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 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

Sponsor

Christian Paradis  Conservative

Status

Second reading (House), as of May 14, 2010
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

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.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

May 14th, 2010 / 10:40 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, we note that the Conservative Party is applauding for us. The Bloc Québécois, a party that represents the interests of Quebec, has been applauded.

I have the pleasure of debating Bill C-15, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, which aims to establish a liability regime applicable in the event of a nuclear incident.

Since I represent a region located near a nuclear plant, I am very familiar with the issues related to nuclear energy, and I am aware of the questions that have been raised in my region after Hydro-Québec decided to refurbish the Gentilly-2 nuclear power plant.

The Gentilly-2 nuclear power plant, which has been in use since 1983, is part of the regional landscape in Mauricie and Centre-du-Québec. It is located on the north shore of the St. Lawrence, in the Gentilly sector of the city of Bécancour. A number of citizens have shared their concerns about Hydro-Québec's decision. They are wondering how this will affect the health of the people who live in the surrounding area and the health of the environment. A number of people have raised questions about the permanent management of high-level radioactive waste.

Therefore, I am very familiar with the issues surrounding this subject, and I understand the importance of reviewing the current legislation, because it simply does not meet the international requirements for liability in the event of a nuclear incident.

Given that the government has taken a keen interest in nuclear power, and that Ontario and Alberta are about to embark on this new and difficult venture with the help of the federal government, updating the current legislation, which is over 30 years old, is crucial.

The current act is out of touch with new developments in the nuclear power sector in Quebec and across Canada. Contrary to what the Conservative government says, nuclear energy is not clean energy.

Both the Conservative government and the Liberals express unflagging optimism about nuclear energy, especially in connection with Alberta oil sands exploitation. We believe that the government should exercise extreme caution with respect to this source of energy, which is very controversial and comes with serious risks.

Let us not forget that radioactive waste is still a major problem and very expensive to manage. Let us not forget that the experts have yet to find a miracle solution for dealing with highly radioactive waste accumulated over years. That waste is so toxic that it has to be stored in sealed reservoirs for thousands of years so as not to compromise the health of future generations. That is a major problem that remains to be solved.

That is why, when it comes to nuclear power, the Bloc Québécois believes that strict and effective oversight at all stages—extraction, transportation, heat and electricity production—is critical. Who could forget the disasters that happened in Chernobyl, Ukraine, and Three Mile Island in the United States? We must not compromise on nuclear safety. These tragedies should forever stand as reminders of the serious consequences of nuclear incidents and the importance of doing everything in our power to prevent them. Public health should be our top priority.

That is why the Bloc Québécois supports the principle underlying this bill to hold operators responsible for nuclear incidents. We have to do as much as we can to prevent such incidents, but when they do happen, we have to compensate everyone who is affected, bearing in mind that no sum of money can replace a human life.

Although Bill C-15 is far-reaching and complex, its main purpose, which is to set up a liability regime in the event of a nuclear incident, relies on three basic principles. First, it defines the liability of facility operators. Second, it defines the financial terms and limits of that liability. Third, it creates a process or administrative tribunal to hear claims in case of a major incident, which no one wants to have happen.

This bill is flawed, but it does improve the existing act, which, as I said, is more than 30 years old and is not suited to the new reality. It improves the existing act by updating the financial responsibilities of nuclear plant operators. The operators have financial and social responsibilities pertaining to public health.

The bill that has been introduced redefines nuclear damage. The new definition is clearer and more complete, and it is closer to the international standard, but still does not quite reach it. The international standard is $1.4 billion. This bill would increase compensation from $75 million to $650 million in the event of a nuclear incident, so it is an improvement. The amount of $75 million is obsolete; it put very little responsibility on the companies.

Bill C-15 clarifies the liability of nuclear facility operators. It clearly defines what kind of damage is compensable and what kind is not; it lists all of the compensable damages, such as bodily injury or damage to property. A nuclear accident can have catastrophic consequences. The companies that run these nuclear businesses must accept significant responsibilities towards the economy and community.

In short, this means that if there is a nuclear incident, regardless of the cause, with the exception of an act of war, civil war or insurrection, the facility operator is responsible and must compensate those affected.

In addition to updating the responsibilities of nuclear plant operators, the bill also significantly increases the financial limit on this responsibility, from $75 million to $650 million. I would remind the House that the federal government has not reviewed that limit since 1976. That is unbelievable. We know that this Parliament can be very slow to react to new situations that come up in Quebec and the rest of Canada and this is a perfect example.

It was definitely time to increase the liability of these companies. This is a significant jump, which is an excellent reminder that it is precisely because of the federal government's mismanagement and failure to periodically adjust the amount that such a drastic adjustment is needed at this time. The amount should be adjusted regularly—more often than every 30 years.

If the federal government had fulfilled its responsibilities in this matter since the bill was first enacted, 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.

Lastly, Bill C-15 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 debate we are having on this bill today serves as a powerful reminder that the government has very little credibility when it comes to nuclear energy. I know that my colleague across the floor will not appreciate that statement, but it is an important and fundamental observation. I must also warn the government on this.

We wonder why the government is so enthusiastic about this energy source. It is always saying that nuclear energy is clean, yet it has not solved the problem of how to manage the nuclear waste that has accumulated over many years. It has not yet found a good way to manage this waste. If it had, it would not have to go to such lengths to regulate and define nuclear plant operators' legal and financial liability. We believe that nuclear energy is dirty energy, which is why this bill provides for a very elaborate liability regime in the event of a nuclear incident.

As I said in my speech, nuclear incidents have catastrophic economic, social and human costs. The people of Mauricie are concerned about the development and management of the Gentilly-2 nuclear plant, and they need information. They have been living with this plant for a number of years now, but naturally they have concerns. The people need reassurance, and they need more information about nuclear plant management, nuclear safety and the health impact of nuclear power.

The Conservative government, which continues to be optimistic about nuclear energy and especially its potential use in extracting oil from the oil sands, should exercise caution, because this energy source is far from universally accepted and carries risks that are far from benign. Without being alarmist, we have to realize that nuclear energy should not be this government's first choice.

At a time of climate change and sustainable development, going the nuclear route is not a sustainable solution, particularly because there is a lack of expertise in managing nuclear waste. By making bad choices, the government will end up shifting the environmental burden the nuclear industry leaves behind onto the shoulders of the next generation.

Although nuclear energy produces only a small amount of greenhouse gas, it does produce radioactive waste that is difficult and expensive to manage.

We often hear it said that nuclear energy is not expensive. However, the investment required to build a plant and the cost of managing nuclear waste are astronomical. We should spend more on green energy such as wind, geothermal or other forms of energy that are much cleaner.

In our opinion, the government should concentrate on these new emerging and alternative forms of energy instead of putting all its eggs in the nuclear basket.

Unlike nuclear energy, really clean energy such as solar energy and hydroelectricity are not a threat to people's health and safety. The government should adopt a long-term energy policy based on the implementation of an energy conservation program and significant bolstering of funding to develop renewable sources of energy.

The Bloc Québécois will carefully examine Bill C-15 in committee to ensure that it has no loopholes enabling operators to shirk their responsibilities under the bill.

The bill increases the liability of businesses from $75 million to $650 million, which is a significant improvement. However, we know that the international average is $1.4 billion. American and European governments require even higher amounts from nuclear operators. Therefore, we still have work to do. However, this bill is a step forward and for that reason we are supporting it.

Taxpayers should not share the risk and the cost of compensation. In recent years, the trend has been to give the profits to the private sector and to give the losses to the public sector. This must not happen with the management of nuclear energy.

Finally, the amount of insurance coverage should be reviewed regularly to ensure that it is in compliance with international standards and that it represents the real cost of the damage that may result from a nuclear accident.

I will close by stating that the Bloc Québécois will support this bill because it increases the liability of operators substantially, from $75 million to $650 million. Nuclear safety should always be questioned because people often worry about nuclear malfunctions or accidents that could happen and seriously affect their lives, as we have seen with nuclear accidents in recent years.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

May 14th, 2010 / 12:30 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's speech. I know he is very knowledgeable about Bill C-15. The bill has come before us now probably five years. Many of us spoke to this bill last year.

Fundamentally, the NDP disagree with any limitation of liability for the nuclear industry. We would prefer to follow the A tier of companies, the European countries, Belgium, Germany, Slovenia, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Norway and the United Kingdom, which have unlimited liability, rather than the second tier of countries, Chile, Romania, Uruguay, Mexico and Poland, which have far less liability. Because the OECD countries have picked a much higher limit for countries such as England and France and since we are in that league, we should follow the unlimited liability provisions.

Does the member agree with that assessment? If that is the case, then we have to do some work on the bill in committee.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

May 14th, 2010 / 12:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question. As I mentioned in my speech on nuclear safety, nuclear plant operators must assume the liability

We believe that increasing compensation from $75 million to $650 million for damages or nuclear disasters caused by a defect or malfunction is a step forward. This bill can be improved even more if that is the will of Parliament. However, we think it is a step in the right direction, and that this increase, which is still significant, more appropriately responds to the new reality of operating a nuclear plant.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

May 14th, 2010 / 12:30 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, members will more than likely know, and certainly in my lifetime, since 1952, there have been 81 nuclear accidents. During that time, we have been unable to determine that one accident in hydroelectric power. That brings me to a fundamental point, which is whether and when the government will get online and support an east-west power grid.

The Minister of State for Democratic Reform, a fellow member of Parliament from Winnipeg, has advocated it in his caucus to no avail so far. Manitoba has enormous hydroelectric power. Quebec has hydroelectric power. It is about time we took over Sir John A. Macdonald's dream of uniting the country with a national railway and build an east-west power grid so we could send clean, renewable hydroelectric power from Manitoba's north into Ontario. That would help it to stop the use of coal-fired plants and it would not have to develop nuclear power.

It is very clear that nuclear power is still an uphill battle. Literally no one wants a nuclear plant built in his or her jurisdiction. We will find residents up in arms over any initiative to do this. This is not to mention the fact that it will take many years to put this together. We need power in a much shorter term than what it would take to develop this nuclear facility.

Could the member comment on that?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

May 14th, 2010 / 12:35 p.m.
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Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I said in my speech, I do not support nuclear energy and, personally, I do not think of it as clean energy. I think the government should invest more in renewable energy and much cleaner energy, such as hydroelectricity, as well as geothermal energy, solar power and wind energy. However, as we saw in its most recent budget, the Conservative government has not made the choice to step up development of these renewable energy sources.

If we continue on the same path, in a few years—not many years—Canada will lag behind in developing new forms of energy. Research is being done all over Europe. Even the Americans have invested huge amounts of money in renewable energy. Here in Canada, we are stuck with a dinosaur of a government, as we would say in Quebec. We are already lagging behind when it comes to investments in renewable energy sources.

With nuclear energy always comes the problem of nuclear waste. What do we do with the waste? That is always the big question.

There is a nuclear power plant in my riding, which creates a great deal of uncertainty among the people. They need to be reassured and safety needs to maximized to ensure that this energy is regulated and monitored as much as possible. The government also needs to ensure the utmost human, social, and economic security, as well as public health.

In that regard, I agree with my NDP colleague.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

May 14th, 2010 / 12:35 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to follow up with another question.

The member may or may not be aware, but a German politician by the name of Scheer has been single-handedly responsible for moving Germany in the area of renewable energy sources. As a matter of fact, I believe he may have been responsible for taking a Canadian company. I believe Mr. MacLellan from southern Ontario, who has the best solar panels in the world, could not get a hearing from the Ontario government or the federal government. In fact, the German government poached him and his plant and it has built a plant now in East Germany where it is producing a huge percentage of the solar panels used in the world. The panels are being manufactured in Germany and Germany is moving miles ahead in terms of wind power and solar power.

Does the member not agree that that is what we should be doing in Canada, especially since we have a Canadian who developed the solar panels?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

May 14th, 2010 / 12:35 p.m.
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Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again, I would like to thank my colleague for his question.

In Canada, we are going to bat for a matter of vital importance, that is, the development of green energy. Quebec has reached an important turning point, which has even been noted abroad. If Quebec were a sovereign nation, I believe that it would be admired for its green energy initiatives. We have invested extraordinary amounts in Hydro-Québec—which develops clean energy—and in wind energy. We are also looking at solar energy. The people want good air and water quality, a good quality of life overall. That is not presently the case with the Conservative government, which seems to want to exploit the oil sands, and perhaps even go with nuclear power because it believes it will reduce pollution. That is not true.

Therefore, the rest of Canada has a lot of work to do to develop green energy. The economic stimulus package with its infrastructure programs could have been a good opportunity to develop green energy initiatives, but it did not happen. The government said absolutely nothing about this.

The Conservative government will have to wake up and realize that it is 2010, that we are no longer in the 1950s, and that turning to renewable and green energy represents the future of our children.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

May 14th, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-15. As I indicated before, this bill has been reintroduced after the Prime Minister prorogued the House. We dealt with the bill last year and it has been in the pipeline now for something like five years. Hopefully we will get something done with this bill and many other bills if the government quits proroguing the House whenever it feels threatened. It is an enormous cost to legislative time and effort to reintroduce and begin the process all over again on these bills.

I want to follow up on what the previous speaker dealt with in questions and answers. I think it is very fair to say at the outset that Canada is strewn with missed opportunities. For example, in the wind power environment, as early as 1991, wind power was being developed in Pincher Creek, Alberta. In those days, there were small wind turbines and it was the beginning of wind power development in Canada.

The Conservative government in Manitoba could have moved at that time and developed wind power but it did not. It sat and watched the world go by for another 10 years. It finally got into the wind power business only five or six years ago under an NDP government. The first wind farm in Manitoba was set up and it had 99 megawatts of power.

Saskatchewan has a wind farm set up in Gull Lake that is an operating farm in the intervening period. The reality is that we have developed wind power in a very sporadic way in this country, unlike Europe which has a much more comprehensive approach to the whole area of wind power development and, I might add, solar power development.

I did mention a politician in Germany, known as Mr. Scheer, who is recognized as a leader in alternative energy and as being an advocate and a champion for the alternative energy sector. I believe he had something to do with a case where a man named Mr. MacLellan tried to build a solar panel plant in southern Ontario. He approached the Ontario government and the federal government and he did not get any type of agreement or any enthusiasm from them. I believe he was actually approached by the German government, which offered to help subsidize his plant. I think the German government paid for most of his plant and built it in East Germany. The reason this was done is that the Germans recognized that this Canadian had developed one of the best solar panels in the world and they wanted to capture this technology and develop it in Germany.

This man now has a huge plant in East Germany that is running at full capacity. I believe there are plans for him to either expand the existing plant or build another plant in East Germany just to keep up with the demand for solar panels.

When we were looking at the wind farm business in Canada, and particularly in Manitoba, we were thinking about how we could develop some secondary industry here. The turbines are being bought from Vestus and General Electric. They are being manufactured offshore and are being brought to Canada. We thought that we could somehow get in on the ground floor and start manufacturing these wind turbines.

The fact is that there are all sorts of missed opportunities here. In the area of wind turbines and solar panels, it took the aggressive nature of the German government to see the opportunity, seize the opportunity and get the Canadian entrepreneur onside and over to East Germany producing these solar panels.

What does Germany have out of this? It has a great lead in developing solar panels and wind technologies. Those little wind turbines in Pincher Creek in 1991 were just tiny machines and they are still there. One can go out and see some of them still operating. They are very tiny compared to the new one megawatt and two megawatt wind turbines. Why did that happen? It happened because Vestus and established companies like it have now used their technology to build bigger products.

How does a jurisdiction like Manitoba, Saskatchewan or Alberta for that matter, even get on the ground floor now? The train has already left the station and it is in Germany. As a matter of fact, there are examples of German farms. A television program outlined this whole situation recently. It interviewed people in Germany who have solar panels on their own barns. They are not only producing enough energy to power their entire farm operations, but they are selling the surplus on the grid.

Let us juxtapose that with what is happening in Canada. They interviewed a Canadian farmer. This poor Canadian farmer came here from Holland a number of years ago and he wants to develop wind capabilities on his farm. He was given the runaround by the Ontario Hydro facilities. Not only did he have to pay for the hookup to the power line himself, but he is still having problems hooking up, and this is to sell his excess power to the grid.

It really is comical, when one looks at it, to see how many missed opportunities this country has had. It is very sad. We see that Mr. Scheer in Europe and his Canadian partner in Arise Technologies, Mr. MacLellan, are now transforming the German economy. They are getting the German economy off non-renewables and getting the German economy on renewable fuels. We should be doing more that actually works. We can look at examples of best practices and we should be following Germany.

I want to deal once again with another issue. I know my colleague, the member for Ottawa Centre, is very keen on this issue as well. Even though he is not from my province, he knows a lot about my province. He accepts and understands that Winnipeg does have and has had the longest skating rink in the country for several years now. In any event, he is very understanding, as is the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, and I give him full credit.

I do not know what the Conservative MPs from Manitoba and Saskatchewan are doing over there, but if I were part of that group, I would be joining the Minister of State for Democratic Reform and banging on the door of the government ministers, demanding that we develop an east-west power grid, in the tradition of John A. Macdonald who had the vision to tie this country together 100 years ago and build a railway across this country, which was absolutely astounding and visionary in his day. We could do the same thing with an east-west power grid.

When we look at a map of the country, what do we see with power lines, with oil pipelines and with gas pipelines? The member for Ottawa Centre said, “Going south”. That is exactly right. Every single one of the pipelines heads to the United States, heads south, when in fact we should be looking at trying to keep this country together and have the lines running east-west, particularly with regard to electricity.

We in Manitoba are selling our power into the United States, and we are happy to do it. We are developing more hydro plants currently and we will be selling more power into the United States, but it seems to me fairly obvious that what we should be doing is selling this power east-west.

Ontario has a long-identified problem. As a matter of fact, the Gary Filmon government and the Bob Rae government way back in 1991 were on the verge of signing an agreement to build an east-west power grid to bring Manitoba power to Ontario, to get rid of the coal-fired power plants in Ontario.

Now the option is nuclear. That is some option. I can certainly agree with leaving coal-fired plants, but to think that somehow nuclear is the new development, the new frontier, is basically through the past darkly. We are going into the past. We are going with something we know does not work.

As I have indicated, in my lifetime there have been 81 nuclear accidents causing all kinds of damage, whereas we know of no hydroelectric damage that has ever caused loss of life and loss of property.

Our orientation in this country is all wrong when it comes to energy. It is not as if we are trying to reinvent the wheel here. We had the leader in solar panel development right in our backyard, a Canadian living here in Canada, who had to pull up stakes and move to Germany because we did not have the common sense, nor the good sense, to take him up on his offer and help him build a plant. Now of course we will be buying our solar panels from Germany and we will have to get in line, because there is a long waiting list for those panels.

This bill probably would have been good if it had been brought in 10 years ago. The limit of liability is currently $75 million. We are looking at going up to $600 million, but we are now moving into an environment where there is a group of countries with unlimited liability. That is what we should be looking at doing. We should be joining the likes of Belgium, Germany, Slovenia, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Norway and the United Kingdom. These countries have signed onto agreements which are going to increase their nuclear liability into the unlimited category.

As a matter of fact, all of the group A countries are signatories to the 2004 amending protocol to the Paris convention on Third Party Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy which sets a minimum liability for nuclear power operators at about $1 billion Canadian. There is compensation from state funds as well.

I want to also point out that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is an issue that is driving the agenda at the moment. I listened to committee hearings yesterday where the president of BP Canada was not really even familiar with the rules and the penalties. When representatives were asked by our critic, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, whether the chair of the natural resources committee would endeavour to get in touch with the Americans to find out what the rules are because they did not know what the rules are, he said he thinks the Americans are pretty busy right now with the oil spill.

Fortunately, there are members of the House whom I was lucky enough to be with last weekend for the Canada-U.S. meetings in New Orleans. On Sunday morning we were given a briefing on the oil spill. Without getting into a lot of specifics, the congressman who is well known to many people in this House and has been around for over 30 years was very pessimistic in his report to our group after the authorities gave their presentation.

We are seriously looking at very difficult circumstances where this drilling rig is operating.

I asked a question about the total liability of the spill and what the penalties would be. I believe we were told that there is a fund to which companies contribute, but the limit of liability is in the $100 million range. If British Petroleum is judged to be negligent, it becomes an unlimited liability. Just a few weeks ago BP had very happy shareholders because one of the oil companies made about $15 billion in profit in the last couple of years, so it has a rosy future because government is reducing the corporate taxes. Even so, BP shareholders who just a few weeks ago were having a very happy existence may find their shares being worth very little if the company ends up going out of business as a result of what potentially could be an almost unlimited liability in the case of this oil spill.

Fundamentally we have to hold these companies accountable. If that is what happens to BP, then that is what should happen because the public should not be shoring up private industry. If private industry wants to insist upon drilling at ridiculously deep levels without having proper relief wells in place and without having all the backups, then they have to assume full liability.

Our approach here is that we have to nurture the industry, give them all kinds of incentives and limit their liability. If we do that, the taxpayers are the ones who will end up with all the residual costs at the end of the process when there is an accident and meanwhile, the shareholders will be laughing all the way to the bank.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

May 14th, 2010 / 1 p.m.
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Bloc

Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona on his speech. He is quite involved in a number of different bills. However, I missed part of his presentation.

Since we are talking about Bill C-15, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, I would like to ask him whether he touched on Bill C-9, on budget implementation. If not, I would like him to say a few words about it.

Since that is an omnibus bill, the sale of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited assets also just happens to be included in it. Tendering has begun on the sale of AECL's reactor business. I wonder whether the hon. member has studied this issue within the bill we are currently studying, in terms of liability. Are we sure that liability for the reactors will be transferred to the potential buyer? What are his thoughts on this?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

May 14th, 2010 / 1 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do not really think we have changed our view on that over the last year because we feel at the end of the day that the government will be planning perhaps to divest itself of the assets, that asset and many other assets. If the purchaser happens to be an American company, for example, or a company from anywhere else, the company would be very pleased to find itself in a situation where it would have extremely limited liability which would save on its insurance costs.

I want to make a comment about the whole issue of insurance. For some reason the suggestion is that the nuclear consortium can somehow access certain levels of insurance. I have some experience in that area over a large number of years, and I can say that insurance premiums go up and down a lot. It all depends on the reinsurance treaties which are signed every year in London, England on January 1. That is what tells us what we are going to pay for insurance on various items that we are ensuring.

A big catastrophe like 9/11 cost Warren Buffett, who owns one of the reinsurance companies, $3 billion. That money is going to be recouped through increased car insurance, house insurance and all sorts of other insurance rates in the years following.

Insurance markets are highly unpredictable particularly in the area of liability.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

May 14th, 2010 / 1 p.m.
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NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a question regarding this piece of legislation, which the government tried to pass before, linking it to what many see as a subsidy for an industry that has always required a subsidy.

I remember being in Washington and being briefed on the whole issue of nuclear disarmament. Someone who saw himself as a conservative said unequivocally that there has not been one example where nuclear power has not had massive subsidies and in fact it was the most subsidized industry. He said that anyone could try to bring forward an example and he would show unequivocally that it was subsidized massively.

Is this not just another subsidy to industry by way of a liability piece? If so, should we not be focusing on that for the real cost because this legislation covers industry?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

May 14th, 2010 / 1:05 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, absolutely. When a limit is put on the liability, it is telling the business what its ultimate, top-end cost is going to be. Businesses like that. They like to know what their costs are going to be.

What it is also telling the public is that all the excess costs are going to be borne by the taxpayer. We are not talking about a little bit of money here; we are talking about a tremendous amount of money.

The insurance consortium tells us today that it will be able to get limits of whatever amount, $1 billion or whatever it tells us, but because events in the insurance markets are outside of its control, it will come to us in another year or two from now and say, “Sorry, but our insurers withdrew the terms” or the insurance company put some restrictions, or the insurance company doubled or tripled the premiums.

A number of years ago, in 1986 in Manitoba, liability insurance rates went up so drastically and so fast that playground equipment manufacturers could not get liability. When they could not get liability, they could not produce the product and they could not sell it to the City of Winnipeg. And that is just playground equipment.

When it comes to liability, insurance runs the entire economy.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

May 14th, 2010 / 1:05 p.m.
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Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was listening to my colleague. In his speech, he talked about nuclear energy. The Conservative government currently wants to develop nuclear energy more fully to extract oil from the oil sands. Its argument is that this will reduce some of the pollution created from the oil sands operations. I do not think nuclear energy is the answer because it generates radioactive and nuclear waste that no one knows what to do with.

I would like the hon. member to say a few words about the Conservative government's desire to develop the oil sands.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

May 14th, 2010 / 1:05 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to answer the question by expanding on reasons why we should not be going the nuclear route.

We have to look at the total cost of the nuclear option. One of the costs of the nuclear option is the storage of waste. There was talk of storing nuclear waste in Pinawa, Manitoba. Even though it is a fairly sparsely populated area, people were outraged. They were organized. They were going to stop this.

Where are they going to put the waste? No matter where they try to put it in this country, people are going to be protesting and trying to stop it. That is a huge cost here.

The waste has to be stored for a long time. We cannot do what the Russians were doing a number of years ago, simply dumping the waste into the oceans. We cannot do something like that.

Why would they want to embark on an avenue where the costs are huge and where they cannot get public buy-in on the area of waste? Where are they going to get buy-in today, in 2010, to situate a nuclear plant? No matter where they try to do it in this country, people are going to try to stop it. Now they are looking at a decade, maybe, before they can get these plants on stream.

If they were to spend that time on wind or solar or developing the east-west power grid, we could have much safer renewable energy on stream in half the time and not have to worry about storage or damage.

I have indicated we have had 81 nuclear accidents in my lifetime. We have had zero hydroelectric power accidents. That is a very compelling argument for going the route of traditional hydroelectric development or wind and solar versus nuclear, which is just riddled with problems.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

May 14th, 2010 / 1:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in opposition to the bill the government has put forward. I suppose it is actually not a surprise to many, because this bill was in front of the House before prorogation and it has come back again. Sadly, we cannot seem to shake it. The bill's problems are many and my colleagues have outlined some of them.

I would like to situate the beginning of my comments on where we are with regard to the whole nuclear question globally. Talks are taking place right now in the NPT review, the review of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and many are looking to Canada to see if it is going to put its words into action with regard to non-proliferation.

There is a consensus that if we are going to deal with what is a very dangerous situation with nuclear proliferation, we have to look at all sources and the transfer of technologies and materials and we have to make sure the materials are locked down and secure, so they do not get into the hands of those who would proliferate nuclear weapons.

I say that because we know the history of Canada's involvement in selling nuclear materials and technologies abroad. It continues to be a concern for many. I am of course speaking of the sale of technologies in the past to India, which were used to help proliferate nuclear weapons.

We have to look at what the real costs are of nuclear power. They are not just the costs involved in terms of materials used in nuclear technology but also the real costs embedded in this kind of technology. As has been mentioned by many speakers, the notion that we can look at nuclear power in isolation is naive at best, but truly just ignorant.

Looking at what happens to waste materials, we have to find some place for them to be situated forever and we still have not figured that out. When we look at the technologies, there are still risks. Some would say there have been improvements in terms of safety and oversight, but nothing is 100%.

I would note that those who were looking to do offshore drilling recently said that the chances of having the kind of situation we see now in the gulf were near to impossible. The same kinds arguments have been made when it comes to nuclear power. I do not have to state the number of times the notion that nuclear power is 100% safe has been proven wrong, and the costs for cleanup and health care are massive.

Here in Ottawa there is a wonderful initiative by the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. It is working with children who suffered from the nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl. The immediate effects of Chernobyl were known, but they languished. CHEO partnered with people who were not able to get the health care they needed.

We know what happened to the former Soviet Union as it fragmented into different countries. It did not have the capacity to deal with the kinds of latent illnesses that happened because of Chernobyl. It was a proud moment certainly for me in this community but also as a Canadian to see people help those who were affected.

I say that because some people believe, and we hear it time and time again from industry, that was the past and everything is fine now. One does not have to go very far or look too far back in history to see that concerns still exist. If people go the Ottawa River, they will see that, when there are concerns with Chalk River and worries about leaks, the way they are dealt with is rather interesting. The system is flushed and guess what happens to the water?

Unlike Pickering, where they contain the heavy water, the water that is just outside the doors of Parliament is flushed. That water goes into the system. It is not isolated or put aside. That is right here in the nation's capital, just upstream.

I say that because we still have not figured out Chalk River and the reactor there. That has been around since before I was born. It is something that we still have not figured out how to deal with. Many are rightly concerned about the nuclear materials and the effects of nuclear power that are going into the river here.

Where is the consensus? I think the consensus is that we have not been able to figure out a safe way of using nuclear power. We have people who will say we mitigate. We have people who say that we have changed the manner in which we deal with the waste materials and that we have made technology improvements around the operations in general. However, no one can say they are 100% secure.

When we put it together, if we are looking at non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and the lockdown and security of nuclear materials, every piece of the rubric that is nuclear power and nuclear weapons have to do with safety and the 100% assurance of the ability of all regulators and all countries to track and ensure that there are not going to be leaks or inappropriate transfers of technologies and materials. We have not reached that point.

I have heard the government say many times that it is the polluter-pay principle. We have a bill that says we are going to put a liability cap of $650 million. Where is the evidence for that? Why is it that threshold? Look at all of our partners in this business. They are pretty clear that this does not match that risk assessment I was mentioning before. In other words, when one looks at the amount of money that is being suggested in this bill versus what the real costs would be in case of potential accidents, this does not work.

Some go as far as to say that we should not have a cap at all. It is a strong argument, in fact. That would put the real costs on those who are involved in the industry. I think it is a fair comment, but we should at least fall in line with the group of countries that has been mentioned before. The international standards list has been read before, but I will read it again. We should at least align ourselves with Belgium, Germany, Slovenia, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Norway and the United Kingdom.

Many would say that we share company with these countries in the OECD. The OECD countries that I just mentioned all get it. They understand that coefficient between liability or risk and what is an appropriate cost. They find it laughable that Canada would be so naive as to think that $650 million is going to do it.

If we look at who we associate ourselves with, we get into countries with which I normally would not situate Canada: Moldova, Cameroon, former Yugoslavian countries and Uruguay. It is nothing against them. They have a capacity challenge. That is who we are associating ourselves with. I would ask the government if that is the best we can do. Why is there this limitation? That is what Canadians need to know. We need to know that we are doing the best we can when it comes to nuclear power.

Look at the real costs. It is not just a liability question. It is also the materials and the development, the front-end load costs of nuclear power. We saw the disaster here in Ontario in the 1970s and 1980s. The costs are runaway costs to this day.

It makes the Olympic stadium look like a tea party, and an affordable one at that, when we look at the real costs we continue pay in this province for a technology that really has nothing but question marks around it. This is, by way of legislation, giving the signals to industry and to those who engage in nuclear power to not worry about the liability piece because we will take care of it.

When we look at the costs embedded and what is going to be on the tab for taxpayers, it makes little sense. Take a look at what the comparison of international liability regimes says. I know my colleagues have talked about this. The Paris conventions on nuclear compensation were amended just a couple of years ago, because essentially the protocols were out of date. That is a common thing to do for international conventions. The amendments allow for an extension of the indemnity limit from 10 to 30 years. Many would say that we should be going beyond that, and I would be one of those.

They also eliminate the previous maximum limit of €75 million, which was in the old conventions, and instead impose a minimum liability of at least €700 million. That amounts to $1 billion Canadian. So we have the Paris convention, one that is recognized as the standard for liability regimes, and it is indicating a price point much higher than what the government is offering here.

Further to the convention, it says that the amendments raise the total financial security provided to €1,500 million for operator liability. The breakdown is €700 million for operator liability and €500 million of public funds. The countries that have signed on to this agreement are included but not limited to Germany, Denmark, France, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.K. Sadly, what is glaringly omitted from that list is Canada. I could also put the blame here on the previous government. That could have been something that was signed off in 2004, but it wasn't.

We have to look at where Canada is on the issue. We are involved and implicated not only in the industry, but also in how we are seen in terms of the specific issue of liability. That matters, because if we are looking to be seen as a player on the international stage when it comes to energy security, we have to look at what the supports are and what the conditions are for the energy that we are using.

We know that there have been plans to use this technology in the development of the tar sands. We know that there has been talk of expansion in other provinces. The opportunity cost is vast when we decide to go nuclear and we have to consider the cost to the taxpayer if it goes wrong. There is a lack of money available for investment in things such as the east-west grid, but I cannot encourage the government more. I know that the member for Winnipeg, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, understands and I hope that the Minister of the Environment supports the idea that we must get behind the east-west grid.

Before we get into shovelling money over to the nuclear industry, we should be investing in conservation. We should be looking at investing heavily in the east-west grid. If we are going to kick the carbon habit as much as we should, then clearly we need to look at an east-west grid. We are leaking green energy right now. It is going south. It is going to the United States. Look at Quebec. Look at Manitoba. Where are those grid lines going with the surplus hydroelectric energy? They are going south.

Sir John A. Macdonald would be flipping in his grave right now if he saw what has happened. He built the spine of this country. He was a great man, a Progressive Conservative, a good guy, a member of the grand old party. Now look at what has happened. Now he would see this government and the others not looking west or east, but looking south and saying, “There, take our green energy”.

Imagine if Sir John A. himself, instead of building a railway from coast to coast in this country, had said, “We can make a buck off the Grand Trunk and send it south. We won't bother with that”.

That is what is happening right now. It is not because provinces do not want it. In fact, Manitoba, and I am sure Quebec, want to see us invest in an east-west grid so that we do not have to rely on expensive and dodgy energy sources like nukes. Not one single nuclear project in this country has been revenue neutral. There has not been one. They have all had massive subsidies.

I have to say when members, who I hear from time to time putting on the vestments of being very prudent with the dollar, get behind a proposition like this and get behind nukes, I am sorry, but their credibility is shot.

I challenge anyone on the other side or my friends in the Liberal Party who support the bill to show me a nuclear project that actually did not cost taxpayers a bundle.

We cannot just dress it up under liability laws and think that people will not get it. The day we have a problem is the day taxpayers will have to pay the largest portion of it.

When we consider the bill, we must consider in the opportunity-cost argument here the fact that we are not investing appropriately in wind, in solar, in creating that infrastructure that I mentioned, the east-west grid across this country. Right down the street here, there is a new housing development. It is doing geothermal. It is not getting the subsidies that it should, but it is getting some.

However, if it were in Sweden, for example, it would actually be getting subsidies at the front end to pay off and be revenue neutral and would actually put energy on the grid in the future, instead of putting taxpayers at risk and putting us in a situation that this bill certainly will as it exposes citizens to the risk of this technology.

If this technology is so safe and so great, then why do we not just take the cap off it and let it be unlimited?

Through the bill, the government has clearly acknowledged that there is a problem with this technology, that this technology is not stable, that it is vulnerable, and so we are going to be exposed. That will happen in legislation, and that cap of $650 million, that pittance that puts us outside of the club A of all those countries that see the equation between risk and benefit and exposure, will put Canada beyond that risk.

I urge members to take another look at this. I think the government has drunk the heavy water on this. When we look at it, the question is this. Are we going to align ourselves with those in Latvia, Moldova, Cameroon, and Belarus who have capacity problems? I am not blaming them. Or are we going to align ourselves with Belgium, Denmark, the U.K., the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, and France? Whose side are we going to choose? Will it be the one that is the club for those who are basically saying let it rip and let taxpayers pay the price, or are we going to go with the responsible, sensible legislation through which we will not put taxpayers at risk, we will acknowledge the real cost of nuclear energy, and make sure that Canadians get a stable investment in energy and look at things like the east-west grid? Or are we just going to throw this up as a fig leaf over a reactor and say that all is fine and we will be okay?

We will rue the day, as will the government, when there is an accident, because it will come back to haunt them, and it will be this piece of legislation.