statements by the Minister of Natural Resources, who is one of its main proponents, clearly illustrate his government's renewed interest in the nuclear sector—at least, that was the case until very recently.
According to the newspapers, it will now be harder for the Minister of Natural Resources to promote nuclear energy. Le Droit reports that ministers will now have to tread lightly when promoting nuclear energy because Quebeckers and Canadians are particularly concerned about this controversial subject. It may therefore not be in the government's interest to hold a public debate on the issue just now.
The minister seems to have forgotten that nuclear energy is not, as he claims, clean energy. Radioactive waste is still a big, expensive problem. After 40 years, Canada still does not have a solution. That is why, when it comes to nuclear energy, the Bloc Québécois is calling for strict, effective control at every stage of the process, from extraction and transportation to the generation of heat and electricity.
For these reasons, the Bloc Québécois supports the principle underlying this bill concerning operator liability in the event of a nuclear incident. Nevertheless, it is deplorable that the Conservative government has failed to respond to recent reports, such as the one last June about burial of nuclear waste, by holding Canada-wide consultations on nuclear power.
The government has decided to promote nuclear energy without holding a debate even though there is no consensus at all on the issue. In fact, environmental groups are very critical of nuclear energy. The Bloc Québécois refuses to make compromises when it comes to the safety of Quebeckers. We must never forget what happened at Chernobyl in Ukraine and at Three Mile Island in the United States, where the fallout from nuclear incidents was extremely serious. We must do everything in our power to prevent such incidents.
I would like to reiterate the goals of Bill C-5, which, and I quote, “establishes a liability regime applicable in the event of a nuclear incident that makes operators of nuclear installations absolutely and exclusively liable for damages up to a maximum of $650 million.”
Bill C-5 also seeks to amend and update the Nuclear Liability Act. It also replaces the power to create a nuclear damage claims commission with the power to create a nuclear claims tribunal.
In Canada, the Nuclear Liability Act, which came into force in 1976, assigns liability for nuclear damage to the operators of nuclear installations. The maximum coverage under the law is $75 million. Part II of the act enables the governor in council to create a Nuclear Damage Claims Commission, which examines the claims for compensation in cases where the federal government is of the opinion that the cost of damages caused by a nuclear incident could be more than $75 million.
Since the operator's liability is limited to the amount of its insurance, $75 million, it is presumably the federal government that would have to make up the difference.
The act is administered by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which designates the nuclear installations subject to the act, determines who is the operator by issuing permits in accordance with the provisions of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, and establishes the amount of the basic insurance with the approval of the federal Treasury Board.
The framework for nuclear power for civilian use is particularly developed in Europe. European states that were promoting the use of stand-alone nuclear power plants for the generation of electricity wanted to ensure adequate financial compensation would be available for victims in the event of an accident.
They were the ones who initiated the first instrument to be put in place, the Convention on Third Party Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy of July 29, 1960, known as the Paris Convention. Developed under the auspices of the OECD and covering European countries, it incorporated a number of principles governing nuclear liability law.
In Canada, nuclear liability is based on the same principles: operators are absolutely liable for damage suffered by a third party; operators are exclusively liable for damage suffered by a third party; operators' liability is limited in terms of time and amounts claimed; and operators are required to hold insurance or some other financial security to cover their liability.
However, although limitation of liability is a known principle, European countries and Canada interpret it differently. There are gaps. One of these gaps has to do with the amount of liability.
In chapter 8 of her 2005 annual report, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development dealt specifically with insurance coverage for operators of nuclear facilities, in response to two petitions. The commissioner indicated that the accident insurance requirements for nuclear facilities did not comply with international standards. The $75 million of coverage required by the Nuclear Liability Act is woefully inadequate by international standards.
Senior officials with Natural Resources Canada said that, with inflation, $250 million of coverage in current dollars would be equivalent to the amount required in the act when it was passed and that to meet international standards, roughly $650 million Canadian would be required. This opinion was shared by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development in her own report in 2005.
Under the Paris convention, which most European governments signed, the recommended limit is $600 million. Why Canada is lagging so far behind, when the parliamentary committee that examined the bill before it was passed in 1976 recommended that it be reviewed every five years? Twenty-five years later, it still has not been updated.
The then Minister of Natural Resources stated in March 2003 that “it is time to bring forward revisions to the Nuclear Liability Act to update it and bring it up to international standards”.
Clearly, the current Nuclear Liability Act, with its limit of $75 million, is even more inadequate in 2007, and it is time the act was updated.
Now I want to talk about the review of the Nuclear Responsibility Act. This is the second deficiency. In an evolving issue such as this it is imperative to adjust the legislative and regulatory framework regularly in order for new realities to be taken into account. Review of the maximum award for which nuclear plant operators are liable has been quite deficient so far.
In 2003, officials from Natural Resources traced the history of the Nuclear Responsibility Act and the review process that should have increased the liability threshold. The act was passed in 1970, but not enacted until 1976, after an agreement was reached with a group that is now known as the Nuclear Insurance Association of Canada, or NIAC, on the matter of liability. In 1982, six years after the legislation was enacted, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission asked an interdepartmental working group to review the act. In 1984, the working group presented a discussion paper in order to get public input. It was not until 1990, however, that the recommendations were forwarded to the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources. We also had to wait until 1995 for a new interdepartmental review committee to resume the modernization work. This work was not done until February 2001. The minister finally received the recommendations, but never carried them out. It is only now in 2007, 31 years after the legislation was put into force, that a bill is finally being introduced to modernize legislation that was supposed to be reviewed every five years. Thirty-one years in such a critical area clearly illustrates a significant deficiency.
Although Bill C-5 is rather voluminous in clauses and pages, it can be summed up in three major points: first, the definition of an operator's responsibility—by operator we mean the operator of a nuclear power plant or installation—the terms and financial limit of the liability and, lastly, the establishment of a nuclear claims tribunal, which would adjudicate claims for damage arising from any nuclear accident and determine who is liable for said accident.
Bill C-5 establishes the specific responsibilities of operators of nuclear installations and clearly indicates the damages that can be compensated and those that cannot. Of the most important clauses, clause 9 specifies that the operator's liability is absolute, and more importantly that it is automatic in the event of radiation emissions, as proof of fault is not required. Clearly, that means that in the event of an incident, no matter the cause—except for war, civil war or insurrection—the operator of the installation is liable and must compensate the persons harmed. Clauses 13 to 20 list all compensable damages and expenses, including bodily injury and property damage, economic loss, costs related to the loss of use of property and costs incurred for preventive measures ordered by an authority acting under federal or provincial legislation relating to environmental protection.
The second aspect deals with the financial aspects of liability. The main clause, clause 21, states that the liability of an operator under this act for damage resulting from a nuclear incident is limited to $650 million. The Governor in Council may, by regulation, amend subclause (1) to increase the amount. Subclause (1) does not relieve an operator from payment of the costs of administering claims, court costs or interest on compensation.
Thus, liability is being gradually increased from $75 million to $650 million over a period of four years. This considerable jump must not obscure the fact that such an adjustment is necessary at this time, precisely because of the federal government's failure to regularly adjust the amount.
If the federal government had fulfilled its responsibilities in this matter for the past 31 years, the amount of insurance would have been raised gradually to allow for suitable compensation, instead of increasing it so drastically, because it has become apparent that the amount is ridiculously low.
We can consider ourselves lucky that there were no major incidents here in Canada in the last 30 years, because citizens and communities would not have received enough compensation.
In clause 23, the bill specifies that insurance must be maintained separately for each nuclear facility, which only makes sense, since each facility could, on its own, be the source of an incident.
Lastly, the bill also establishes a special tribunal to hear claims, when the Governor in Council believes that it is in the best interest of the public.
The Governor in Council may declare that the claims in respect of a nuclear incident are to be dealt with by a tribunal, if the Governor in Council believes that it is in the public interest to do so, having regard to the extent and the estimated cost of the damage, and the advantages of having the claims dealt with by an administrative tribunal.
Subsequent clauses define the powers of the nuclear claims tribunal, granting it broad powers intended to accelerate and simplify the claims process, whenever circumstances and considerations of fairness permit.
Finally, in an effort to process claims expeditiously, the tribunal may establish classes of claims that may be determined by a claims officer without an oral hearing and designate as a claims officer anyone it considers qualified.
In closing, I would like to point out that the Minister of Natural Resources seems to have little credibility when it comes to nuclear energy. Indeed, the minister's enthusiasm for this energy resource, even though no serious debate has been held—a debate we in the Bloc believe is necessary—leaves us fairly speechless.
In his press releases and speeches, the minister alleges that nuclear energy is clean because it emits virtually no greenhouse gas. While it is true that nuclear energy produces only a small quantity of greenhouse gas, it does produce radioactive waste that is difficult and expensive to manage. To ignore this is to neglect an important consideration and mislead Canadians, especially when the Minister of Natural Resources is in favour of using nuclear energy to boost production of oil from the tar sands.
Nuclear energy may produce little greenhouse gas, but oil produces a great deal. The equation is simple. The benefits of using nuclear energy—reduced greenhouse gas emissions—will be offset by increased oil production.
The Minister of Natural Resources should show some restraint when it comes to this energy source, because it is far from being unanimously accepted by Canadians, and especially Quebeckers, and it carries very real risks.
Without being alarmist, we have to realize that nuclear energy should not be this minister's first choice. He should invest more in developing clean energy such as wind, solar and geothermal power.
The Bloc Québécois therefore supports Bill C-5 in principle, but will examine the bill carefully in committee to make sure that it has no loopholes that will allow operators to shirk their responsibilities, that taxpayers will not unduly share the risk and the cost of compensation and, finally, that the amount of insurance coverage is reviewed regularly, in compliance with international standards, and represents the real cost of the damage that may result from a nuclear accident.
Mr. Dennis Bevington (Western Arctic, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the nuclear liability bill that is in front of us. It quite clearly has been brought forward in order to facilitate the development of the nuclear industry in Canada. In the original development in regard to nuclear liability, going back to the 1970s, we established that limit because private insurers of course would not deal with nuclear accidents. We set a liability limit of $75 million then.
Let us think of that number. We can refer to the American Brookhaven report of 1957, which suggested that liability for nuclear accidents could be in the $7 billion range in 1957 dollars. We can see that this limit was set very significantly to develop the industry. The industry has had a long tenure of development and has moved on. Now we are moving into designing legislation that will increase the amount of liability held by companies that develop or own nuclear plants.
Contrary to what the minister told us earlier, under this new act the liability for an operator for damage resulting from a nuclear incident is limited to $650 million. While small nuclear incidents such as the loss of a fuel bundle and the resulting contamination of an area of 400 metres, let us say, might be covered under this amount, certainly the larger scale nuclear accidents that we have seen in the world would not be covered.
We have a new bill in front of us in Parliament that is trying to catch up to something done in the early 1970s. Is it adequate? Has this bill been presented in an adequate enough fashion? Is the government willing to negotiate in an adequate enough fashion to make this bill acceptable? I have yet to hear that in the debate today. As such, NDP members will be considering what we hear as the debate moves along to the point of deciding to support or not support the bill.
I come from the Northwest Territories, an area of Canada that has had plenty of experience with nuclear contamination.
Let us think back to the 1930s and a community called Deline, which for many years was known as the village of widows because the men in the village serviced the development of Port Radium. They hauled the yellowcake on their shoulders in burlap bags which were put on barges and sent down the river to service the emerging nuclear weapons industry in the United States. There was no compensation for this. There was no consideration of this at the time.
There is a longstanding contamination issue. This year, finally, in Port Radium there is an ongoing cleanup effort at the mine site, some 70 years later. The mine site cleanup is not extensive, but it is costing in the tens of millions of dollars.
The nuclear trail from this contamination extends all the way down the river system. AECL came to my community in 1985 to examine the presence of nuclear material along the river system. My community was a portage point for all of the material that came out of the Port Radium site. At that time one could still find on the ground burlap sacks that had been dropped from trucks. The presence of the material after 70 years was still such that it could be detected quite easily and isolated.
That radioactive material was in the community for that many years, which suggests to me that when we talk about 30 years of liability for nuclear material in our environment, in our communities, we are talking about a number that perhaps does not match up with reality.
We also could talk about the Ray Rock Mines where there is still 71,000 tonnes of uranium mine waste. Ten families had to abandon their homes due to contamination from the mine. Radionuclides and heavy metals from the tailings have found their way into fish and mammals in the area. There has been no compensation. This is still part of the nuclear industry that we have in Canada.
We can see that in the Northwest Territories we do not have a great record when it comes to dealing with nuclear waste.
There is another incident of contamination that I would like to mention. It is about contamination that comes from an external source, one that is not covered in the bill. Canada has no liability coverage for external acts whereby contamination from nuclear waste comes from another country, but we live next to a very large country that uses a lot of nuclear energy.
However, I am talking about Cosmos 954, which in 1978 burned up in the atmosphere over the Northwest Territories. The nuclear reactor onboard a satellite is pretty small. It would probably fit in an average thermos bottle. My community was some 300 miles away from where that small nuclear reactor burned up in the atmosphere. The next year, I had officials from AECL in my driveway picking up identifiable pieces from Cosmos 954 and that nuclear accident. Those small bits of nuclear fissionable material spread over 124,000 square kilometres.
Therefore, when we talk about liability in the nuclear industry and the nature of what we are dealing with here, we are talking about a very serious issue.
I would like to refer to another matter that speaks to this as well. That is the Giant Mine, where in order to deal with an industry that has closed down, we now are dealing with 270,000 tonnes of arsenic. It is going to be left in the mine shafts. It is going to be frozen in there. This method of dealing with contaminated material is not to move it. It is simply to freeze it in the ground, right in the middle of the largest community in my riding.
Our record of dealing with contamination in this country, of dealing with the impact of industrial development that leaves behind material harmful to human existence, is not that great. It is not that perfect. Our record is nothing that we can stand up and be proud of in this country.
Therefore, when we speak about protecting working families in Canada with legislation, we have to be pretty careful about what we are going to do. We have to examine what we are doing here in great detail. We cannot just simply slap something through to make up for the 30 years of inaction by the government on this subject.
In 1957 the liability limit for a nuclear plant in the United States was $560 million. What is it today for our neighbour, the one we share so much with, the one the Conservative Party loves to harmonize with, the one the Liberal Party has worked so hard to harmonize with over so many years? It is now $9.7 billion. So what is going on here when we are setting our limit at $650 million? The public will have to pay for any amounts over the limited liability. Contrary to what the minister says, that is what is going to happen.
This liability level has to be increased. It has to be increased to a level commensurate with that of our largest trading partner, and not simply with signed treaties or conventions, but with the actual practical use of nuclear energy on this continent.
Limited liability was needed when the industry was getting started. The question is whether it should it be in place today. Do we put limited liability on a wind farm? Do we put limited liability on solar panels? We do not. Do other countries have limited liability? Germany does not. Germany, of course, lives downwind from Chernobyl and it has unlimited liability on its nuclear industry. Did its nuclear industry quit with that? No. Did the nuclear industry in the United States close up because it had a $9.7 billion limited liability? No, it did not.
What is different about Canada? How is Canada different from the United States? Why would our industry flee if we put a proper liability in place for it? It is a question that we can all ponder as we debate this subject.
The liability within the bill is too narrow. There are many more accidents of small amounts of nuclear material than there is from large plants and yet that is not covered in this legislation. Many times we have seen contamination coming forth from medical equipment, equipment that is used in the oil and gas industry and from various sources of radiation that are used in industry in our daily lives. Those are also things that should be legislated. They should be under some measure of control to ensure that the operators that use them dispose of them correctly and protect Canadians. Without legislation, people need to sue to get compensation from these types of actions, and that is not fair.
The definition of damage in the bill is also troublesome. Damage can be in the environment, as well as in one's building and in one's personal self. It can be long-lasting in the environment. I talked about it earlier in my speech. These are things that remain behind with the nuclear industry. The bill needs to have a proper definition of damage.
A damage definition could be expanded to include damage due to a loss of business or due to a fear of contamination like Japan. This could be part of the bill. We will be talking about this more as the days go on.
As I mentioned earlier, there is no particular protection for incidents that can happen from external sources of contamination from the nuclear industry, nuclear satellites, nuclear ships and all manner of the use of nuclear energy.
Germany provides this type of compensation and it has good reason to do so. It understands the issue.
If I may, I will bring this around to economics. What is it about setting a limit that is so much below the limit of our largest trading partner? What will that do to the industry? Does it subsidize the Canadian reactors over the U.S. reactors? Perhaps it does if they are built by American companies for export of electrical energy to the United States.
We could find ourselves in a situation where we are paying for the development of nuclear reactors for another country with our limited liability here, with our lesser standards for the use and development of this industry. Therefore, we need to be very careful about what we are doing in relationship to our major trading partner, the partner with which we engage in so many other harmonization activities.
The whole issue of the use of nuclear energy and moving forward with it should be part of a larger energy strategy. We cannot determine the future direction of the Canadian energy matrix without having everyone on a level playing field. If a level playing field means that the nuclear industry must carry the liability for its product, for its industry, for its demobilization and for its safe storage of hazardous waste, that should be it, that should be part of its equation. Just as part of the equation for the use of solar energy is the need to reduce the cost of manufacturing panels and just as the cost of wind power is the intermittency of its production, these are things that need to be put in context with each other.
We are dealing with the nuclear industry today. Let us deal with it and put it in a context that makes it fairer for Canadians for the future. When we make decisions about the direction we should take in Canada with energy, they should be made with the assurance that all is understood, that all is put into the equation and that it all makes sense. This is not the case right now. The bill does not go far enough to allow that to happen.
I want to hear what other parties have to say about this because is a tremendously important issue. We want to understand whether this is worthwhile to go to committee and whether we can get an acceptable result in committee for all the problems that we have identified in the bill today.
I have enjoyed the opportunity to speak to the bill because in many ways we need a frank discussion on the nuclear industry in Canada. We need to understand what it means to develop in this direction, what it costs and what we are leaving behind for our children and grandchildren.
Mrs. Cheryl Gallant (Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands.
I rise in support of Bill C-5, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident. The intent of this bill is to repeal the Nuclear Liability Act, and in the process to update and modernize Canada's liability and compensation insurance framework.
I will take a few minutes to outline the rationale for this bill and explain why the changes that it proposes are necessary. In doing so, I will touch on the general principles that are the basis for both the current act and the bill before us, but first, for the benefit of the hon. members, I would like to underline the contributions that nuclear energy makes to our national well-being.
Canada was a charter member of the original nuclear energy club and today is a world leader in the development and use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes. We have remained in the vanguard of many critically important fields, including reactor technology and safety.
With regard to the issues that this bill addresses, liability and compensation, we are pioneers in these areas. Canada can proudly claim to be among the first nations to establish an insurance framework that addresses the special circumstances of the nuclear power sector.
Concerning our national interests, the hon. members know that strong nuclear energy brings great economic and environmental benefits to Canada. The CANDU reactor is the workhorse of Canadian nuclear energy and it is one of the most environmentally clean energy sources available to us. Without it, Ontario, for example, would not have been able to reach the levels of industrialization that it has. Indeed, if it had not been for CANDU reactors in Canada, we would have had to burn huge quantities of coal to feed the furnaces, to turn the turbines of Canada's electrical generating stations.
Let me now turn to the bill itself. Like the current act, it is based on three fundamental principles: absolute liability, exclusive liability and mandatory insurance.
Absolute liability means that a nuclear operator will be held liable for an accident whether or not the operator was at fault. This means that even if the incident is a result of the actions of others, vandalism for instance, or negligence on the part of a supplier, the operator will be held exclusively liable for compensating third parties.
The concept of absolute liability has a great practical value. It means those affected will not have to wind their way through a highly complex industry to determine who is at fault because in all scenarios there will be no question of where to take a claim for compensation. Liability belongs with the operator and the buck stops there.
The second principle, exclusive liability, is closely allied to the first. It means that no party, other than the operator, no supplier or subcontractor, for instance, will be held liable for an incident.
This principle benefits both the nuclear industry and Canadians who could be potentially affected by a nuclear incident. For industry suppliers or subcontractors, it removes a liability risk that would deter them from getting involved in a nuclear project, especially when insurance against this type of risk is narrowly limited. For others, the principles of exclusive liability makes it easier to file the claims.
These principles are embedded in both the Nuclear Liability Act and in the bill before us, and for good reason, for without the certainty that the act provides on a question of liability, insurers would not be able to marshal the necessary insurance capacity to cover the facilities. Under these circumstances, without insurance, who would want to invest or get involved in nuclear development?
The Nuclear Liability Act has been a serviceable instrument, but nevertheless, it is time now to update it, modernize it and simplify it. This is entirely what one would expect. The existing act now dates back 30 years.
Indeed, if we started the clock at 1970, when the act was drafted, the legislation could be said to date back a full 37 years, which is several lifetimes in terms of nuclear technology and the related technologies such as computer compatibility.
The act, in its present form, thus reflects the technology, the science, and thinking of an early age and experience gained up to that time. In the interim, however, while the nuclear industry has evolved and improved dramatically, inflation and our evolving jurisprudence have caused the potential liability for incidents to increase.
Accordingly, the legislation must evolve. We must maintain the basic concepts of absolute and exclusive liability, but we must increase liability amounts, increase mandatory insurance requirements, add new concepts of damage, and provide better definitions of the compensation process. What we must do is meet the practical requirements and the realities of a new century.
The proposed legislation makes significant changes in the matter of compensation. In financial terms, it increases the liability for nuclear operators. The Nuclear Liability Act sets the maximum at $75 million, an amount that now stands as one of the lowest limits among the G-8 group of nations.
The proposed legislation would better reflect the conditions of today by raising that limit to $650 million. The proposed legislation would increase the mandatory insurance that operators must carry by almost ninefold. It would permit operators to cover half of their liability with forms of financial security other than insurance. This could be, for example, letters of credit, self-insurance and provincial or federal guarantees. All operators would be required to conform to strict guidelines.
In terms of time limits on compensation claims, this bill also raises the limit from 10 years to 30 years for claims related to injury or death. This change recognizes the reality that some radiation-related diseases remain latent for long periods.
This bill would include modern definitions of nuclear damage reflecting today's jurisprudence and international conventions in this area.
I want to emphasize that the issues and changes that the proposed act addresses are the products of years of experience, deliberation and above all compensation. We did not want the Government of Canada to proceed unilaterally or in a piecemeal fashion because such approaches do not make for either consistency or certainty. There are reasonable expectations and we have respected them. We will continue to do so.
The practical benefits of this proposed legislation to the people of Canada are many.
I am particularly pleased to recognize the important work of the 2,513 employees who work directly in the nuclear industry in my riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke and the 4,834 AECL employees across Canada.
At 6:10 a.m., November 3, 1957, the National Research Universal, NRU, reactor at AECL's Chalk River laboratories reached the starting point for the first time. Designed for research and plutonium protection at a cost of $60 million, with that landmark achievement, Canada's science and technology stepped onto the world stage.
I encourage all parliamentarians to join me in congratulating AECL as it celebrates this 50-year milestone in the history of nuclear research in Canada. I am pleased to recognize Mr. John Inglis, the shift supervisor and engineer in 1957 for the startup. Mr. Inglis still resides in Deep River today.
I support this bill because it makes for progress in a field of critical importance to our economic and environmental well-being. There is no question that Bill C-5 well services the national interest and the public good. I therefore urge hon. members to give it their support.
Mr. David Anderson (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to add my voice in support of Bill C-5.
All members of the House know that nuclear energy is important to Canada's energy supply. Three provinces produce electricity from nuclear power. Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick have safely used nuclear power for many years in their energy mix.
Nuclear power contributes 15% of Canada's electrical generation. Fifty per cent of Ontario's energy needs is nuclear. Nuclear is a clean greenhouse gas emissions-free technology and it is part of our energy security. It is also extremely important to our commitment to reduce greenhouse gases in Canada.
The debate should not be about alarming people, but the NDP seems to have taken that position. It should be about assuring Canadians that our energy future is safe and secure. We have generated electricity in Canada using nuclear power for more than 30 years, and we have done it safely and without mishap.
We fully expect that the nuclear industry's fine safety record in Canada will continue for many more generations and as technology improves, so should safety. As my colleague just pointed out, it has been 40 years since the debate begun on the issue of nuclear liability and the Nuclear Liability Act and has represented several generations of nuclear technology. It is time to update this act.
The government is also being realistic and responsible in its treatment of nuclear power. In the unlikely event that there should ever be a problem, we intend to be properly prepared to help Canadians. This is an important reason why the liability legislation is now being modernized.
The 1976 Nuclear Liability Act established a compensation and civil liability insurance framework to address damages resulting from a nuclear accident. It applies to Canadian nuclear facilities, such as nuclear power plants, nuclear research reactors, fuel processing plants and facilities for managing used nuclear fuel. The proposed nuclear liability and compensation act improves the claim compensation process for potential victims and requires nuclear plant operators to maintain financial security sufficient to cover potential liability.
We are modernizing Canada's nuclear liability legislation to give us nuclear legislation comparable to that of other western countries. We believe that Canadians deserve that protection.
The proposed new legislation will increase the amount of compensation available to address civil damage, broaden the number of categories for which compensation may be sought and improve the procedures for delivering that compensation.
The monetary limit in the proposed legislation for operator third party liability has been increased to $650 million from $75 million in the present act. Under Bill C-5, the operators will be required to carry at least $650 million in financial security to cover potential liability. This is in line with current international standards.
It is important that I correct something the NDP has been saying this morning and the impression it has been leaving.
In the United States individual operators are responsible for a limit that is very similar to what we are proposing in Canada. They are required to carry $330 million in primary insurance on their individual operations and $100 million secondary coverage for each reactor on the site. Therefore, the $650 million is within the range of what is happening in the United States.
The government is also prepared, through the legislation, to provide coverage for certain risks for which there is no insurance and it will cover smaller facilities through an arrangement with approved insurers. Under proposed Bill C-5, claims for compensation will be pursued through the operator and the insurer and such claims may be settled through the courts and a tribunal system, which we will establish through the bill. As I mentioned, the bill provides for an administrative regime, a nuclear claims tribunal, if deemed necessary by the government.
Since the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act was passed in 2002, almost $1 billion has been invested in trust funds by nuclear energy corporations for eventual use for the long term management of used nuclear fuel. When combined with modernized legislation, Canadians can be assured that the operators of Canada's nuclear facilities will be able to meet all of the financial costs associated with both long term waste management and potential liability. Unlike some industries, Canada's nuclear operators manage the effects of their own nuclear operations. This should address some of the concerns the Bloc has had on this issue.
Modernizing the legislation will ensure the highest standards for nuclear power in Canada. The new bill reflects the Government of Canada's commitment to taking clear and decisive steps to protect the well-being of Canadians and our future needs for power.
Our discussion today has focused on the issues of liability and compensation, but I want to assure Canadians that the emphasis on insurance does not mean we have become somehow more vulnerable. The fact is a Chernobyl type accident is not possible at a Canadian nuclear power plant. This has been the conclusion of a number of studies made of Canadian reactors to assess the degree of risk associated with their use. My colleague from Edmonton Centre mentioned two of these studies earlier this morning to make that point.
We have a number of inherent safety factors built into Canadian nuclear power plants, safeguards that would prevent the significant off site release of radioactive material.
Dr. Kenneth Hare was commissioner of an Ontario ministry of energy study. He said:
|| —if a shut-down system with the capability of a CANDU shut-down system had been available to the operator of the Chernobyl reactor, the accident would not have occurred.
The government is acting responsibly in regulating Canada's nuclear industry. Nuclear energy is vital to Canada's economic and environmental well-being. It is a clean emissions free technology and it will add substantially to our collective efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.
Bill C-5 would create the legislative infrastructure for the orderly development of this energy source to benefit all Canadians. The bill merits our support and I look forward to the support of the other parties in the House.
Mr. Christian Ouellet (Brome—Missisquoi, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, the Bloc's position is clear. With regard to nuclear energy, the Bloc is calling for strict and effective controls at all stages: extraction, transportation, and generation of heat and electricity. For these reasons, the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of the bill on operator liability in the event of a nuclear incident. However, it is deplorable that the Conservative government has failed to take advantage of the recent announcement—regarding radioactive waste disposal—to launch public consultations about nuclear energy. The government is going ahead without any debate while the use of nuclear energy has far less than unanimous acceptance.
The Bloc Québécois does not want any compromises where safety is concerned. The disasters of Chernobyl, in the Ukraine, Three Mile Island in the United States, many small accidents in China and India, and all the incidents which almost became accidents and which fortunately were not very serious, underscore and must always remind us of the serious consequences of nuclear accidents and incidents and the importance of doing everything to avoid them.
By answering to the powerful nuclear lobby, the Minister of Natural Resources is becoming one of the principal promoters of nuclear energy. The minister seems to forget that nuclear energy is not, as he mistakenly claims, a clean energy. Radioactive waste is still a significant problem and very expensive to manage. The Minister of Natural Resources, who continues to be optimistic about nuclear energy—primarily with regard to tar sands extraction—should exercise caution with regard to a source of energy for which there is less than unanimous acceptance and with risks that are far from benign.
In Pickering, waste from the nuclear plant is contaminating the lake. Thus, there are dangers at all stages of nuclear generation. Without being alarmist, we must realize that nuclear energy should not be this minister's first choice and he should insist more on the development of energy sources that are truly clean such as wind, solar and geothermal energy, which could meet all of Canada's energy needs.
I would like to point out that we are currently developing wind energy in a big way. For some provinces in particular, wind energy is starting to complement hydroelectric stations. Solar energy should be developed on a much larger scale. Nonetheless, I want to mention geothermal energy in particular, not at the surface, but at medium depths. Geothermal energy at depths of 3,000 to 5,000 feet can provide enough energy to drive co-generation electricity turbines for every small community in Canada and Quebec. This type of energy does not require any legislation to protect people. This energy is available and renewable for life.
We see that promoting nuclear energy is on the agenda for the Minister of Natural Resources. He wants to call it clean energy, but we do not necessarily think it is as clean as he claims because of its waste.
It is true that we gain in terms of greenhouse gases, but not if we use nuclear energy to extract oil from the tar sands. The greenhouse gases created by extracting the oil will not be offset by the nuclear energy that does not produce greenhouse gases. It does not justify extracting more oil and creating more greenhouse gases that have an irreparable impact on climate change.
The Bloc Québécois will study Bill C-5 carefully in committee in order to ensure that there are no loopholes that will allow operators to shirk their responsibilities, that taxpayers will not unduly share part of the risk and the cost of compensation, and that the amount of insurance coverage is reviewed regularly with a view to international standards and unstated risks.
This bill includes an amount that is not what the international community considers realistic. It is therefore obvious that taxpayers, Canadians, will have to pay any cost exceeding this premium in the event of an accident.
Furthermore, it is very important to assess the real cost of the damages that could result from a nuclear accident, so that we get the right amount of insurance. Earlier the Conservative government was saying that their studies show that damages would only be as high as a few million dollars. The committee will go over these studies with a fine toothed comb because we would very surprised if they had not been conducted by proponents of nuclear energy.
By introducing this bill on safety and liability in case of incidents, the minister is acknowledging that nuclear power poses a huge potential threat. Otherwise, he would not introduce bills about solar power. Truly clean energy sources, such as wind, solar, geothermal and hydro, do not need bills like this one. If this bill is passed, it should include a framework that really improves safety.
The Minister of Natural Resources does not have much credibility when it comes to nuclear energy. In fact, his enthusiasm for this energy source indicates that he is merely answering to lobbyists even though a thorough debate is needed. It is hard to believe that he himself decided nuclear is a good idea.
In recent press releases, the minister alleges that nuclear energy is clean because it emits virtually no greenhouse gas. While it is true that nuclear energy produces only a small quantity of greenhouse gas, it does produce radioactive waste that is difficult and expensive to manage.
To ignore this would be to mislead Canadians and Quebeckers who are afraid of nuclear and want nothing to do with it, especially in Quebec. Why are the minister and his government failing to recognize the concerns of our nation and avoiding a broader discussion and in-depth consultation with the people?
The Minister of Natural Resources announced that he had chosen the recommended approach, adaptive phased management (APM), to ensure the long-term management of spent nuclear fuel in Canada. APM includes the isolation and containment of used nuclear fuel deep in the earth. Where? Who knows. The government has been looking for a place to put it for 40 years now. As a temporary solution, the government will be looking for shallow underground containment. That is what the minister himself said. Clearly, he has no idea what to do with nuclear waste.
The minister also said that this is a safe long-term approach. How can he be so sure of that?
In that announcement, one also reads:
|| APM will ensure the used nuclear fuel is monitored—
Clearly the minister is not sure that nuclear waste can be safely stored this way. It must be monitored. Who will pay for that monitoring? It is certainly not the companies that use nuclear fuel. There is no reference to that in the bill. So, taxpayers will pay for that monitoring, and for the monitoring against terrorism at nuclear reactor sites. It will always be taxpayers who pay. The bill has nothing to say on that subject.
Further on, we read:
|| The [Nuclear Waste Management Organization] will begin planning and designing a site-selection process collaboratively with Canadians.
The Minister of Natural Resources is laughing at us. That is exactly what they have been trying to do for 40 years, plan a site, and it still has not been done. So, there must be major problems. The moment that the location of the site is decided, there will be such a public outcry that the minister will have to change tack.
It especially unsettling to know that the Minister of Natural Resources is in favour of the use of nuclear power to increase production of oil from the tar sands. Once again, he is being irresponsible. The minister has this to say:
“As we see the potential increase in oil sands production moving from a million barrels a day up to four or five million barrels, we need to do better. I think there is great promise in the oil sands for nuclear energy”.
The more oil we produce from the tar sands, the more greenhouse gases we will produce, and nuclear energy will not prevent greenhouse gas emissions, quite the contrary.
We ask the minister how this bill will protect the health of Canadians. That is what he says he wants to do. However, we know that nuclear power stations send contaminants into the air.
How can he show us that there is no more danger? He would not need this bill if this were the case. If he does not include this in the bill, we may conclude that he does not know how to protect the health of Canadians. Bill C-5 forces nuclear power stations to insure themselves against the damage caused by an accident. It does not deal with protection of public health.
Since the accident in Russia, at Chernobyl—more specifically, in Ukraine — energy safety has become the major political priority. In Europe today, for example, all possible solutions other than nuclear are being reconsidered. In England, a parliamentary commission has warned the public about the construction of new stations. A simple sentence confirms the fears of those who accuse the British prime minister of yielding to the nuclear lobby. In 2003, the government published a white paper on energy that emphasized renewable energy and ruled out any renewal of a civilian nuclear program.
I want to come back to the accident that occurred in Chernobyl 20 years ago. Twenty years later, people have visited the site, which is still radioactive. This site is still dangerous, and the effects of the accident are still being felt.
How does the Minister of Natural Resources think that a bill can protect people against radioactive fallout for 30 or 40 years or more?
Bill C-5 provides for $75 million, the same amount as in 1976. If this amount had at least been adjusted for inflation, it would be $250 million. The Paris convention recommends $600 million, and the international agreements refer to $650 million, an amount that the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development endorsed in her 2005 report. This is a far cry from the proposed figure of $75 million. Rest assured that we are going to find out why. Can the Minister of Natural Resources justify why such a low amount was proposed for liability?
In conclusion, a thorough debate is needed. The government cannot deal with the issue of nuclear energy simply by saying that everyone is in favour of it. This is not true. Some people are not in favour of it. I do not understand how a government that claims to be in touch with the people can be unaware that people are reluctant to embrace nuclear energy.
We know that radioactive waste is difficult and expensive to manage. Other sources of energy exist, as I have already mentioned. I want to stress that money should be invested in these energy sources. Every year, Canada invests about $500 million in nuclear research. This year, the government is investing an estimated $807 million in safety, research and promotion. If the government had invested such an amount for years, it could have invested in research into really clean, safe energy and it could be developing these alternate energy sources, so that nuclear energy would not be needed.
We cannot ignore this reality and overlook an important option, that of replacing nuclear energy with other kinds of energy.
It is equally important that the public not be misled into thinking that legislation alone, such as Bill C-5, will protect them. That is not true. This bill is about compensation. It is merely an insurance policy in case of an accident. We all know what an accident means. This does nothing about people's health.
Knowing that, how can the minister continue to promote nuclear energy? By introducing this bill, he has made it clear that he has only one objective, which is to really develop the nuclear sector. He is using the reduction of greenhouse gases as a springboard. However, once he wants to invest in the oil sands to produce petroleum, we see what he is up to. This simply does not make sense.
The minister and the Conservative Party must show some restraint regarding this energy source, which we think is dangerous because of the emanations and waste produced when the plants are operational. Furthermore, it is far from being unanimously accepted.
The same amount of money needs to be invested in renewable energy sources, given that the risk of accidents is minimal and the entire population is much more interested in such energy sources.
To sum up, we are in favour of this bill, because it focuses on safety. However, we will examine it very closely, because we think it falls short of what is required, and is outdated by about 30 or 40 years. We truly hope that, if the government decides to turn to nuclear energy without consulting the public, that it will at least do so as safely as possible.
Mr. Nathan Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is with great interest that I enter the debate today. I have listened to a number of my colleagues from all sides of the House, and it is with growing concern rather than reassurance that I rise today to address the bill, simply because of my concern about the depth of knowledge of my colleagues and about whether some colleagues who have spoken to the bill have read the piece of legislation or considered its implications.
In the nuclear energy context, I think there are two central facts around which people pivot their concerns. One probably gets an undue amount of attention, and I think there is a need for greater balance, and it is around the environmental component and the fact that the off-products of nuclear are serious, long-lasting and immensely damaging not only to human health but to the planet in general. The second is financial, as to whether the nuclear industry, if left to its own devices, would be able to compete with the other forms of energy that exist within our energy mix in the country. It is a subsidized industry at various points along the process, and now we are entering the debate very specifically about the limited liability that the government is putting forward.
Allow me to say two things first before I get into the details of each of those aspects. One is that the review of this act is long overdue. The world has moved on significantly from when the act was first put together. Its application is no longer connected with any reality in regard to what is happening in the world and in the state of the nuclear industry.
Second, let me just comment that I think the Minister of Natural Resources, who spoke earlier today, did himself and the issue a disservice by not coming forward completely and transparently with what the implications are. There were several direct questions that we in my party put to him, just to simply lay the facts on the table, not one way or the other, but simply to put them on the table so that we can have a fair and honest debate in this place. At every opportunity, the minister chose to avoid answering the questions directly.
This pertains specifically to the liability question and the fact that within the bill the movement is from a $75 million cap to a $650 million cap on limited liability. The minister pretended, and in a sense stretched the point to nearly misleading the House, to say that the cap was a floor and that liability would start from $650 million and then go up.
I then took the bill itself to the minister to show him that in fact this is not a floor. As written in the bill, it is a ceiling. If he wishes to change that, then we look forward to the amendments, but presenting it as a floor as opposed to a ceiling changes the whole context. The $650 million that is noted in the bill as limited liability for the industry suggests to us and to many others who study these issues that beyond $650 million there is another question that arises: who picks up the tab in the event of a nuclear disaster or accident if the claims go beyond $650 million?
To some Canadians who are watching and following this debate, a little over half a billion dollars might seem like quite a bit, but we have to localize and contextualize the discussion. These nuclear plants do not tend to be located in far-flung places. They tend to be located in densely populated parts of our country. They tend to be located right next to much of the most significant drinking water supplies for our country and also for our neighbours to the south.
As for the implications of an accident, we certainly do not wish it and we encourage the government to take every mean and measure possible to prevent it, but an accident by its very nature is not predictable. An accident is an unknown, but it can happen, and if it never did we certainly would not need the insurance industry at all. However, the implications are extraordinary.
Of course when we get into debates on energy use and the profile of this country, the words and specific attributes of every energy source are important. The nuclear industry has gone to great lengths and measures to present itself as clear and clean. It uses a very well polled and well versed terminology to assure Canadians that it is an okay source of energy with few implications.
We do not have to be rocket scientists to understand that nuclear waste is extraordinarily dangerous. It lasts far beyond our lives and may last far beyond the existence of countries as we know them today. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of years.
There are implications for us as parliamentarians, as decision makers and leaders of this country, when dealing with issues that have implications that last many generations. There are implications that are more serious than we have seen in the debate to this point. We have a responsibility and an obligation to dig through the bill, to dig through the issue itself with the greatest scrutiny available to us, with all the information and the power we can muster, simply because the ramifications of what happens as a result of our decisions will not in all likelihood be borne by us but by generations to come.
We all care for our children, our grandchildren and our families. It is most important when dealing with issues like this one that we take the time as the parliamentarians to scrutinize those issues to the fullest extent.
So when the nuclear industry comes forward and says it is clear and clean, with all the rest of the jargon and spin it hires very competent marketing agencies to do, it flies in the face of what is actually in the bill. That is simply because to say there is no risk or no element of risk within the nuclear industry is a bit specious considering that under the list of compensatory damage are listed: “Bodily injury or damage to property; Psychological trauma; Close personal relationship; Liability for economic loss; Costs and wages; Power failure”; and “Environmental damage”. These are all conditions under which, in this piece of legislation, the supplier of nuclear energy can be taken to court and sued.
Let us take a look at that list. What is the limit for psychological trauma as a result of a nuclear accident? What is the limit on psychological trauma suffered by anyone in a close personal relationship with a person who has suffered bodily injury as a result of a nuclear accident? What about liability for economic loss? What about economic loss due to power failure or economic loss due directly to the incident itself? As for costs and wages, again, is it for those people directly affected or for anybody in an ancillary position who has been affected as well?
These are extraordinarily extensive realms and parameters in which someone could apply for compensation from the courts. As for suggesting, then, that we are going to limit the liability for this to provide what is essentially investor certainty for anyone looking to make a dollar through the nuclear industry, and then suggesting that this Parliament will then convene a special committee to pick up the tab for the rest of any damages that are forthcoming, let us be honest about the debate, folks.
Let us simply name it as it is and say that this is the ceiling. That is what is described in this bill as we have read it. The minister has said otherwise. In that case, I am not sure that he has read the legislation or if he is choosing to interpret it in a way opposite to how it is written.
There is obviously special treatment for the nuclear industry. This has been an industry that Canada has fostered for many decades. It has attempted to export it to other countries, with some success and some failure in bringing our technology to other countries. There are negotiations going on right now with some countries in the developing world to further export this technology, again with long term and serious implications in regard to the decision.
One wonders if the same application, the same treatment, is given to other industries, other industries with major investment, which the nuclear industry has had, other industries that have incurred liability. When an airline is begun in Canada or when someone brings an airline to Canada, does the government offer a limited liability insurance guarantee through the Parliament of Canada? When the auto industry got its start in Canada, was there an implication of the limited liability applied to the auto sector to say that if it had a major malfunction in any of its products, any of its cars, that the government would pick up the tab beyond a certain point?
We are aware of none. Perhaps some of my colleagues from the government can offer some points and suggest that in fact the nuclear industry is not treated as a special circumstance. That would be enlightening for us.
The nuclear debate is an extraordinarily sensitive hot topic. There is a lot of to-and-fro. There are extremes on both sides. Over the years we have seen various politicians go to the lengths of actually taking effluent from a nuclear plant and drinking it to show just how incredibly safe that effluent is. Those folks are no longer with us.
It is lamentable, but it shows that in the face of serious concern and evidence, in order to play politics, in order to assure Canadians that everything is okay despite overwhelming evidence, some politicians have gone to the extreme and have threatened and ended their own lives.
There is also the other extreme, with people presenting the case of nuclear energy in such tones of conflict as to suggest that it is the devil incarnate and brings forward all sorts of destruction by its very existence.
We think the balance point is in between. We think there is a place where we can achieve a serious and honest debate about the use of nuclear energy in our energy mix in this country. It is necessary to do that and we need to have representatives of the government come forward to present the facts as they are written in the legislation and not try to pretend they are otherwise.
There is indeed a lesson of unintended consequences when looking through legislation like this. It is very difficult for parliamentarians to imagine the various trajectories that can be taken with an issue like this. It is difficult to imagine what the energy mix, profile and demands will be in 50 or 100 years.
That brings me to the second point, which is about the environment. The financial circumstances of the nuclear industry, at least within this province in which we are debating, Ontario, have been mixed at best. There have been cost overruns. There have been liability claims. Ontario taxpayers, and through them the federal coffers as well, have picked up an enormous debt. It is for the Ontario voters to decide what they will do. Let us not kid ourselves. There have been rampant issues with and difficulties faced by the nuclear industry in making ends meet in simply operating cost-efficient electricity production.
On the environmental side, there are obviously the two main components of this. In this particular bill we are dealing with accidents. We are dealing with those times when things go wrong in a serious and significant way with implications that are far-reaching.
My colleague spoke earlier of the nature of a nuclear accident and its ability to produce a variety of contamination effects that can spread out over many thousands of hectares. The cleanup of such effects is extraordinarily expensive, never mind the cost to human health and insurance as dealt with under the bill.
The other component of the environment, of course, is the legacy of the waste. What do we do with the waste? The minister did speak truthfully earlier. It was a unique and enlightening moment when he talked about the creation of a committee that has gone around the country to talk about the issue of nuclear waste.
When those committee members came before the environment committee some time ago, the only real question I had for them about the 200 or so community visits they conducted across the country was to find out in how many communities, as I suggested at the end of their presentation, a nuclear waste facility was welcome in the municipality. Most of these presentations were done at the municipal level. If we want to talk for a moment about a legacy, the question is being put to these small regional districts and small communities in a presentation of facts by this nuclear waste committee in regard to making a decision that would last for generations to come.
It is a fascinating thing to look at the structure of municipal politics within this country, because most people enter politics for a three year term. They enter for a variety of reasons, such as making the sidewalks better or changing the tax base within their community, but rarely have I heard a municipal politician running for office say, “Vote for me because I want to make decisions about nuclear waste for our community”. Rarely have I heard municipal politicians say they want to make decisions that will have implications and effects that will last for generations to come. It is just not within the general context of what happens within municipal affairs.
I asked the committee members how many communities, mayors, councillors and presidents of chambers of commerce approached them during, afterward or before the presentation and said, “Please come and be a part of our community and form your industry here”. After four attempts at getting an answer, one was finally delivered. “None” was the response. There were no communities that said this. Of course the government has since gone ahead and is pushing the debate further in trying to find a place to put the waste. It is a serious implication.
Earlier a number of my colleagues raised the issue of climate change. We have to keep in mind that globally in the nuclear industry the amount of power provided by it is smaller than that provided by what we now call the alternatives: wind, solar, wave and tidal. There is often a perception out there that the nuclear industry and nuclear power provide this source of energy that is just absolutely irreplaceable.
This is so often trotted out as an excuse for why the energy mix is the way it is and why it will be so forevermore. Governments will come forward with self-fulfilling prophecies and say that currently we produce 13% of our energy through coal or nuclear, or whatever the case may be, and if we were to strip that out tomorrow, this is what the implications would be; therefore, they say, we need to continue with the source of energy that we find worrisome, whether it is with respect to climate change or other environmental concerns.
If we continue to point ourselves in that direction, that is the place we will end up. That has been the legacy of energy policy in Canada for the last 40 years. It is a continuance of more of the same.
Now we have questions and concerns coming out of the U.S. The energy agency is now looking at the tar sands as one of its major focuses, not simply to take energy from them but concerns around the climate change impact of what that energy delivers. This is a classic example of a government getting on a track and enjoying the gravy train so much that it cannot consider pulling in the implications of what the true cost of doing business is.
Looking at the nuclear front, we must include the true cost of doing business. If we put false ceilings on liability, if we continue to subsidize various parts of the chain, we present a false debate and a false option to Canadians. We pretend that the cost of production is only so much per kilowatt when actually it is much more because the subsidies are built in all along the way and not accounted for, as are the externalities, in this case the externality of liability, the externality that is put forward as waste management.
We can no longer consider this term “externality” as a viable economic argument. It is specious, it is wrong and it will continue to lead us in the wrong direction when it comes to caring for the planet and the implications of climate change.
If business is what the government claims to be all about, then it should allow business to do what it does, which is to find economic solutions to the problems posed by society. Subsidies are no way to solve an energy mix. Subsidies are no way to look at what it is we want our future generations to be left with. Clearly, the forces of the market can allow themselves to work and find a happier compromise.
If levelling the playing field is what the government is truly interested in doing, then I can assure it, and many Canadians will join me, that in given options, time and again Canadians will pursue the option that has the least implications and impact for the environment. We clearly see this on a number of fronts that are happening in the commercial sector and in its products.
Time and again, industries realize where the benefits may be. One of the greatest challenges the auto sector has been faced with is the continuance of the making of models that it believes Canadians want while, on the other hand, the price of gas at the pump goes up week on week and Canadians are seeking lower emission cars, higher efficiency cars and yet we stay in a rut that takes us in a different direction and then lament the fact and look for help from government, which the previous government and the current government consider somehow to be a viable economic strategy.
The truth presented in this bill is that there are serious and significant implications when dealing with a nuclear accident. If it were not so, then the government would not need to, under the advice of its lawyers and insurance consultants, list bodily injury, psychological trauma, close personal relationship and trauma to somebody affected, liability for economic loss, costs of wages, power failure and environmental damage.
If there were not strong and significant implications, we would not need to list any of those. If there were not strong and serious implications for human health, we would not list them. Of course we need to list them because they need to be considered. The consideration back to government is: Why would one limit liability within the industry? Why would one then share the liability across the entire country?
I represent people from British Columbia. They will rightly ask me, as they will ask any member from British Columbia or the other provinces that do not currently use nuclear energy, “If there is an accident and if the accident exceeds the government's cap, why is the cost then spread across all provinces and all taxpayers?” It is a reasonable question. It is a question that the government needs to answer. If the government has a viable and ready answer for us, then we are prepared to discuss it. It is only in the interests of truthfulness and looking for full disclosure as to what this debate is really about.
The final point I would like to make, which has been raised by some of my colleagues, is that in the United States no similar cap can be identified that limits the nuclear energy producers to this liability limit. Does this start to create a scenario in which there is an enhancement for creating nuclear facilities north of the border rather than south? One of the greatest costs is the cost of insurance when dealing with the nuclear industry. If one of those costs is considered more favourable in another country, it starts to distort the market forces that we think deserve their time to work.
Mr. Bradley Trost (Saskatoon—Humboldt, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity today to comment on Bill C-5 and the modifications of Canada's nuclear liability framework.
Canada was, and if I may say so, is a pioneer in the development of atomic energy. We were at the creation, so to speak, in the 1940s at Chalk River and Montreal. During that period nuclear energy was developed through the cooperation of scientists in a few countries. We continue in that mode today but in a much wider circle.
I would like to centre my remarks on the international aspects in comparison of Bill C-5. I want to put the changes proposed by this piece of legislation into a broader global context. They relate to modifications in international conventions that were first influenced by events abroad. I would like to comment on these conventions and their relationship to Canadian interests, both domestic and international.
Let me begin with the proposal that Canada's nuclear compensation and liability legislation should be consistent with international nuclear liability regimes. This requirement goes beyond mere financial issues related to liability and compensation. It extends to definitions of what constitutes a nuclear industry, what is compensable damage and so forth.
Consistency brings Canada broader national benefits. It makes possible for us to subscribe to international conventions we do not already belong to and makes it easier should we wish to subscribe to them in the future.
There are two such conventions which are important and relate to this legislation, both of which date back to the early 1960s. The first is the Paris Convention on Third Party Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy. Adopted under the auspices of the OECD, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, it is very much a European accord. It was reinforced by the Brussels Supplementary Convention. The second accord is the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage. This is a product of the International Atomic Energy Agency, a United Nations body. It is modelled after the Paris Convention but is open to all members of the UN and is not merely concentrated on Europe.
Canada is not a party to either of these conventions. However, the Nuclear Liability Act is a sensible step in the direction of these conventions. It is important for our liability framework to remain consistent with these conventions as they evolve with our international partners.
The two conventions establish compensation limits. In the case of the Paris-Brussels regime the maximum compensation is approximately $500 million Canadian--but may I say that with our rising dollar, who knows where that number will be--and is available through a three tier combination of operator, public and member state funds.
At the time it was adopted, the Vienna Convention set the minimum liability limit at $5 million U.S., based upon the gold standard, the common international exchange mechanism at that time. Today the value is approximately $75 million Canadian. However, in 1997 the signatories revised the convention to establish significantly higher limits for operators. It is now approximately $500 million. The operators' liability can be set at $250 million by national legislation provided public funds make up the difference to $500 million.
At the time of these revisions, a new nuclear liability regime called the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage was adopted under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency of the UN. This convention guarantees the availability of approximately $1 billion to compensate for nuclear damage. Half of this amount will be available under the national law of signatory nations and half through contributions made collectively by states that are party to the convention on the basis of their nuclear capacity and a United Nations assessment rate.
This convention is open to all countries regardless of whether they are parties to any existing nuclear liability accord. As a matter of interest, the United States ratified the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage in 2006.
Although Canada is not a party to either of these conventions, we participated in their review. We did so in order to monitor international third party liability trends and other issues of interest, such as definitions of nuclear incidents and the extension of time limits for death and injury claims.
For Canada the net result of these changes is a widening gap between Canada's regime and international standards. This makes it increasingly important to update and modernize our own liability arrangements. As a result, the changes in these conventions have influenced Canada's revision of the 1976 Nuclear Liability Act and many of the changes proposed in the new act bear their imprint.
International consistency in these areas benefits Canada at many levels and in many ways. It encourages investment in Canada. It also levels the playing field for Canadian nuclear companies interested in contracts abroad. These companies may be inhibited from bidding because of uncertainty about liability and compensation issues.
Consistency is important for a more fundamental reason. It demonstrates Canadian solidarity with other nations on issues of safety and liability. As a major user and exporter of nuclear power technology, Canada must uphold its reputation for uncompromising excellence, responsibility and accountability.
Bill C-5 is the culmination of a comprehensive review of the Nuclear Liability Act of 1976, which included an examination of its relationship to international standards. This examination led to the proposal of several improvements.
The current $75 million limit has been increased because it would likely not be sufficient in the event of a major nuclear incident. The $650 million that the new legislation proposes reflects the requirements as we understand them today.
Bill C-5 would also extend from 10 years to 30 years the period for a victim to claim compensation, a proposal which increases flexibility for ordinary citizens who may not immediately understand what may have affected them.
The proposed changes also include a redefinition of compensable damages to include environmental damage, preventive measures and also economic loss.
Bill C-5 is important to Canadians, the strength of our nuclear industry and our international stature. It deserves the support of the House.
Mr. Bernard Bigras (Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak to Bill C-5, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident.
This is an important debate in this Chamber today, because the issue of nuclear energy will occupy a greater place in our discussions in the years to come. There are three important issues that I would like to point out before heading directly into the debate on Bill C-5. First, this government decided in recent weeks to join the nuclear club and to use all international forums to promote an energy source which, according to the federal government, is considered clean.
I was in Kyoto in 1997, when the international community decided to exclude nuclear energy as an energy source that could benefit from emission credits under the Kyoto protocol. I remember the debates we had in Japan about this energy source. Of course it can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions but it creates other important external factors including, among others, radioactive waste. No one can promote this form of energy and this alternative without having a plan for better ways of managing the resulting waste.
A major conference called Climate 2050 was held in Montreal last week. A leading researcher, Thomas Cochran, appeared before the international community and said that, in the view of American environmentalists, the nuclear industry must play a more active role in dealing with the problems related to the underground storage of nuclear waste.
These problems are extremely important in Canada, where some provinces have decided in favour of nuclear energy. I could mention Ontario, which, among other things, has just decided to modernize its nuclear facilities. I could also mention New Brunswick, which recently decided to favour this approach.
The controversy surrounding nuclear power will therefore only intensify in the years to come. We will have to remain very cognizant of the technologies that are developed and the approaches that the government recommends in the years to come.
We will have to be vigilant because we know as well that Quebec has only one nuclear power plant on its soil. This facility is responsible for barely 10% of the nuclear waste produced in Canada. Nevertheless, among the storage sites and possible sites that the federal government has recommended so far, we find the Lower North Shore. We certainly would not want Quebec to become the nuclear garbage bin of Canada when we account for barely 5% of Canada’s nuclear waste.
I therefore call upon the government to be very careful with the decisions it makes in the next few years. The liability regime in case of nuclear accidents is very important. This is the issue addressed in Bill C-5. Its stated purpose is to establish a liability regime applicable in the event of a nuclear incident that makes operators of nuclear installations absolutely and exclusively liable for damages up to a maximum of $650 million.
Back in 1976, Canada passed the Nuclear Liability Act, which made the operators of nuclear installations liable for damages in the event of nuclear incidents and set the amount of coverage required at $75 million. Part II of the act enabled the Governor in Council to establish a nuclear damage claims commission to deal with claims for compensation in the event that the federal government concluded that the cost of the damages resulting from a nuclear accident could exceed $75 million.
Since the operator’s liability was limited to the amount of its insurance, the federal government would therefore probably have to absorb the difference.
We can hardly oppose a proposal to increase the amount of coverage to $650 million. I will come back later to the question of whether this increase to $650 million is enough. There will certainly be a debate in the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, on which my friend from Brome—Missisquoi sits, because there is good reason to think that this is not sufficient at the present time.
In Chapter 8 of the 2005 annual report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, she dealt with this issue of the insurance required of operators of nuclear installations. What did she conclude? She said that the accident insurance requirements for nuclear facilities did not meet the international standards. This meant, among others, the Paris convention and the Vienna convention. The coverage would therefore inevitably have to be increased.
The Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources studied this issue, as we recall, in June 2002. It concluded that the $75 million of coverage required under the act was terribly inadequate. I repeat that, in the committee’s view, this coverage was inadequate in light of the prevailing international standards. The committee set the stage, therefore, for the conclusion that the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development would reach in 2005.
The committee added that when the senior officials from Natural Resources Canada appeared they even said that, taking inflation into account, $250 million in today’s dollars would be equivalent to what the act provided for when it was passed, and that to come up to the international standard, that would have to be increased to about $650 million.
As a result, despite the changes and the increase in the number of facilities that can be anticipated as a result of the decision by some provinces to encourage the construction and modernization of some of their nuclear installations, the bill simply brings the coverage up to standard in terms of the international conventions. Given the decisions that will be made in Ontario and New Brunswick, we might even doubt that $650 million will be considered to be an adequate coverage level, since taking inflation alone into account would call for coverage of $650 million to comply with the international conventions.
We should also note that in the United States, as my colleague in the NDP was saying earlier, the Price-Anderson Act limits the liability of commercial nuclear plant operators to $9.4 billion U.S. nation-wide. For each reactor, the operators have to take out private insurance for $200 million U.S. plus a second-level policy for $88 million U.S. South of the border, the operators’ coverage and liability requirements are already higher than what we have here in Canada.
An American study done in 1982 showed that the worst-case scenario for an accident in a nuclear plant would result in costs on the order of $24.8 billion U.S. and $590 billion U.S. Coverage is therefore needed. In a few weeks, members will be able to consider in committee if our coverage is sufficient.
What is even more deplorable is the slack approach taken by the government since 1976, especially since the worst nuclear catastrophe the world has seen, Chernobyl, happened in 1988. How is it that the federal government has waited all this time before acting and proposing an increase in the coverage level?
Today, I would make it clear that we support Bill C-5 in principle. However, as parliamentarians, we will have to focus on the entire issue, both the question of nuclear power and the question of nuclear waste. We will also have to consider those questions with a view to the danger of nuclear weapons proliferation in the world in future.
In my opinion, this issue must be examined in its entirety. Naturally, we support Bill C-5, as my colleague has said. Of course, an in-depth discussion must be held about both the question of radioactive waste and the advisability of encouraging this type of power. Most importantly, we will have to examine the level of coverage and liability for nuclear energy promoters in Canada.
Mr. Mario Laframboise (Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-5, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident.
From the outset, we will have to make changes in committee. The Bloc Québécois will have to make improvements to the bill, as it always does to protect the interests of Quebeckers as well as Canadians. I must say that just because we are tackling Bill C-5 to increase compensation for damage, does not mean we support the Conservative government's whole plan for developing nuclear energy.
I find it very inconsistent of the government to introduce a bill in this House to increase compensation for damage while the Prime Minister is currently prohibiting his ministers from discussing the entire nuclear energy plan. It is being discussed in secret, behind closed doors, with the United States among others, in the framework of the global nuclear energy partnership.
Those who follow the news in print media understand quite well that the Prime Minister's Office issued an order banning his ministers—and his members of Parliament—from talking. It is clear that the Conservative Party intends to move forward with developing nuclear energy. It is not for nothing that it is introducing Bill C-5 to increase compensation for damage. Since 1990, the government has been very lax and has not increased the amount of compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident.
Today, the government is introducing a bill as a precursor. It is increasing compensation for damage. It seems that the Conservative government intends to push the development of nuclear energy and invest time and money on the side, in secret, while preventing its members of Parliament and its ministers from talking about it.
This is very difficult for us, as Quebeckers, in the Bloc Québécois. Earlier my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie explained quite well that there is only a single nuclear power plant in Quebec. Roughly 95% of our energy comes from hydroelectricity, without a cent from the federal government. I want to remind my colleagues from all the parties that Quebec developed hydroelectricity without any federal money by using the hydroelectricity fees and the taxes paid by Quebeckers.
So, you will understand our hesitation when we see the federal government using public funds to invest in nuclear energy or any other kind of energy while we in Quebec have developed hydroelectricity using our own tax revenues. Yet we pay one quarter of the bill when the government decides to invest in nuclear or other, fossil fuel energy. It is difficult to accept, especially because the wrong message is being sent. The Conservatives have become the master impressionists. They are trying to give the impression that they will solve our energy problems.
Witness the news release issued in June by the Minister of Natural Resources. The title was “Canada's Nuclear Future: Clean, Safe, Responsible”. The minister wanted to spread the message that it is clean energy. However, in responding to a journalist’s question about what would be done with radioactive waste, if nuclear energy were developed, he said that he did not know. They do not know where they will bury radioactive waste. They have not yet decided.
As my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie said, there is one part of Quebec where they hope to offer significant royalties to Quebec for burying radioactive waste produced in other parts of Canada. Surely, you will understand our hesitation. They are trying to make us believe that nuclear energy is clean, even though there is a large and serious problem concerning nuclear waste. This Conservative government, just like the Liberal government before it, has not been able to solve this problem.
Nuclear energy creates considerable waste. Where and how is that waste going to be buried? What will be the result of all that, especially, in terms of transport? Absolutely nothing has been settled but the federal government decided to go ahead and participate, under the table, as I have explained, in discussion with other partners, including the United States, as part of a global nuclear energy partnership. They want to develop a nuclear network. They do not know where the radioactive waste will be disposed. Obviously, they hope that Quebec will accept it. You should understand that we produce only about five percent of all the nuclear waste produced in Canada.
Some people want Quebec to accept all the nuclear waste. You must know that the people of Quebec will not be fooled. This bill, which is in three parts, covers the operator’s responsibilities, the conditions and financial limitations of responsibility and the establishment of a nuclear claims tribunal.
The fact that the amount of damages jumps from $75 million to $650 million reveals the laxity of the federal government over the past 31 years because there have been no amendments in all that time. This is the first time that a major amendment has been introduced.
Clearly, one must ask a serious question. Is the amount of $650 million sufficient, considering that, in our opinion, the federal government should not be investing any money in nuclear development?
We should leave the responsibility of paying the full amount of the bill to those who want to develop this kind of energy. You must understand that in Quebec, it was Quebeckers themselves who paid for hydroelectric development. Therefore, it would be perfectly normal that those who want to develop the nuclear option should pay the whole cost.
Quebeckers do not need to be obliged to pay one-quarter of this bill because they already provide between 23% and 25% of all the money that Canada spends. We would like to say something about the fines. If there is a violation some day, will $650 million be enough? We will study this in committee. Witnesses will be called and we will place our trust in the committee responsible for improving this bill.
At first glance—and from reading articles by people who are knowledgeable and expert in the field—we are inclined to say that the fines will have to be substantial because the damages from nuclear catastrophes can be incredibly large. In view of what happened at Chernobyl, the last great nuclear catastrophe, I do not think that $650 million will suffice. The bill should be very clear on the levying of fines and the way in which the nuclear industry should be allowed to develop so that funds can be created that are sufficient to deal with nuclear incidents or catastrophes.
If Canada wants to go in this direction and the Conservatives intend to continue what they have started over the last few weeks and months, that is to say, international negotiations or discussions on the development of the nuclear industry, it will be very important for them to be able to impose rules on the people involved in this form of energy. In our view, it should not be up to the federal government to provide any money at all for the development of nuclear power.
The provinces and people who want to have this kind of power should do it, but they should also create a compensation fund so that it is not the taxpayers, including those from Quebec, who are summoned once again to cover some of the bill.
I will never be able to say it enough, but it is very important for my colleagues to understand that the federal government did not contribute any money at all toward the development of the entire hydroelectric system in Quebec. It was Quebeckers who did it. The federal government never contributed. This was not the case, however, of the development of fossil fuels, including oil, and more than $40 billion has been invested since 1990 in the development of other kinds of energy, including nuclear.
We would therefore like it to end. We have to stop making Quebec pay for developing other people’s energy, while we ourselves are paying, with no federal assistance, to develop our own energy. It bears repeating: hydroelectricity is clean energy and we are proud of it. This is a choice that Quebeckers made in the 1960s. We could have chosen nuclear power, but we decided to invest in hydroelectricity, and it has paid off for us. It is what has made Quebec the first province to be able to meet the Kyoto objectives.
If Quebec were a country, we would have ratified the Kyoto protocol. We would be taking part in discussions about the carbon exchange and we could be benefiting our businesses, which have clearly made efforts, in both the manufacturing sector and the aluminum industry, and which have succeeded in reducing their emissions based on the objectives set in the 1992 Kyoto protocol.
Quebec companies have thus done far better than the Kyoto objectives set in 1992. As of today, we would be able to sell credits on the carbon exchange. That is not the case, because obviously we are part of Canada, which will never ratify the Kyoto protocol, regardless of what the federal government’s environment ministers may say, particularly the Conservatives, who are trying to negotiate agreements with other countries that would run flatly counter to the Kyoto protocol and try to create their own system for doing things.
All the while, the icebergs are melting in the North and we are talking about a navigable passage in the North. This is a direct consequence of the greenhouse gases that are destroying the most beautiful ice fields on the planet, on which a large part of our ecosystem depends. This is a choice made by the Conservatives. We see it again today, with bills to oversee nuclear development, with a Prime Minister who stops his ministers from even talking to journalists about the nuclear option. We see where this government wants to go: against the Kyoto protocol, pro-nuclear, pro-war, everything to destroy our wonderful planet. This is the choice made by the Conservatives.
It is clear that the purpose of my speech is to state that although the Bloc Québécois does support this bill to increase liabilities and fines for those who could cause damage through a nuclear catastrophe, it is not because we support the development of nuclear energy. Quite the contrary, we will completely defend only the development of clean energy that does not produce radioactive waste.
Once again this government is making a mistake by trying to sell nuclear energy as a clean energy source. No, it does not emit greenhouse gases, but it does produce radioactive waste that takes tens of millions of years to break down. The exact figure has not yet been calculated. We should be able to decontaminate this waste. We must stop trying to bury it. Given that the technology has not yet been developed, Canadian regions, including Quebec's North Shore among others, are offered large sums. There is a wish to bury the waste from other Canadian provinces in Quebec, despite the fact that Quebeckers decided to develop a clean energy, hydroelectricity, using their own money.
It is clear now that the Bloc Québécois will support bill C-5, but it will make improvements to it in committee. As for the $650 million in damages, we find that a very low figure given that a nuclear catastrophe would cost a great deal more. Witnesses will be called in order to adjust this amount. This does not mean that, while we support Bill C-5, we support the way in which this Conservative government has decided to develop nuclear energy, behind closed doors, in secret negotiations with other countries.