Bill C-5 (Historical)
Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.
Gary Lunn Conservative
Not active, as of May 6, 2008
(This bill did not become law.)
This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.
This enactment 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. Operators are required to hold financial security in respect of their liability. This amount will be reviewed regularly and may be increased by regulation. The enactment also provides for the establishment, in certain circumstances, of an administrative tribunal to hear and decide claims. Finally, this enactment repeals the Nuclear Liability Act and makes consequential amendments.
- May 6, 2008 Passed That Bill C-5, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, be concurred in at report stage.
- May 6, 2008 Failed That Bill C-5 be amended by deleting Clause 47.
- May 6, 2008 Failed That Bill C-5 be amended by deleting Clause 32.
- May 6, 2008 Failed That Bill C-5, in Clause 68, be amended by deleting lines 1 to 3 on page 20.
- May 6, 2008 Failed That Bill C-5 be amended by deleting Clause 30.
- May 6, 2008 Failed That Bill C-5, in Clause 66, be amended by deleting lines 10 to 12 on page 19.
- May 6, 2008 Failed That Bill C-5, in Clause 66, be amended by deleting lines 7 to 9 on page 19.
- May 6, 2008 Failed That Bill C-5, in Clause 66, be amended by deleting lines 3 and 4 on page 19.
- May 6, 2008 Failed That Bill C-5 be amended by deleting Clause 21.
May 28th, 2013 / 12:20 a.m.
Michelle Rempel Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment
Mr. Speaker, if there is one thing upon which my colleague and I can agree, it is that the development of our natural resources in this country does play a significant role in our economy. It creates jobs and economic growth. That said, it does have an impact on our landscape; it does have an impact on Canadians. One principle I certainly share with him quite strongly is that these resources need to be developed in an environmentally sustainable way. It is something Canadians demand and something in which the international community seeks us to be leaders.
Overall, Canada has a very good track record in this regard. We have, both federally and within provincial jurisdiction, very robust environmental assessment regimes, so on the front end of a project we are looking at what the costs are to the community in which it is being developed, be they actual or defined in other ways, and whether things are being done in an environmentally responsible way, all the way through build out, through safeguarding, through the operation and through the abandonment of projects.
This particular principle, in which our government believes, is reflected in the responsible resource development package that we tabled last year, wherein we did things like increase safety inspections for pipelines and increase the strength of the tanker safety regime. This is a principle that certainly I bear very near and dear to my heart, and I know the government does as well.
The concept of polluter pay is one that is very important and it is one about which I know the Prime Minister has spoken in the House, where he says our government recognizes the importance because it ties into the overall concept of the environmental safeguarding of our country while we balance the need to develop our natural resource sector. Again, it is important to the economy.
My colleague opposite brought up the report from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, which we talked about at length in the House of Commons during various question periods. We also had the environment commissioner at the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. We asked him some questions around this report, and I will note a couple of things he talked about with regard to the specific report my colleague referenced. He said, “I don't have the slightest doubt that this government is absolutely focused on closing the gaps we've identified”. Therefore, where we need to ensure we have increased policy and tighter rules, we will be sure to follow through with that.
However, it is important to note that we as a government have also, in other areas regarding liability, put forward legislation that has been overturned time and again by the House of Commons. I am speaking specifically to nuclear liability. I believe it was Bill C-63 in a previous Parliament, and Bill C-5. Time and again, this was actually a concept that was voted down by the New Democrats.
This is a concept with which our government has been seized. I certainly hope that, if we have bills put forward in the House of Commons again, my colleague would work with me to see them pass, and perhaps convince our colleagues who are in apt numbers in the House of Commons right now to support it. However, certainly this is something our government respects and on which it is working very hard.
Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
May 13th, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS
My hon. friend is making some comment, but I cannot quite understand it. I guess it was humorous because his colleague from Tobique—Mactaquac enjoyed it. I am glad to see they are enjoying themselves.
We heard how important it was at that time when they brought this bill in as Bill C-5. Those comments were repeated last year with Bill C-20. Now we are dealing with Bill C-15, the latest incarnation of the government's nuclear liability legislation, and the same arguments are being echoed. It is almost as if there are ghosts in here, there are so many echoes. We will see how far it makes it this time.
Canadians will recall that two years ago it was politically convenient to jettison this legislation so Conservatives could break their own fixed date election law and force a vote before they had to admit how badly they had mismanaged the country's finances. As we learned, they had put the country into deficit before the recession even began by their decisions in terms of spending and tax cuts that they could not afford. We had a deficit last year of $54 billion and who knows how much in the current year.
Last December the nuclear industry was quite excited when the bill was introduced, when it passed second reading, when it went to committee where it was approved and then reported back to the House. Industry stakeholders thought that after many years the bill would become law. Of course the Prime Minister panicked over the prospect of having to tell Canadians the truth about Afghan detainees and promptly prorogued Parliament to protect his political assets. Nuclear liability legislation became collateral damage to that decision in the government's ongoing battle to suppress the truth. It is really part of the government's ever-expanding Conservative culture of deceit.
However, now we start again from square one. We heard the parliamentary secretary tell the House how important the legislation was to the government and how significant it was to Canada's nuclear industry. That was quite a performance, deserving of some sort of Prairie Oyster award or something like that.
The bill would provide much needed update to industry standards to ensure stability and protection for Canadians. Hopefully this time the Conservatives can put the needs of the nation ahead of their party interests and actually enact the legislation, not prorogue the House, not break a fixed date election law, or whatever.
Bill C-15 would replace the 1976 Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act and establish a clear regime in the event of a nuclear accident. While we pray that never happens, the recent events in the Gulf of Mexico remind us we need to always be prepared, as my son the Boy Scout would say.
One of the key changes in Bill C-15 would be to increase operator liability from $75 million to $650 million. That is a significant increase but some ask if it is enough. The last time the legislation was before us the government claimed that $650 million was all the Canadian insurance industry could bear. That is why it would not entertain going higher to $1 billion, for example.
However, during a comprehensive study, which we heard about at the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, we learned that this was not quite the case. Hopefully, during this debate, we will hear some more about why the government feels that $650 million is adequate. Hopefully this time we will get a clearer and stronger answer. We have had a bit of an answer today. We need to hear more about that.
When the former bill went to committee, before it was killed along with the government's talk tough on crime agenda and other bills that the government claimed were so important before it prorogued and killed them all, all parties at that time did agree on a number of amendments that strengthened the legislation. I look forward to the committee's further study in the weeks ahead. My party and I will be supporting sending Bill C-15 to committee.
While the bill would provide much needed changes, the basic principles of the nuclear liability and compensation act will remain the same. Operators are absolutely and exclusively liable for damage. That is one principle. Operators must carry insurance. An operator's liability is limited in time and amount. Suppliers and contractors are effectively indemnified. All those are important basic principles.
According to the Department of Natural Resources, the new liability limit reflects a balance of considerations. It is looking at the question of risk and if it address foreseeable rather than catastrophic accidents and if the insurance reflects insurance capacity that can be available at a reasonable cost. It puts Canada on par with the liability limits in many other countries. It responds to recommendations made by the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources.
Since this is the third time the House has seen this legislation, there is little need to address all of its details. Instead, I would like to note that despite the fact that the Conservatives consistently lack the legislative fortitude to actually see nuclear legislation completely through this process, at least they have not been too afraid to bring it to the House for debate. They brought it back after they prorogued for other reasons.
That is not the case for another key aspect of the nuclear industry, the sale of AECL assets. The government continues to hide its highly suspect plans for the outright sale of our world-class CANDU technology. I find that very disconcerting. Like Bill C-15, this is critical for the industry, but the Conservatives believe they can move without consulting the people most impacted, people directly involved in the industry, the employees of AECL and the industry itself.
The Conservatives believe it is okay to hide what they are doing from the same Canadian taxpayers who have invested hundreds of millions in this industry in recent years. In fact, they put the terms of this in the budget bill. Why would the decision of whether one sells a Crown corporation be in the budget bill? What place could it possibly have there? It does not make much sense.
It is not like this is the sale of a surplus filing cabinet or a used prime ministerial limo. We are talking about an industry that supports about 70,000 jobs, after all. In fact, a lot of those jobs are in the ridings of Conservative MPs. Like Bill C-15, the sale of AECL will impact a lot of jobs in a lot of Conservative ridings.
In order to encourage investment in our nuclear industry and to protect this sector and the jobs it generates, we are debating Bill C-15 as a way to provide legal and insurance certainty for suppliers and operators. However, while it is good to debate Bill C-15, the government has dropped a cone of silence over its privatization plans for AECL. Conservative MPs have been muzzled once again by the Prime Minister's Office.
Maybe we should not blame them, though. When people are so immersed in the Conservative culture of deceit, they may not recognize what is actually happening. Maybe they feel it is safer to bow to the wishes of the Conservative upper echelons who consider this industry an embarrassment and just want to get rid of it. They want to unload the CANDU technology. They want to unload AECL after many years of Canada being a world leader in the development of nuclear technologies. Things like medical isotopes were developed right in Canada. Canadians can be very proud of that. It is a shame.
There is even a story going around that we are about to sell off AECL to foreign interests because of a tantrum the Prime Minister threw when his ministers repeatedly bungled the medical isotope crisis. It is a scary thought that this is his reasoning behind this decision.
If the government really believes in strengthening the industry with legislation like Bill C-15, why is it not prepared to openly debate the outright sale of AECL's commercial assets? I do not know what Conservative MPs are telling those families in their ridings who rely on jobs in this sector, but I hope they will come to their senses on this one and insist that the government open up debate on this question.
Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
May 13th, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS
Madam Speaker, as Yogi Berra once said, “It's déjà vu all over again”. We are back with this bill that the House has seen a few times.
I am a bit surprised in a sense to be speaking to this bill today. Six months ago I was under the impression, at least as far as the House was concerned, and I do not want to speak for the other place of course, that it was a fait accompli. Once the committee had worked out amendments to the bill and agreed to pass it in committee, I thought the chances were very good that it would come back and pass at report stage and third reading and then go off to the Senate.
However, we had something called prorogation as members may recall. For some reason the Prime Minister decided he was not that keen on too much democracy, that the House should not sit for a while and Parliament should be prorogued.
It is becoming clear that while the Conservatives want us to believe this bill is a priority, their actions make a mockery of that kind of assertion. After all this is the third time they have tried to update Canada's Nuclear Liability Act and they do not seem to be in that much of a hurry. The first time was a few years ago with Bill C-5, and we heard how important it was.
November 30th, 2009 / 5 p.m.
The Chair Leon Benoit
Mr. Cullen, these questions are questions that you've asked before in going through other clauses of this bill, and I would encourage you to stay away from repeating the same questions.
If I could, to all committee members, I'll remind committee members that this committee has dealt with this legislation previously, and it would probably help limit the number of questions that would be asked if the members of the committee would go back and review the questions and answers that were given when this bill, as Bill C-5, went through the committee before. So a little bit of homework in terms of looking at the questions and how they were answered before could end or limit the amount of repetition. I would suggest that that happen; otherwise, at the rate we're going, at the rate of two clauses per meeting, we'll be here till the end of June.
If you have questions that haven't been asked before and answered before, if that were the case, then fine. But that isn't the case, and Mr. Cullen, you are starting to repeat even this time exactly the same questions you've asked before. So I'd ask you to stay away from that. Go ahead and continue on clause 18, and hopefully for the next meeting you and all members will review what happened when this legislation was dealt with previously.
November 16th, 2009 / 3:35 p.m.
Murray Elston Vice-President, Corporate Affairs, Bruce Power
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I work for Bruce Power, which is a privately owned nuclear operator located in Bruce County in Ontario. We operate six CANDU units, and two other units are currently under refurbishment at our site. The six units deliver approximately 24% of Ontario's electricity. We have roughly 3,800 people working full time on this site, and roughly another 3,000 are engaged in the refurbishment project, so you can see that there are a considerable number of employment opportunities at our site. We continue to be a very strong part of Ontario's economic activities.
We have submitted a letter dated October 27, 2009, to the committee through the clerk. I will not refer to it except to highlight a couple of features of it, Mr. Chair, knowing that you've had a chance to take a quick look at it.
I will start with one of the side issues, the availability of liability insurance. I raise that issue because it was part of the presentation I made in this committee in another capacity in November 2007, when we dealt with Bill C-5, a bill this committee, although composed of different members, saw fit to pass. Were it not for an election intervening, Bill C-5 probably would have made its way through the Senate for final passage. That did not occur; hence, we're back here today.
I raise the issue to bring it to your attention and to say that very slow progress has been made with respect to the availability of liability coverage, although we continue to work not only with the department but also through other avenues to find suitable liability insurance competition so that we can get the best rates possible.
On the second point I raise with you, I would agree with Mr. Lees that we are looking for a piece of legislation that would be compliant with the Convention on Supplementary Compensation. We have written that clearly to you. It is one of those issues on which, by now, after appearing in 2007, we as an industry would have thought there would have been progress made. I think at the end of the day any progress is obviously welcome for most of the industry, but for some of us, making sure that we can actually access the international market is a very important opportunity for us as an industry. This committee, I think, has recognized the nature of the evolution of this industry in its very recent sittings, in which you dealt with the issues of the future of the Canadian nuclear industry. Obviously compliance with the Convention on Supplementary Compensation would provide us with a broader range of opportunities than we now have.
I would confirm for you that Bruce Power does support the limit set out in the amendment, the $650 million, but as I said, in looking for that higher limit of coverage and the costs associated with the insurance premiums, we are looking for competition to help us get the best deal that we possibly can.
As we move forward, if there are not amendments proposed to us, I think it's important for us to know of the opportunities available for the government to bring us into compliance with the Convention on Supplementary Compensation and to be permitted to work hand in hand with the committee. If you would like to take a look at the types of amendments that might make this legislation compatible, in our view, we are prepared to bring those resources to this committee and to work with the members if you would like to see the amendments we have proposed in our letter.
I won't go into those changes in depth. You have in front of you a table that sets out some of them, but I would be happy, as I said, to bring resources of the company with me to Ottawa when you go through the bill clause by clause, if you decide that you would like to look deeper into the wording for such amendments. With a little bit of notice, we could bring ourselves in front of the committee when you needed us.
With that, I too look forward to answering some questions. I would just reiterate that it was November 2007, and now it's November 2009, two years later. We would prefer, for efficiency's sake, that we not be back here in November 2011 to do another presentation. Although I love you all dearly, and I like the idea of being in front of a microphone again, it would be nice if we could just do this in one kick at the can, as opposed to having to come back again.
But I do thank you, Mr. Vice-Chair, for your attention.
Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
May 28th, 2009 / 1:25 p.m.
Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC
Madam Speaker, I appreciate having the opportunity to participate in the debate on Bill C-20, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, also known as the nuclear liability compensation act. I had the pleasure of speaking to the bill in the previous Parliament when it was known as Bill C-5. This is at least the third attempt to bring forward this legislation.
Unfortunately, it is the same legislation all over again. We had serious problems with it as New Democrats in the last Parliament and none of our concerns have been addressed with the new legislation that has been tabled by the government in this Parliament. Bill C-20 still has the failings we were concerned about last time around and we continue to oppose this legislation because of its very serious shortcomings.
With respect to some of those shortcomings, when we put it all together, some of my colleagues have called this the “worst nuclear practices act” to really give voice to our concerns about its very serious problems and why we are taking it so seriously in this new Parliament as well. We are very opposed to the legislation. We thought that it needed significant improvement before we could ever support it. We are very disappointed that the government did not see fit to strengthen the bill before it tabled it again, but we will work hard in Parliament and at committee to try to change it, to improve it and make further judgments of it as it comes forward. The fact that we have to do that, that those concerns that were raised in debate in other Parliaments have not been addressed by the government, should be very disappointing for most Canadians.
We know that Canadians have very serious concerns about nuclear energy. Most Canadians understand that nuclear energy is not green energy, that there are very serious problems associated with it, including the potential for accidents and other safety concerns, including concerns about the disposal of waste from the nuclear power process which we have not been able to solve over many, many years. Most of those issues continue. We have not found good, long-term solutions to the question of nuclear waste. There remain many serious issues about nuclear power in and of itself and ones that most Canadians would share.
We have heard from members of our caucus who raised issues related to the nuclear power process. The member for Timmins—James Bay in the last Parliament made it very clear that attempts to deposit waste from nuclear plants in northern Ontario would be resisted by the people of northern Ontario again and again because of problems related to that process of storage and disposal and to the waste itself. The folks in northern Ontario have time and time again spoken out against other parts of the country depositing their waste and their problems in the neighbourhoods in northern Ontario. We need to be very cognizant of the fact that this remains a very serious and unresolved problem of the nuclear energy industry.
The member for Ottawa Centre remarked about ongoing issues related to Chalk River and the presence of tritium in the water of the Ottawa River to this very day. It will continue to be there because we cannot get rid of it. There are problems when there is a release at Chalk River. It is contained and then diluted and released into the Ottawa River. There should be better processes in place for that kind of release. It should be treated. The radioactive material should be removed and then stored. But we are still back at that same problem of what to do with waste and storage issues related to that. The whole issue of how it is eventually released into the atmosphere, into the environment is a very serious question and an ongoing problem with the nuclear industry here in Canada.
The legislation before us was developed to limit the amount of damages a nuclear power plant operator or fuel processor would pay out should there be an accident causing radiological contamination to property outside the plant area itself.
The legislation really only applies to power plants and fuel processors. Unfortunately, those are not the only places where nuclear material is used and where there is potential for an accident that might cause a claim for liability and compensation. There is a limitation to this legislation in regard to its scope and what industries, what processors, what is exactly covered by the legislation.
This legislation is very old. It dates from the 1970s. That also makes it very inadequate. Even those of us who oppose the bill before us appreciate that changes are needed to the legislation. Under the existing legislation, the liability limit is only $75 million, which is incredibly insignificant when one considers the kinds of accidents and liability claims that might come about as a result of a nuclear accident.
We heard the previous speaker talk about Chernobyl, the disaster that that represented and the huge costs associated with cleaning up that accident and the ongoing problems associated with it. Certainly the current liability limit of $75 million or even the one that is proposed in this legislation of $650 million would go nowhere near dealing with the kinds of compensation and liability claims that would arise out of an accident like Chernobyl. We need to be very cognizant of that experience because it is a serious question related to the nuclear power industry.
The bill before us, as I said, only considers raising the liability limit to $650 million, which is the absolute low limit of the international average on this kind of legislation around the world. We have gone for the bottom line, the very lowest level of liability that we could possibly contemplate when looking at this legislation in the current day.
We know, for instance, that in Japan the liability is unlimited and that each operator has to carry private insurance of $30 million. Germany is another country where the liability is also unlimited. There is an exception, as there is in this legislation, for accidents caused by war, but in Germany each nuclear operator has to have $500 million in private insurance, almost equalling what the liability limits set in this legislation would be. That is a far different approach than is taken by the current legislation or what is proposed here in Canada. Even in the United States there is a limit of $10 billion, with each operator needing up to $200 million in private insurance.
This legislation, by any consideration of what is done around world, falls very short. The liability limit of $650 million that is proposed in the current legislation does not come anywhere close to what should be in place. When we look at other countries from which we would take advice on this particular question, it is not near to what they themselves are doing.
We have to be very cognizant that $650 million just does not cut it, especially when for any costs beyond that $650 million it is the taxpayers who are on the hook to deal with the fallout of any accident or problem that arises in a nuclear facility. The nuclear operator would only have to pay out a maximum of $650 million and then it would be up to Canadians to cover the rest. There is a provision in this legislation for a special tribunal set up by the Minister of Natural Resources to look at liability beyond $650 million, but again that liability is paid out of the public purse. I do not think this establishes an appropriate level.
I suspect that Canadians, should there be a serious problem, incident or accident, would want to be part of the solution to the problems that arise from that, but I do not think they want to do that with the alternative being the protection of the operators or the nuclear industry itself from that liability. I do not think this sets up any reasonable standard for a level of liability. I do not think that Canadian taxpayers should be put on the hook because of the failure of this legislation to find that reasonable level.
This goes to the whole question of establishing the true cost of the nuclear industry. When we fail to establish a reasonable limit for liability and compensation, we underestimate the cost of this industry. I think this is one way where we have downplayed the true cost of nuclear energy, the true cost of the nuclear industry, here in Canada and perhaps around the world.
This is a very serious process. Things can go wrong and when things do go wrong, the consequences are very serious. I think it is high time we took into account the true cost and the potential of the problems when we are looking at this industry.
In this corner of the House, New Democrats have said that establishing such a low liability limit is perhaps related to the government's interest in getting rid of this national asset, of selling off our interests in nuclear energy, and making it more attractive to potential investors who would see it as a real bargain to get into a nuclear industry that has such a low level of liability attached to it by government statute.
Again, that is an irresponsible approach to dealing with a resource, as something that Canadians own, that is an appropriate thing for Canadians to own, for government to own, but also is an inappropriate approach to establishing the true cost of doing that kind of business. I think we have to bear that in mind when we are looking at this legislation.
We should not be supporting legislation that will contribute to a fire sale of the assets of Canada. We want to make sure that what we do in this place establishes a reasonable price, a reasonable cost for this industry.
I am pleased as a British Colombian that British Columbia has made decisions over the years not to engage in nuclear power generation. I think most British Columbians are relieved by that fact, and I suspect, Madam Speaker, that you share that relief that our province has not gone that route.
We have, however, been concerned as British Columbians about the nuclear station in Washington State, just south of the Canadian border, at Hanford. For many years that has been a source of real concern to British Columbians. We know that Hanford had nine nuclear reactors and five massive plutonium processing complexes, and that they did release nuclear radioactive contamination into the air and into the water of the Columbia River.
We also know that it has leaked, and the storage facilities have leaked, into the ground surrounding the Hanford station site in Washington State. For many years, when we talk about concerns around the nuclear industry, when we talk to British Columbians about it, it is Hanford that comes first to mind. We have often talked about the concerns we had with that particular facility.
Thankfully, Hanford has been decommissioned and it is now in the process of cleanup. That process of cleanup, I think, again draws our attention to the need to establish reasonable liability and compensation limits for this industry. The decommissioning and cleanup of Hanford is not a cheap prospect. It is not a matter of turning off a switch and mopping out the room, putting a lock on the gate and walking away.
The estimated cost of cleanup is $2 billion a year, and the cleanup will go on for decades, not just a couple of years, not just a decade but decades. It is $2 billion a year for decades to clean up this decommissioned facility in Washington State.
Part of the cleanup involves the establishment of very specialized facilities, like a vitrification plant, which is one method of combining dangerous waste with glass to render it stable. The vitrification facility alone costs $12 billion to be established at Hanford to be part of this decommissioning and cleanup operation.
The costs involved with just decommissioning and cleaning up an existing nuclear site, let alone contemplating any accident or any release of radioactive material is hugely expensive, hugely significant. Unfortunately, I think we are all concerned that the timelines for the cleanup of Hanford have been delayed and put off time and time again.
The timelines which were originally established are not being met and it means that the ongoing concerns we have about this facility are not relieved to any great extent. It is still leaking and leaching radioactive waste into the groundwater in the surrounding area. It will take many decades to complete this process and many billions of dollars to actually see this plant decommissioned.
I think it is an example of the huge costs associated with this industry. It drives home for me the importance of ensuring that we have liability and compensation limits that are adequate to the task that may arise from a nuclear accident. It again points out the inadequacy of Bill C-20 before us.
A liability limit of $650 million just does not come anywhere close to dealing with the true cost of what an accident could render here in Canada. We need to follow the example of countries that we respect around the world that have made choices around nuclear energy like Japan and Germany, that have set unlimited liability for nuclear accidents.
We should take a very close look at establishing that kind of liability here in Canada because we know the dangers associated with this industry are so significant and ongoing. They do not just disappear. The question of waste will be with us for many generations and we have to make sure that we solve those problems, that we put the money into understanding those problems and solving them in a permanent kind of way, and not just leave them for a future generation to deal with.
It is irresponsible of us to go down that road without making sure that all of those arrangements and due caution is taken to make sure that we are not leaving a mess for someone else down the road. I think that is exactly what we are doing now.
We have to make sure too that we are not sticking taxpayers yet again with the bill for an accident and that we put the true costs before the industry to make sure it appreciates the true value of safety, health and security for Canadians who live near these installations, near these facilities, and who want to make sure that they do not suffer the consequences of an accident in these cases.
I think it is a very important piece of legislation. It is absolutely clearly a bill that needs to be updated and needs to see a review. However, as it stands, it is wholly inadequate to that task. We need to make sure that a reasonable liability limit is established. The liability limit of $650 million just does not cut it.
I hope the bill will be significantly amended or if not, defeated because it is just not up to the task.
Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
May 28th, 2009 / 1:10 p.m.
Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON
Madam Speaker, ballet slippers for little feet, cardboard pictures of Lenin and dolls in various states of dress and dismemberment provide a glimpse into kindergarten life before it came to a standstill in April 1986, when Chernobyl's reactor 4 exploded.
The fire burned for 10 days, contaminating tens of thousands of square miles, and the fallout was 400 times greater than that of Hiroshima. Thirty people died in the blast, four thousand died of cancer, a third of a million people were driven from their homes and six hundred thousand registered as cleanup workers or liquidators. Of these, 240,000 received the highest radiation doses.
Over the years, the compensation costs, economic losses, health and cleanup expenditures and lost productivity mounted into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Today Chernobyl remains the world's worst nuclear disaster.
Growing up, our high school teachers and our professors taught us to be concerned about nuclear accidents, nuclear waste, nuclear weapons proliferation and pollution from uranium mining. Unfortunately these problems have not gone away. For example, we continue to bury waste, a policy of “out of sight, out of mind”, despite not knowing the full environmental and health consequences.
Bill C-20 is however a positive step to managing and minimizing the risks involved in the use of nuclear material, namely through preparation, response and reparation. Specifically, Bill C-20 establishes the civil liability regime and compensation to address damages resulting from radiation in the event of a radioactive release from a Canadian nuclear installation, or from nuclear materials being transported to or from the installation. Compensable damage includes bodily injury, damage to property, economic and property losses and psychological trauma resulting from such injury or damage.
It is important that the bill address psychological trauma. The Chernobyl accident impacted economic prosperity, personal health and social well-being. Victims reported high levels of anxiety, stress, medically unexplained physical symptoms and reckless behaviour, including alcohol and tobacco abuse and consumption of game from areas heavily contaminated with high levels of radioactive cesium.
Bill C-20 increases operator liability from $75 million to $650 million and would put Canada on par with liability limits in many other countries, as well as responding to the recommendations of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources. The latter is important, as private insurers have consistently and systematically refused to provide coverage for damage resulting from nuclear incidents.
When discussing nuclear accidents, bodily injury may range from radiation sickness through to leukemia and other cancers. Radiation sickness is a serious illness that occurs when the entire body receives a high dose of radiation, usually over a short period of time. Many survivors of Chernobyl, Hiroshima and Nagasaki became ill with radiation sickness, which often began with nausea, diarrhea, skin damage and vomiting and progress to seizures and coma.
Most people who did not recover from radiation illness died within several months of exposure, usually from the destruction of bone marrow, which led to infections and internal bleeding. Unborn babies can also be exposed to radiation and they are especially vulnerable between two and fifteen weeks of pregnancy. The health consequences can be severe, including abnormal brain function, cancer, deformities and stunted growth.
Ionizing radiation can also cause certain types of leukemia. An elevated risk of blood cancer was first found among the survivors of the atomic bombings in Japan two to five years after exposure. Recent investigations suggest a doubling of the incidence of leukemia among the most highly exposed Chernobyl liquidators.
Unfortunately, time does not permit me to describe all potential health impacts such as cardiovascular problems, cataract and thyroid cancer.
Members of the Canadian Nuclear Association have commented that the bill responds to society's needs and represents a balanced approach. The association further reports that the bill provides protection of the public under a coherent, explicit and stable framework.
Before putting forth questions that might be asked at committee, it is important to remind the House that while the government puts forth the bill, it is also responding to the leak at the Chalk River nuclear reactor, which provides a third of the world's medical isotopes.
The general manager of the Association of Imaging Producers and Equipment Suppliers points out that there have been at least five crises of medical isotope production in the last eighteen months. What makes the present crisis so challenging, however, is that three out of the four other reactors in the world that supply medical isotopes, in Belgium, France and South Africa, are also shut down.
While I support the bill in principle, it requires study at committee and careful questioning. For example, what are the projected economic, environmental and health costs of a nuclear release in Canada and possible impacts farther afield? Does the proposed compensation address those impacts?
We must remember that the Chernobyl fallout had far-reaching effects, spreading radionuclides as far away as Lapland in northern Scandinavia. The Arctic's Sami people are reindeer herders and face significant problems from the accident because of the high transfer rate of radioactive material from contaminated lichen to the reindeer. Many herds had to be slaughtered to avoid consumption of the meat. Scientists estimate that it will take another 20 years for radioactive levels in reindeer to fall to pre-Chernobyl levels.
The executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada reported:
A nuclear accident on the scale of the Chernobyl disaster would cost hundreds of billions of dollars in cleanup costs—conceivably 100 times more than the maximum liability industry would face under Bill C-63.
Belarus and the Ukraine are paying approximately $460 billion over 30 years to clean up Chernobyl. Twenty years after the accident, these countries still pay 5% to 7% of their budgets toward the cost of the catastrophe.
The bill is only a small part of a web of protection needed to make Canada more nuclear safe as well as providing life-saving medications to those in need.
We have had multiple wake-up calls. In August 1945, an American war plane dropped a nuclear bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. An estimated 80,000 people were incinerated and in the months that followed, another 60,000 died from the effects of radiation.
A few days later was Nagasaki. About 30% of the city, including almost all of the industrial district, was destroyed by the bomb and nearly 74,000 were killed and a similar number injured.
In 1979 radioactive steam leaked into the atmosphere in Pennsylvania when a water pump broke down at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant. There were fears that some of the plant's 500 workers had been contaminated.
Complacency cannot be an option when it comes to nuclear safety. Today we know the tremendous costs and we must take action.
Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
May 27th, 2009 / 4:35 p.m.
Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON
Madam Speaker, as I was saying, the United States has a compensation limit of $10 billion. If we look at other countries that have had quite a few nuclear accidents, whether it be Germany or Japan, we will notice that they do not have an upper limit at all, that if there is an accident, the company must pay all the costs of cleaning it up.
This bill used to be called Bill C-63, then it was called Bill C-5 in the last Parliament, and now it is Bill C-20 and the number remains the same. New Democrats said back then that we do not support $650 million as the existing compensation limit because it is way too low. We said it then. We say it now. Why are we seeing this number again?
I believe one of the reasons we are seeing this bill reintroduced today is because American nuclear companies are really interested in purchasing significant sections of Canada's nuclear industry.
Under the current legislation, they would subjected to the American rules as Canadian law does not meet the international baseline. We know the international minimum, according to the two international agreements, the Paris and Vienna conventions, requires a bare minimum of $600 million. Because of that, under American law, the parent company of a subsidiary can be sued for compensation due to the actions of, say, a Canadian subsidiary of an American company if the law governing that subsidiary is below the international standards, as it is now. If this bill were passed, then the American corporations could pick up any number of nuclear companies.
What concerns me most is what is happening at Chalk River. We have a reactor shutdown. We have at least 30,000 patients per week who need the precious medical isotopes the reactor produces and we know that these isotopes will run out in a week. We also know that the reactor has had a heavy water spill and we also know that it will be shut down at least until mid-June, and maybe even longer.
Now, people who have cancer or who need heart scans cannot get the scans done. People who have thyroid cancer, as I have had, after the thyroid has been removed, need to ingest a medical iodine isotope, pill I-131, which I remember taking. It would then destroy the cancer cells in the thyroid area as the thyroid attracts these nuclear iodines made by the isotopes. If people do not get it treated, if they do not take that iodine pill, which is called a seed, then the thyroid cancer cells could spread.
I am glad that when I was diagnosed with that cancer, I was able to have it removed and then, at that time, able to have access to this iodine I-131 pill. I cannot imagine what will happen to these thyroid cancer patients who need this treatment, and then to have them hear that we are going to be running out of these isotopes in a week. What is going to happen to them?
Instead of focusing on a plan B, instead of looking at whether to build a new reactor that is supposed to be on line, we are discussing this bill that certainly does not really make sense because the liability of $10 billion is 1,540% higher than the limit proposed by this bill.
Is it because our reactor is that much safer than what the Americans have? Is it because Canadian taxpayers have far more money, that if there were a big accident, certainly the Canadian government could do the cleanup? I just heard that we have at least a $50 billion deficit. Where are we going to find the money to do the cleanup if the company is not liable?
Is the imminent sale of AECL to an American company that has the government so eager to make the Canadian nuclear legislation more American-friendly? That perhaps is one of the reasons. We are quite concerned because right now in tough economic times, the value is the lowest, which means that AECL can easily be picked up if there are interested buyers once this bill has passed.
We believe that this is bad legislation. We do not think that it can be amended, especially the dollar amount of $650 million, through the committee. I have already heard that such an amendment would be ruled out of order when it is referred to committee, which means that we are stuck with this dollar amount of $650 million. In the speeches I have heard today, whether from the Liberals or the Bloc, there is concern that $650 million is too low. This bill cannot be passed at second reading because it is just not good enough.
If we think of forecasting costs of possible accidents, a major accident at the Ontario Darlington nuclear plant, God forbid, east of Toronto, which is not far from where I am, could cause damages estimated in the range of $1 trillion, not $1 billion but $1 trillion. No wonder the Japanese and the Germans do not have an upper limit.
There are statistics of the costs of past accidents. On October 5, 1966, the Enrico Power Plant, Unit 1, outside Detroit, Michigan, not far from our border, suffered a minor issue in its reactor. The public and the environment did not experience any tragedy. The minor repairs of the entire accident, which were not entirely fixed until 1970, were $132 million in 1970 dollars. This amount would be covered, but that was a 1970s figure and it was for minor damage.
If we look at Three Mile Island, which I think everyone is familiar with, in 1979 in Harrisburg, again there was a minor nuclear incident. It caused one to two cases of cancer per year and the cleanup and investigation of the incident cost an estimated $975 million U.S. That is over the Canadian limit already and again we are talking about seventies and eighties dollars.
It is troubling that we have such a low limit of $650 million. We know that nuclear energy is extremely unsafe if it is exposed. I remember when I had to take a radioactive iodine pill, I was in a secure room. No one could come anywhere near me for at least three days. The food was put in through a secure passageway. It was extremely radioactive. No one would want to sit beside me when I was taking that pill.
If we look at the world's foremost expert on nuclear liability, Norbert Pelzer, he is saying that the upper limit should be unlimited and that even the $10 billion in the United States is insufficient to cover a huge nuclear incident. Our amount is not even enough for a minor issue, never mind a major problem.
The other part of the bill that is problematic is the compensation process is cumbersome. It should be like an insurance claim. Instead, right now victims of nuclear accidents have to go through court. Going through the legal system is extremely costly and not everyone has access to it.
The other problem is the bill does not cover any accidents outside the plant setting. For example, if oil and mining companies use radioactive materials and a mistake is made, such as a spill or something takes place, this insurance would not cover that at all and the victims would be left high and dry.
When we calculate the cost of cleaning up Three Mile Island, if that dollar amount did not come from the nuclear industry itself but directly from taxpayers, we could have built 1.15 million hundred watt solar panels. We should think of the possibility of the green jobs we would be missing if the taxpayers have to pick up the tab if there are any accidents. We certainly need to have more green jobs.
Canada ranked 11th in last year's poll, measuring wind power and in the last budget, the government cut off the grants for wind energy, which will make it even worse. The bill is really not helpful.
I want to point out various accidents. For example, East Germany had an accident in 1975. On May 4, 1986, again in Germany, there was fuel damage. What happened was attempts by an operator to dislodge a fuel pebble damaged its cladding, releasing radiation, detectable up to two kilometres from the reactor.
In June 1999 Japan had a control rod malfunction. The operators, attempting to insert one control rod during an inspection, neglected the procedure and instead withdrew three, causing a 15 minute uncontrolled sustained reaction at the number one reactor of the Shika Nuclear Power Plant. The electric company that owned the reactor did not report this incident and falsified records, covering it up until March, 2007.
Also in September 1999, a few months later in Japan, workers did something wrong, which exceeded the critical mass, and, as a result, three workers were exposed to radiation doses in excess of allowable limits. Two of these workers died and 116 other workers received lesser doses, but still have a great many problems. In March 2006 Tennessee had a big problem.
These countries that have had problems have set either no upper limit or a limit in the billions. In Canada setting the limit at $650 million is really not at all useful. That is why the New Democrats will not support the bill.
We would hope the government would take it back, consider the upper limit, either make it similar to the U.S. or, even better, do not set an upper limit. That would be a new nuclear liability and compensation act, which is overdue, and it would certainly get the support of New Democrats.
Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
May 27th, 2009 / 4:05 p.m.
Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-20, because the Bloc Québécois believes that this legislation is absolutely necessary. The previous maximum compensation of $75 million in the event of an incident had been established quite some time ago, in 1976, and needed to be increased.
But before I go any further, I would like to respond to the member for Halifax West, who said earlier that he did not understand my question, because he thought I did not know who had jurisdiction over nuclear power plant construction. That was not my question. What I was asking was whether the Liberal Party wanted to develop the nuclear industry. When you invest $800 million in nuclear research and development, you are promoting it. The federal government is not saying it is going to build nuclear facilities, but it is promoting them.
Once again, the Liberals have no clear policy, and the member could not give a clear answer to my question, which is why he changed the subject. It is always the same thing with the Liberals at present: they do not know where they are going.
I will come back to the initial topic. Bill C-20 seeks to establish a liability regime applicable in the event of a nuclear incident. The bill clearly says “in the event of a nuclear incident”. It makes operators of nuclear installations absolutely and exclusively liable for damages up to a maximum of $650 million. It is hard to imagine that the company that owns a nuclear facility will be solely liable. In fact, even a minor nuclear incident will cost more than $650 million. Damages will easily run to billions of dollars. Who will pay for that? The provinces and the federal government.
Bill C-20 is a reincarnation of Bill C-5. We had studied that bill in committee and had had the opportunity to ask insurance companies whether they were ready for such legislation. Naturally, insurance companies are generally rather cautious, and they were not necessarily willing to pay much more than $650 million. They might have gone as far as $1 billion if we had forced them, but I had and still have the feeling that they cannot go any farther.
So we cannot compare the Canadian system to the American system as some people do, since we do not have many plants. American plants pool their money. It is not a $10 billion pool, but it varies from $9 billion to $11 billion. This pool also varies based on those giving guarantees. We agree that this would certainly be much closer to what a nuclear accident would cost.
The Bloc Québécois believes that this would still be an improvement over the previous legislation that provided for only $75 million in compensation, even though it is proving to be difficult to obtain insurance above the amount set out in Bill C-20. However, we realize that governments will be required to pay out the rest of the amount.
We are very concerned about a nuclear accident. There are several incidents each year at every nuclear plant. We call them incidents because they are contained. One of the most dangerous activities is changing the bundles of uranium-235 and uranium-239. They are changed by robots when all of their energy has been used up. When they are moved, there can be radiation in the room, and also outside the room where the reactors are located.
There is always some danger. We are well aware of that.
Last year, between November 5 and November 9, such an incident took place at Gentilly-2 in Quebec. I am not mentioning this just because it is Gentilly, since these kinds of accidents happen all over the place, for example in Burlington.
We are well aware that there can be problems with aging plants. The CANDU system is not internationally recognized as a safe system. It was possible to sell it abroad, but that was more under the Liberals, because it was practically a gift. The reactors were delivered and no payments were ever requested. So it was not because of the quality of the CANDU.
Earlier, the hon. member for Halifax West said that the government was not taking responsibility regarding the production of isotopes. That is true, and he is correct in saying so. Last year, we were forced to pass special legislation to get the plant running again, without any assurance that it would last. It was 55 years old last year, and this year it is 56. It is clear that this plant is past its prime.
However, the MAPLE, which was developed with taxpayer money over 15 years, is still not functional. We have even stopped hearing that this project would be completed. One of the reasons was that the engineers who might have done so have left, because the work was not moving along quickly enough and they could not see an end to the project. All of the top minds left the country under the Liberals and moved elsewhere. Our nuclear scientists and engineers are no longer here. That is one reason why the MAPLE was stalled, and why the government decided to scrap it after spending billions of dollars on its development.
Quebeckers have a hard time with this, since they contribute by paying taxes. Only 6% of all of Canada's nuclear energy is produced in Quebec, while Quebeckers pay 23% of all nuclear research and nuclear-plant promotion. Furthermore, this energy is not necessary. It can make people rich, but it is not necessary. We prefer green energies. In Quebec, we focus particularly on hydroelectricity.
All of Canada could also develop power plants run by deep geothermal energy, a sector that is completely ignored in this country, even though 24 countries have developed it. By drilling two to five kilometres underground, we can extract heat to generate decentralized electricity. This would be much better than a Canadian network that Quebec would not go along with, since it interferes with our jurisdictions. We will never accept it.
So, we are in favour of Bill C-20 in principle. As I said earlier, it is certainly not enough, but it must be said that nuclear power costs the government a lot of money. Even if the companies pay for the insurance, the government still establishes systems so that, for example, field hospitals can be set up quickly. The RCMP spends a lot of money to make checks and prevent terrorist attacks from taking place at nuclear plants. Security of nuclear plants costs the government money, and this money comes from taxpayers. So this is not a necessary energy source, nor is it a green one, that we could support.
Furthermore, the issue of nuclear waste has never been settled. This is a matter of great importance. To date, nuclear plants in Canada have produced over 2 million irradiated fuel bundles and they do not know what to do with them. That number will double if our existing reactors operate until the end of their predicted life spans.
So we are talking about 4 million bundles that need to be put somewhere. At the moment, consultations are under way all across Canada to find out where to put these things for the next 1,000 years. There has been research to see if this uranium might not be used to produce a depleted but still usable uranium. They came to realize, after fortunes were spent on it in France and after the Americans bought the rights to carry out this research, which incidentally they too gave up on about a year or a year and half ago, that there is no future to reusing uranium in this way.
So a place has to be found to put the bundles. They can be reused—this is possible—to make nuclear weapons. We know just how dangerous that is.
As long as nowhere is found for storage, stable storage if possible, of these bundles, we will not be able to develop nuclear energy and we will not be able to keep on thinking that it is a green energy and not a hazard to human health. It is a hazard to health because nuclear waste is a hazardous substance. What is more, the mining of uranium is dangerous as well.
I have consulted experts, and pure uranium could be used in nuclear facilities. I know that the present government wants to promote its use for extracting the oil from oil sands. Heat is needed to produce electricity and to extract as much oil as possible from oil sands. Then those nuclear plants will have to have a location for secure storage of their waste.
It is not just a matter of individuals deciding to accept or not to accept nuclear waste being stored in some location, but there is a whole context, a whole province, a whole part of a country, that has to agree to it. When this hazardous waste is being transported by truck or train, accidents or thefts can occur, as well as terrorism or sabotage, and they can occur just about anywhere. So it is not the responsibility of a small community, but the responsibility of a very large area.
In terms of such incidents, Bill C-20 does include some sensible provisions. We all hope that nothing will ever happen, but Bill C-20 is the very least the government can do. However, we are concerned that increasing insurance will cause a change of course resulting in the promotion of nuclear energy and CANDU reactors, which are not very safe as far as thermal and nuclear plants go, not to mention completely unnecessary.
As I said earlier, we can produce electricity using green energy. I went on at length about geothermal energy because, according to a study done in the United States, it can meet the needs of the entire United States and render coal-fired and nuclear plants obsolete. By 2050, geothermal energy alone can meet Americans' energy needs. There will be nine billion people on the planet in 2050.
We will need a lot of energy. Nuclear energy will not be able to supply that demand, and the prospect of plants melting down will always be a sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. Bill C-20 would never have been drafted if nuclear power were not dangerous. We are stuck in a vicious circle. We have this bill because nuclear energy is dangerous, but if we were not doing dangerous things, we would not need bills like Bill C-20 to protect people in case of an incident. Once again, I agree that $650 million is not going to protect us.
Suppose an incident were to occur at Chalk River. The fallout would go beyond Chalk River to Ottawa and Quebec. So $650 million would not be nearly enough to compensate people, rebuild houses, and clean up and decontaminate areas. It would certainly cost much more than that.
So the government must think instead of investing more, and that is what we are calling on the government to do. We want the government to put money towards developing green energies, instead of investing in research limited almost exclusively to nuclear plants and the sequestration of the CO2 gases produced by the oil sands. As I mentioned earlier, there is geothermal energy, but also solar energy. We know that great strides have been made in terms of generating electricity with solar energy. Spain has some examples of it working very well. We know that wind energy is already going well. So the government could spend more money and do more to develop the hydroelectricity we are capable of generating.
There is also biomass energy. Right now, we do not know what to do with our forestry workers. Biomass energy was used especially for heating, but it can also be used to generate electricity. Digesters can also be used on farms. Instead of letting animal excrement create methane and make greenhouse gases even worse, we could use digesters. The government should help farmers create electricity with these systems. They are on the market. It is just a matter of cost-effectiveness.
If we looked at the overall cost of nuclear energy per kilowatt-hour, we obviously would not even think about developing it. If we look at just the cost of production and not how much it will cost to dismantle the plants that will still be there even when they are not in use, even 40 years after they have stopped producing. Those areas will be radioactive. We will have a hard time closing those plants.
In any case, the cost of insurance will be included in the price per kilowatt-hour. That is what I wanted to mention as well. Even if we had requested much higher insurance, ultimately, the customer would always be the one to pay, because the price per kilowatt-hour would increase.
So I agree with a bill like Bill C-20. It is a minimum, but at least we are in favour of that minimum. However, we need to invest in green energies, and we need to do it now. The price per kilowatt-hour will be much lower and the risk of danger greatly reduced since it will be much easier to provide security. A wind turbine or a geothermal power plant is not at risk of being blown up. No terrorists are interested in doing that. But someone could be interested in blowing up a nuclear power plant if there was ever a conflict somewhere.
So, a green energy that is not dangerous is not the same thing as a green energy that is dangerous. Bill C-20 has to do with the health of the people and how to respond to a potential accident. That is the minimum.
Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
May 15th, 2009 / 12:30 p.m.
David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK
Mr. Speaker, the Canadian nuclear industry has an outstanding safety record. The member for Tobique—Mactaquac has worked with me and the government side on this issue for some time now. He was on the natural resources committee last time and did an outstanding job as we tried to bring Bill C-5 through the legislative process. He is working on that same committee this time on Bill C-20. We rely on him for his memory and contributions and we appreciate them.
Our industry in Canada has been safe and has had a tremendous record in that matter. When we came to put this new legislation together, we needed to decide how high the level of insurance needed to be. There needs to be a level of insurance that is adequate in the case of an incident but it also needs to protect Canadian citizens and it cannot be so high that it is impossible for the operators to even get insurance.
The limit they came up with was $650 million and we feel it really fits the public's need for adequate compensation in the event of any foreseeable incident at a Canadian nuclear facility. As I mentioned, we need to balance the need to ensure adequate victim compensation without burdening operators with costs that are completely unrealistic. We could have taken a number of different avenues but we made this choice for a number of reasons.
As I need to wrap up, maybe I can get into the reasons as to why we chose $650 million on my next answer. Others will speak to that as well.
Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
May 15th, 2009 / 12:30 p.m.
David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK
Mr. Speaker, I do not know if the member understands the process we went through. This bill is actually in its third reincarnation. It came in as Bill C-63. It was Bill C-5 in the last Parliament, and now it is Bill C-20.
He was not at committee last time, but we did have extensive consultations. We had open committee meetings. We had the communities come in. We had the interested parties come to speak to us. Obviously, we have talked to the industry as well. There have been broad consultations at least twice on this bill. We bring it forward with the support of the communities, the support of the industry, and we believe with the support of Canadians as well. The NDP members were the only ones who were opposing this bill last time, and we understand they will likely do that again.
However, the reality is that this bill has been put together. It has been crafted with input from a lot of different Canadians and with the industry as well. We certainly look forward to support from the other parties in this House, because this bill is long overdue. We need to raise the liability limits. It is something that everyone acknowledges. Certainly we hope the NDP members will not stand in the way of protecting Canadians, as they did last time.
Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
May 15th, 2009 / 10:45 a.m.
David Anderson Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board
Mr. Speaker, it is good to be back again speaking about nuclear safety.
I am pleased to speak to Bill C-20, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident. Members may be familiar with this bill. It was introduced in the last Parliament as Bill C-5. It is a bill that has had a long history of consultation. It also has a history of good support in the House.
The last time we brought the bill forward both the official opposition and the Bloc supported the bill. We were able to bring it through committee and into third reading without amendment. We look forward to working with the members on the other side of the House to get this bill through as quickly as possible.
Later, I think we will hear the member for Mississauga—Brampton South speak for the official opposition and the member for Trois-Rivières speak for the Bloc. We look forward to working with them at committee to bring this bill through to conclusion as quickly as possible.
The history of nuclear energy in Canada goes back some 75 years. For the past 30 years, it has been a part of Canada's energy mix. It has benefited this country and the citizens of this country in numerous ways.
As members know, a strong nuclear industry brings great economic and environmental benefits. However in order to encourage investments in nuclear facilities, liability rules are needed to provide legal and insurance certainty for suppliers and operators. Without the certainty of the rules concerning liability, insurers would not provide coverage to nuclear facilities, and no one would participate in nuclear development.
At the same time, it is important to ensure that Canadians have access to reasonable compensation in the unlikely event there is a nuclear incident. The health and safety of Canadians is a top priority of the Government of Canada. Canada's nuclear safety record is second to none in the world. We have a robust technology, a well-trained workforce and stringent regulatory requirements.
There are two pieces of legislation that provide a solid framework for regulating the industry. They are the Nuclear Safety and Control Act and the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act. Nevertheless, we must be prepared for the possibility of a nuclear incident, which could result in civil damages.
The responsibility for providing an insurance framework to protect Canadians and provide stability to this important industry falls under federal jurisdiction. The Government of Canada has a duty to assume its responsibilities in this area, and we are doing that.
Traditional insurance is not appropriate for dealing with this kind of liability. It is difficult to determine levels of risk. Canada, like virtually all other nuclear countries, has addressed this void with the enactment of special legislation.
In Canada we put in place the Nuclear Liability Act. This legislation established a comprehensive liability framework in case of a nuclear incident. It is the framework that is in existence today. Both this earlier legislation and Bill C-20 apply to things like nuclear power plants, nuclear research reactors, fuel fabrication facilities and facilities for managing used nuclear fuel.
The framework established under the initial Nuclear Liability Act is based on several principles. Those principles include the absolute and exclusive liability of the operator, mandatory insurance, and limitations in time and amount. These principles are common to nuclear legislation in most other countries, such as the United States, France and the United Kingdom. The principles that were put in place years ago are just as relevant today.
Let me quickly explain these principles. Absolute liability means the injured party does not have to prove that a nuclear reactor was at fault in an incident, only that injury or damages were caused by that incident. As well, the Nuclear Liability Act holds the operator of a nuclear facility to be exclusively liable for civil damages caused by a nuclear incident. In other words, no other business, organization, supplier or contractor can be sued for these damages. The operator is responsible.
This has two advantages. First, it makes it very easy for individuals to make a claim. They know who is liable and 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 the facility. This is a widely accepted practice in countries generating nuclear power.
The Canadian regime also places limitations on liability in time and amount. In terms of amount, the maximum that has been payable under the Nuclear Liability Act is currently $75 million. As well, injury claims must be made within 10 years of the incident.
These underlying principles of Canada's existing nuclear liability framework address the needs of Canadians while permitting our country to develop nuclear capabilities.
The Nuclear Liability Act made it easier for injured parties to make claims. It guaranteed that funds would be made available to compensate individuals in the unlikely event that there is an incident.
It is a tribute to Canada's nuclear industry that there have been no claims paid out under the act. Still it has served as an important safety net for Canadians and it has provided stability and security that is needed to support the continued development of Canada's nuclear power industry.
Although the basic principles underlining Canada's nuclear liability legislation remain valid, this act is over 30 years old and it needs updating. If we consider the possibility of new investments in nuclear reactors in Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick or Ontario, we can see why this legislation must be made as robust as we can make it. We also have to keep pace with international developments in the field over the years.
As a result of this, the Government of Canada has conducted a comprehensive review of the Nuclear Liability Act and is proposing the new legislation that is before the House today. This has been done with extensive consultation across the country with the industry and with Canadians.
The bill is intended to strengthen and modernize Canada's nuclear liability regime through an all-encompassing package of amendments. Bill C-20 is a major step forward in modernizing the act. It puts Canada in line with internationally accepted compensation levels. It clarifies definitions for compensation and what is covered in 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.
I would like to talk a little about the key changes in this legislation. The main change proposed in Bill C-20 is an increase in the amount of operator's liability from $75 million to $650 million. This balances the need for operators to provide compensation, without imposing high costs for unrealistic insurance amounts, amounts for events highly unlikely to occur in this country. This increase will put Canada on a par with most western nuclear countries.
It is important also that Canada's legislation is consistent with international conventions, not only on financial issues but also with regard to what constitutes a nuclear incident, what qualifies for compensation, and so on. Accordingly, the bill makes Canada's legislation more consistent with international conventions. These enhancements will establish a level playing field for Canadian nuclear companies, who will welcome the certainty of operating in a country that acknowledges these international conventions.
Both the current liability framework and Bill C-20 contain limitation periods restricting the time period for making claims. Under the current act, claims must be brought within 10 years of the incident. However, since we know today that some radiation-related injuries have long latency periods, this limitation period has been extended under Bill C-20 to 30 years for injury claims, while maintaining the 10 year limit for other claims.
Both the current legislation and Bill C-20 provide for an administrative process to replace the courts in the adjudication of claims arising from a large nuclear incident. The new legislation clarifies the arrangements for a quasi-judicial tribunal to hear claims. The new claims process will ensure that claims are handled equitably and efficiently. I think that is an important amendment that people need to pay attention to.
The challenge for the government in developing this legislation was to be fair to all stakeholders and to strike an effective balance in the public interest. I firmly believe the proposed legislation fully meets that challenge. This is supported by the initial reactions that we received with Bill C-5, as well as the reactions we have received with Bill C-20.
We have consulted with nuclear operators, suppliers, insurance and provinces with nuclear installations, and they generally support the changes I have described. I know that some nuclear operators may be concerned about the cost implications of higher insurance premiums, but they also recognize that they have been sheltered from these costs for quite some time.
Suppliers welcome the changes, as they would provide more certainty for the industry. Nuclear insurers appreciate the clarity that would be provided in the new legislation and the resolution of some of their long-standing concerns.
Provinces with nuclear facilities have been supportive of the proposed revisions to the current legislation. Municipalities that host nuclear facilities have been advocating revisions to the Nuclear Liability Act. They are supportive of the increased levels of operator liability and the improved approaches to victims' compensation.
In short, Bill C-20 was not developed in isolation. The evolution of policy was guided by consultation with key stakeholders over several years and by the experience that has been gained in other countries.
Let me now turn to another aspect of our involvement with nuclear technology. There are three other aspects that I would like to point out quickly today.
The first is the safety record of our nuclear industry. Our CANDU reactor is arguably the safest reactor in the world and has all kinds of built-in systems to protect workers and the public.
I would also like to point out Canada's involvement in the nuclear industry and in research and development that has been exclusively for peaceful purposes.
Third, I would like to highlight the fact that Canada's nuclear industry is among the highest tech industries. It spurs innovation, which is the cornerstone of a competitive economy, generating more than $5 billion a year in economic activity. Canada's nuclear industry employs more than 30,000 people. Many Canadians probably do not realize that. Many of those are highly skilled people in well-paying jobs.
It must be recognized that the development of Canada's nuclear industry has been made possible by the civil liability rules provided by the initial Nuclear Liability Act. The improvements by Bill C-20 are now necessary for Canada to remain a leading player in the nuclear industry.
There is an additional aspect to Canada's involvement with nuclear energy. Much of our work in the nuclear industry has been to produce electricity, electricity to provide home comforts and to drive industry and promote jobs across the country. Electricity has contributed to a healthy environment through cheap and clean energy.
In this country we have made a commitment to achieve an absolute reduction of 20% in greenhouse gas emissions from 2006 levels by 2020. We are also committed to meeting 90% of our electricity demand from low-emitting sources by that same year.
As part of reaching these targets, our government is making substantial investments in measures to increase our supply of renewable energy, including wind, solar, small hydro and tidal energy. We also see nuclear energy as part of the clean energy mix that will advance Canada as a clean energy superpower. However, in order for us to advance in clean energy production, we need the certainty provided by an appropriate and up-to-date nuclear liability framework in order to protect Canadians and provide stability to this important industry.
In conclusion, Canada's nuclear safety record is second to none in the world. The Nuclear Safety and Control Act and the Nuclear Liability Act provide a solid legislative framework for regulating the industry and have done so since Canada's industry emerged as a world player. The former seeks to prevent and minimize nuclear incidents, while the latter applies should an incident occur. However unlikely as it may be, we must be prepared for the possibility of a nuclear incident that could result in significant costs.
For these and other sound reasons, I would ask members to support this legislation.
Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics
Points of Order
June 20th, 2008 / 10:30 a.m.
Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this point of order raised by the House leader from the Conservative Party.
Having lived through on the opposite side of exactly what the House leader is now complaining about today, I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that the precedent you have set, given the guidelines in Marleau and Montpetit and given the guidelines in parliament precedence, are very clear. You have said that committees have the responsibility of maintaining their own decorum, that it is something that is incumbent on the chair of the committee to do.
Marleau and Montpetit and parliamentary precedence is very clear on this. When we look at page 827 of Marleau and Montpetit, it says very clearly that the chair is responsible for maintaining order in committee proceedings. It is a very clear precedent and a very clear mandate.
It refers to the right to speak. On page 857 of the English version, Marleau and Montpetit clearly states:
Members must be recognized by the Chair before speaking. On occasion, committees place strict limits on the amount of time during which a given item will be considered.
It is in black and white in Marleau and Montpetit. Now, we must examine what happened.
I am a long-time member of the Standing Committee on International Trade. You are aware, Mr. Speaker, as I am of what transpired in the fall of 2006. In 2006 the chair of the Standing Committee on International Trade simply stopped allowing the interventions of the NDP to revise and take out the most egregious aspects of the softwood lumber agreement. The chair, working with members of the committee, agreed to first limit the interventions that we could make on the many amendments we brought to that most egregious agreement, something that has cost 10,000 jobs, but that is not relevant to this point of order. However, we brought forward 100 amendments and the committee chair, with the majority of the committee, then decided to limit speaking time to three minutes on any one of those amendments.
Later on, the same committee chair, the Conservative committee chair, working with the support of other opposition parties in that committee, limited the time of debate to one minute. Further on, on these same amendments, which were designed to stop the almost certain hemorrhage of jobs that we foresaw through the softwood lumber agreement, the debate was limited to 30 seconds. Then finally the Conservative committee chair said that there would be no debate on amendments, no debate on the actual implications of each and every clause, clause by clause, of the softwood lumber agreement and the amendments to the softwood lumber agreement were adopted with no debate, not one second of debate. There were no points of order allowed and no opportunity to raise our concerns.
As you are well aware, Mr. Speaker, having gone through that process where Conservatives decided that an agreement and a bill, which had substantial and profound consequences for people in softwood communities from coast to coast to coast, from northern Quebec to northern Ontario to northern Manitoba to northern Saskatchewan to northern Alberta and throughout British Columbia, the Conservative chair decided there would be no debate whatsoever.
As you are well aware, Mr. Speaker, I brought and the NDP caucus brought forward our concerns that we were adopting legislation that had not been vetted appropriately, where there had not been discussion over the clauses of the bill, no discussion whatsoever on the amendments that would make a difference and save jobs and no witnesses called at that point to talk about the various aspects of the bill.
Therefore, the precedent was very clear. We brought this forward to you, Mr. Speaker. We raised our concerns and you, referring back to Marleau and Montpetit, and obviously I believe you have been consistent in your rulings, and in this case there is very clear consistency in this previous ruling, you ruled that the committee chair was right to do that, that the committee as a whole had the ability to not only curtail debate, but eliminate debate, that a majority of the committee could simply say no, that there would be no debate whatsoever.
We come back to this issue because in this committee case there was very clearly, and we had a comment from the member from the Bloc Québécois who participated in the ethics committee, profound, widespread, ongoing debate, debate that continued on and on. Then finally the chair of that committee faced countless points of order. We are not talking about substantial interventions like the NDP offered on the softwood lumber agreement, where there were real amendments that would have made a difference in changing the agreement and stopping the hemorrhage of jobs. We are talking about, from the transcripts, spurious points of order that were raised.
Yet for the Conservatives now to say that the committee majority of other parties and the committee chair were doing something untoward when they had practised it themselves consistently, simply defies imagination.
I know we will move forward on Bill C-5 and debate time has been allocated to that this morning. However, it is important to point out that the House leader is one of the people who may be brought forward at the ethics committee. For him to raise it as a point of order is inappropriate.
The ethics committee is seeking to examine those individuals and riding associations that have been tied to the in and out scandal and seeking to follow up on Elections Canada's very legitimate concerns around certain ridings and certain candidates, all of whom are Conservatives. Elections Canada is not in the process of looking at other candidates, but it certainly does that on an ongoing basis.
It seems inappropriate to me that members of the House, who may be called before the ethics committee, are now trying to essentially beseech you, Mr. Speaker, to not have the ethics committee call those members before it and testify on their involvement in the in and out scandal.
Those are the points I wanted to raise in addition to those that have been raised by my colleague from Timmins—James Bay.
Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
June 19th, 2008 / 5:25 p.m.