House of Commons Hansard #128 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nuclear.

Topics

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

Does the hon. member for Rimouski-Témiscouata wish to continue her speech? There is no motion before the House except the motion for third reading.

If she wishes to speak to this motion for third reading, she is now welcome to do so, but if she has finished, we will resume debate.

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

René Canuel Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-23. We got involved in the production of nuclear energy without being in a position to ensure the consequences properly.

We got involved in the development and production of nuclear energy without really knowing all the ins and outs of it. For years, we have been producing tons of nuclear waste without being able to handle that waste properly.

Our governments have not been equipped to properly manage the hazards to public health, and to the environment in particular. Our governments have been particularly incapable of proper monitoring, as we are well aware.

It is, therefore, not surprising that every time there is an attempt to develop or use a new nuclear technology, environmental organizations and the general public are up in arms. As you are aware, there is a lot of fear among the public.

We must not close our eyes, either, to the fact that the current arsenal of nuclear weapons in circulation on this planet represents a risk of totally annihilating the human race, and the public is very much aware of this.

We all know that there are impressive quantities of nuclear weapons, plutonium and heavy water in Russia, and our governments fear a black market may develop. Non-democratic countries and terrorist groups might get their hands on atomic weapons or on the raw materials for producing such weapons. Even small countries can get them.

I see Bill C-23 as only a tiny step toward enhanced government control, and one that is way too late in coming. It is a very tiny response to the justified fear of the public, of Quebecers in particular.

This bill does not, in fact, solve anything much. In particular, it does not get to the heart of the problem.

Will we really be better protected when this bill is passed? Hardly. What is this government doing to prevent the use of nuclear products in weapons of destruction? I do not think Bill C-23 provides the answer to this question.

As citizens we may well wonder whether this government realizes that mankind is living on top of a volcano. The existing legislation, which goes back to 1946, maintained an almost incestuous relationship between research, marketing and control. There was a genuine conflict of interest.

Fortunately, the bill proposes to separate the two components. How could anyone expect those who develop new technologies and are supposed to market them to exercise effective and much needed controls?

It is like asking the big oil companies to calibrate gas pumps. Not that I do not trust them, but I have very little doubt they would try to take advantage of the situation. So it took the federal government 50 years to realize that this legislation was ill conceived and did not satisfactorily protect the interests of Quebecers and Canadians.

How can you expect the public, which has many fears about nuclear energy, to start trusting this government and the new nuclear safety commission? This public trust will be extremely difficult to rebuild, and I can hardly believe that, with the passage of this bill, all problems will disappear.

In fact, I expect the government wants us to forget the latest visit of the Prime Minister to Russia, when there was some talk of purchasing nuclear waste and processing it here in Canada. At the time, this decision raised a wave of public protest.

There is another matter the government probably could have dealt with as well by examining the question of nuclear energy and introducing a bill on the subject. All things considered, if we analyse research and development investments in the nuclear energy sector in Canada, it is clear that one province alone enjoys practically all the economic spinoffs in this sector. I am of course referring to the province of Ontario.

Who else in confederation is as well endowed with the largesse of the federal government? Who else in this confederation has a vested interest in maintaining Atomic Energy of Canada Limited? Who else in this confederation gets so many of the spinoffs of this industry? It is Ontario, always Ontario, that is the winner in the area of research and development.

If the government were half way serious, it would have used the opportunity to consider the question. In this area in particular, it could have extended its generosity to Quebec. It provides strong support for nuclear energy simply as a favour to the industry in Ontario, in my opinion.

I had hoped that the federal government would commit to better distribute its research and development funds by amending this bill. I am not saying give Quebec the advantage, but give it what it is entitled to. It did the very opposite. We saw this recently with the closing of the regional offices of Atomic Energy of Canada, including those in Montreal. They close the Montreal offices and open others in Ontario.

I would also have hoped that the government would make clear its desire for more research and development projects on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Nuclear medicine has a very definite place, and funding should be increased to enable hospitals to do research. The public will accept atomic energy only when it sees its peaceful uses and its role in everyday life and only when it sees the government has established near perfect means to control the risks involved in its use and development.

The introduction of this bill in the House could also have raised the issue of funding for Atomic Energy of Canada for debate.

I would now like to discuss the funding of the sale of Candu reactors around the world. It is all very well to make sales, but do the countries receiving them have the means to protect themselves and their people? What about financing the sale of CANDU reactors throughout the world? Atomic Energy of Canada is just as much of a bottomless pit as the Hibernia project off Newfoundland may be.

Since this agency was created, billions of dollars have been sunk into it, and the government is only able to sell CANDU reactors by financing them with money from Canadian and Quebec taxpayers. In reality, the sale of CANDU reactors, with their supposedly safe technology, is nothing more than a clever way of subsidizing Atomic Energy of Canada.

This government would have done better to overhaul Atomic Energy of Canada's operations. The days when the government could squander taxpayers' money are long gone. When a government makes savage cuts to unemployment insurance, contemplates making cuts to old age pensions, and attacks the most disadvantaged members of society, it should start by cleaning up its own act.

The necessary clean-up has not been done at Atomic Energy Canada, and Bill C-23 would have provided an excellent opportunity to do just that. The timing was right. The government missed the boat in this case as in so many others. This is a half measure that will only disguise the true extent of the atomic energy management problem.

I think this bill comes too late. It is nevertheless worthwhile, except that it should have been better thought out. This is a bill that could have made a great many Canadians happy.

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Parry Sound-Muskoka-nuclear energy; the hon. member for Mackenzie-employment.

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Andy Mitchell Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Ontario.

I am very pleased to have an opportunity to speak on Bill C-23. As the chairman of the natural resources committee, I had an opportunity, along with many of my colleagues from all sides of the House, to study the bill in detail. A large number of witnesses came forward to provide us with a number of opinions, and concerns in some cases, about the bill.

I was pleased to see that during the report stage of this legislation that a number of changes were proposed by the government and were eventually incorporated into this bill.

I would like to take a moment to thank all of those people who took the time to testify before us as well as to thank my fellow members on the committee, many of whom are sitting here in the House right now, for the work that they did.

It is most important to recognize that this legislation is an attempt to find an appropriate balance. On the one hand it is an attempt to find a balance between ensuring the beneficial use of nuclear substances for the generation of power, medical research and medical technology, and on the other hand it is an attempt in putting in place a regulatory regime that ensures public safety and public health.

That is the balance that has to be found when dealing with the nuclear industry. Bill C-23 does just that. It gets that balance. It puts it in place and does it properly.

As some of the other speakers have mentioned previously in debate, this legislation is long overdue. The original legislation governing nuclear energy was passed in 1946. That is over 50 years ago. It was a time when the primary concern was one of national security, as opposed to one of public health and safety.

This legislation is long overdue and I applaud the Minister of Natural Resources for assuming the responsibility and after 50 some odd years bringing new legislation into the House that reflects the realities of the 1990s. Today we are far more concerned with the issues of health and safety than the concerns of national security.

As I mentioned in my opening comments, the bill looks to create a balance. I would like to quote clause 3 of the bill which deals with its purpose: "The purpose of this act is to provide for the development, production and use of nuclear energy and the production, possession and use of nuclear substances, prescribed equipment and prescribed information in a manner than prevents an unreasonable risk to national security, the environment or the health and safety of persons and is consistent with Canada's international obligations".

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry to have to ask once again for a quorum. We might make it into the Guinness book of records.

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

We do not have a quorum at this point.

Call in the members.

And the bells having stopped:

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

There is now a quorum. The hon. member for Parry Sound-Muskoka has the floor.

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Andy Mitchell Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is quite apparent the Bloc is trying to stretch this 50 year effort to finally update this bill to protect Canadians' health and safety with a few shenanigans, but I shall continue. Hopefully, we will get the concerns of Canadians through the House despite that.

As I was saying, there are a number of important objectives in this legislation. We have talked about the need to update the regulatory regime. We have talked about finding a balance.

As well, this bill gives the government the legislative authority to carry out its international obligations. Those international

obligations are very important. For instance, it allows Canada to work toward the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear explosive devices. We have undertaken important international agreements to try to stop the spread of nuclear weapons in the world. This legislation provides the government the tools it will need to carry out those international agreements. That is another important objective of the bill.

Fourth, all government departments have worked on streamlining the regulatory regime under which Canadians must operate. This bill works toward that end. It works toward ensuring that the carrying out of regulations will be done in an efficient and cost effective manner. That is another important objective of the bill.

There are a number of specific provisions in the bill. I would like to speak to a couple of the provisions which will work toward achieving the objectives of the legislation.

First, the bill will expand the size of the commission from five members to seven members. That will allow more expertise, more representation on the commission, so that when decisions are being made there will be a broader group of individuals with a broader range of expertise. They will be able to make better and more effective decisions.

Second, the bill has increased the level of fines for individuals or corporations which contravene their licences. That is very important. By doing that we will get away from the situation where a company might consider a very minor fine to be simply the cost of doing business and will continue to not follow the rules and regulations. The bill will introduce fines which have real teeth in them. The increased fines will be an incentive to companies to adhere to the rules and regulations of their licences. I am very pleased that the legislation gives the government the power to establish fines at a level which will serve as a deterrent.

Third, in dealing with the regulatory regime, the bill will give the federal government the power to delegate administrative functions to the provinces where they are best able to carry them out. We will be able to get away from the situation where one day a provincial inspector shows up to do one part of the job and the next day a federal inspectors shows up to do another part. That system is very inefficient. This bill will allow the provinces to delegate administrative responsibilities.

Fourth and very important is the whole idea of having public hearings. One of the concerns that we heard during the committee meetings was that there would not be sufficient public input for some of the very important decisions which the commission will have to undertake. Through what was originally in the legislation and through the amendments that were made, based in part on the information we received at committee, the legislation has been changed so that there will be mandatory public hearings where people will be able to review decisions. There will also be an appeal process.

I believe this is a good piece of legislation. It demonstrates clearly that the Minister of Natural Resources, in coming into office and seeing a difficult problem, was able to act. She acted on a legislative regime that had not been updated for 50 years. The Minister of Natural Resources stepped up to the challenge and put before the House good, solid legislation.

This bill was not quickly put together. The committee held six weeks of hearings to gather opinions from a broad range of individuals and groups. We were able to obtain a large amount of input which was used to make the bill better than it was when it was debated in the House at second reading.

This bill is about protecting the health and safety of Canadians. It is not about favouring one part of the country over another, about saying that Quebec gets all of this or Ontario gets all of this or the west gets all of this. That is not what this bill is all about, not what we in this House are about today.

It is about protecting Canadians' health and safety, about ensuring that we have a proper regulatory regime over the nuclear industry in this country, about making sure we protect the health and safety of Canadians.

I become quite fatigued when I hear on a bill that is as important as this, about the health and safety of Canadians, on a bill that deals with moving forward the agenda of protecting Canadians no matter where they live, comments about this part of the country getting more and that part of the country getting more. That has no place in this debate.

What this is about is a good piece of legislation, about protecting Canadians and making sure that the system works.

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

Mr. Speaker, this afternoon there is a kind of comedy taking place in this House. Across the floor, there are 177 seats held by elected government members, but we cannot get enough of them to have a quorum. In the last hour, we have had to ask for a quorum five times. I am again asking for a quorum.

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

There is not a quorum. Please ring the bells.

And the bells having rung:

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

I see a quorum. Questions and comments, the hon. member for Abitibi.

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

February 12th, 1997 / 4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Deshaies Abitibi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have an interesting question for the Liberal member, who is also the chairman of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources. The hon. member said this is a very important bill for the health and safety of Canadians.

I asked the natural resources committee to amend clause 3, which reads:

The purpose of this Act is to provide for a ) the limitation, to a reasonable level- of the risks- associated with the development, production and use of nuclear energy and the production, possession and use of nuclear substances, prescribed equipment, etc.

I would like the hon. member to tell me why he did not accept the amendment I proposed in committee. My amendment provided that the limitation should be not to a reasonable level, but to a minimum level. It is important for Canadians to understand that, when it comes to nuclear energy, the acceptable threshold should not really be the acceptable level, but that we should work to arrive at a minimum level. Given the current technology, this should be possible.

Could the hon. member tell me why he did not agree with this amendment, which sought to protect the well-being of Canadians?

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Andy Mitchell Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member worked very hard on this piece of legislation. We need to talk about finding a balance. I do not think that we can legislate every specific possibility that may come up at some time. If we look back to when the legislation was originally enacted in 1946 we will find things in the legislation which were not even imagined for 1996. That bill has had to serve over the last 50 years.

One integral part of the bill and of our regulatory regime is that we have a licensing board which stipulates on a case by case basis specific licenses established for each person to operate. The public should know that nobody handles this material in any form unless a licence has been issued to do so. Each situation is different. There is a big difference between a nuclear reactor and dealing with isotopes for medical research. Therefore there has to be some flexibility in the licensing regime.

When giving instructions to the commission to use the word reasonable, I believe that by using the word reasonable we are allowing the commission to deal with each situation given the events and the facts and the evolution of technology over the years and to give the flexibility necessary in the licensing process to deal with the health and safety of Canadians.

When trying to define a minimum standard when doing experimentation with isotopes it is going to be a whole lot different than a minimum standard for dealing with nuclear reactors or other types of licensees.

I believe that using the word reasonable and combining it with a strong board of seven members with some strong licensing powers and with some strong regulatory regimes with the ability to fine companies or individuals who ignore their licensing requirements will protect the health and safety of Canadians, which is the intent of the bill.

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Ontario, ON

Mr. Speaker, given the atmosphere this afternoon, I must say that I find it a bit unfortunate that, as soon as the Bloc Quebecois members, the member for Berthier-Montcalm and the member for Rimouski-Témiscouata, raised their point of order, they left the House.

I find it a bit unfortunate that these members did not stay for a speech that is very important, on a topic that is also very important, not just for Quebecers but for all Canadians.

I am well aware of this bill. I think it is an important bill and it certainly affects me as a member of Parliament whose riding has one of the largest nuclear facilities in the country.

I want to commend the hon. member for Parry Sound-Muskoka on the excellent job done in committee and getting the bill to third reading. I also want to take the opportunity to thank the parliamentary secretary, the member for Dauphin-Swan River, and the minister on their excellent effort on a bill that I think modernizes our need for legislation and gets a brings a piece of legislation that has been around for a long time up to speed.

As hon. members are aware, the purpose of Bill C-23 is to establish a more effective and efficient regulatory framework for Canada's nuclear industry. The nuclear industry provides many benefits to Canadians but if Canadians are to realize those benefits the risk associated with nuclear energy must be minimized.

In addition, Canadians must be confident that a nuclear regulator is fully able to ensure those risks are controlled. Their legislation will establish a modern regulatory regime for Canada's nuclear industry so that Canadians can have that confidence.

There are costs to regulation, both in financial terms and in terms of constraints placed upon industry and individuals who work or deal with the industry. But there are benefits as well. To put this legislation into perspective I would like to remind hon. members of

this House of the nuclear sector's contribution to economic growth, job creation and a healthy environment for all Canadians.

Canada is a fortunate nation in the sense that it has a variety of electricity sources. Hydroelectric power is the major source, producing 60 per cent of our supply. Thermal electricity, generated mostly by burning natural gas and coal, produces about 20 per cent of the supply. Nearly 20 per cent is provided by nuclear power.

Nuclear power is certainly important in Ontario not only for the sake of my riding, but for the entire province where it produces more than 60 per cent of the electrical supply. It is probably not news to this House but nuclear power produced in Canada uses Candu nuclear reactors. In Canada we have 22 reactors of which eight are in my riding; one finds itself in the province of Quebec, and there is one in New Brunswick. They are all licensed and regulated by the AECB, the Atomic Energy Control Board of Canada.

The Candu reactor is a Canadian high technology success story. In 1987 the Engineering Centennial Council listed the Candu as one of the ten most outstanding engineering achievements of the preceding century.

One of the most attractive features of the Candu reactor is that it uses natural uranium as fuel. Other types of reactors use enriched uranium. Producing enriched uranium is an expensive process and the technology is a secret very closely guarded by a handful of countries. Therefore the Candu design allows us to capitalize on our abundant uranium resources.

Yet another attractive feature of the Candu reactor is that it can be refuelled on line. This has helped to make Candu reactors among the most reliable in the world. Canadians can take great pride in the fact that in terms of lifetime capacity utilization, three of the world's top ten reactors and seven of the world's top twenty-five reactors are Candu.

It is equally important to Canadian industry that the Candu design does not require large high pressure reactor vessels. This gives Canadian firms a great share in the manufacturing and construction of these reactors.

The technical excellence of the Candu has made it a desirable product for export. Four have been sold to South Korea, one to Argentina and one to Romania. On November 26 Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. signed a contract to sell two Candu reactors to China. The nuclear industry is one of the few high tech industries that are actually net exporters of goods and services.

Nuclear energy and nuclear power are economical. The economies of scale associated with using nuclear power to generate electricity make it one of the lowest cost alternatives for meeting large base load demands.

During the 1970s and 1980s the cost of electricity from nuclear power plants in Ontario was on average about 30 per cent less than the cost of electricity from the more traditional conventional coal fired power plants. Electricity provided by natural gas and coal fired generating plants has become more economically attractive in the past 10 years but the cost of nuclear power remains competitive for large scale base load generation under a number of scenarios. Canada's nuclear power plants will continue to provide clean economical power for the foreseeable future, and we hope that will be a long one.

Canada is a pioneer in the use of nuclear technology to support material science. Nuclear technologies also have applications in the oil and gas, metals inspection and agricultural industries, to name a few. Canada is the world's leading producer and exporter of uranium, but for peaceful purposes.

Canada's nuclear technology is literally saving lives here and around the world. This may come as a surprise to those who are usually quick to discredit it. For the past 50 years, Canada has been an international leader in medical applications of nuclear technology. In particular, our nation has become the world's leading producer of radioisotopes, which my hon. colleague from Parry Sound-Muskoka spoke so eloquently on.

In particular Canada has become the world's leading producer of such isotopes as cobalt 60 which is used to treat cancer and technetium 99 which is essential to many diagnostic procedures. Many people are amazed to learn that about 25 per cent of patients admitted to hospital in Canada today undergo a diagnostic process that involves nuclear technology.

In considering Bill C-23, hon. members must not overlook the fact that the Canadian nuclear industry is also a major employer. In 1993, the last year for which figures are available, the industry directly employed about 26,000 people. At least 10,000 jobs in other sectors depended indirectly on the nuclear industry. Many of these highly skilled scientific, engineering and manufacturing jobs can be seen right across this country, including the benefits which arise in my own riding.

Nuclear power represents more than just jobs, industrial growth and export potential. It is also one of the most important means by which Canada can achieve its sustainable development goals. Quite simply, the sustainable development of Canada's resources is essential to our international competitiveness and the long term health of our economy and of course the maintenance of our higher standard of living.

A key element of the sustainable development challenge is Canada's commitment to control its emissions of greenhouse and acid gases. Along with hydro power, nuclear energy is essential to this effort. Neither of these electricity sources produces greenhouse or acid gases. As a result of Canada's strong reliance on hydro and nuclear power, which by the way is uncommon among OECD countries, our electricity sector produces a smaller proportion of the country's total greenhouse gas emissions compared with other countries that depend on traditional fossil fuels. In fact if we decide

not to have nuclear reactors, our electricity sector would emit about twice as much as it does now.

I would like to emphasize that all the activities I have described today are regulated by the Atomic Energy Control Board to ensure that workers, the public and the environment are not exposed to unnecessary risks. The AECB has ensured that these risks are very low indeed. The benefits associated with nuclear technology far outweigh its risks.

The bill before us today addresses several concerns relating to the regulation of the industry. I draw the attention of hon. members to two key points. First, the industry has standards of regulation which it must meet. It needs to know what powers the regulator's inspectors have and it needs to have access to a legal appeal mechanism. Second, the Canadian public has a legitimate interest in nuclear safety. Bill C-23 gives Canadians an opportunity to express concerns whenever major facilities are being licensed.

It is for those reasons that Bill C-23 in my view is a bill well worth supporting. It is a bill whose time has come. For the residents of Pickering I think this makes absolute sense. I commend the government and the minister of energy in pursuing this.

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4:50 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Deshaies Abitibi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House to speak to Bill C-23 at third reading.

As my Liberal colleague mentioned, I have done considerable work on this bill. I thought that nuclear energy was a very serious matter, and that, since the old act had been around for 50 years, a great deal of attention would have to be given to improving it.

I would like to take this opportunity to explain my point of view, which is that Bill C-23 will have to be transparent so things can be put in context.

While the existing act encompasses both the regulatory and developmental aspects of nuclear activities, this enactment disconnects the two functions, provides a distinct identity to the regulatory agency. It replaces the Atomic Energy Control Board with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, underlining its separate role from that of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. The role of the latter agency is to promote the sale of CANDU reactors, among other things. It also oversees the federal research, development and marketing organization for nuclear and atomic energy.

Since the act was first adopted in 1946, the mandate of the regulatory agency has evolved from one chiefly concerned with national security to one which focuses primarily on the control of the health and environmental safety consequences of nuclear activities.

This enactment provides the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission with a mandate to establish and enforce national standards in

this area. It also establishes a basis for implementing Canada's policy of fulfilling its obligations with respect to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

This new philosophy underlying Bill C-23 establishes a very reasonable basis for attaining objectives, but perhaps not enough time has been allowed to take a 50-year-old enactment and turn it into a modern piece of legislation. It must be remembered that the bill replaces a 50-year-old enactment dealing primarily with national security. It must be kept in mind that in 1950, after World War II, there was more interest in linking nuclear energy with bombs for war time use. Gradually the desire developed to show Canadians that this energy could also be a safe, easily produced, low cost, clean energy source.

Mr. Speaker, there are not many of us here, and the House is not really paying much attention. In light of the events that have taken place, and in order to continue this debate in a more serious manner, I therefore move:

That the House do now adjourn.

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?