House of Commons Hansard #116 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was industry.

Topics

Nuclear Liability and compensation Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, when the member for Windsor—Tecumseh speaks in the House with his knowledge and depth of understanding on this and many other issues, I think we all listen very carefully.

I would like to raise with him a question that concerns us very much in our caucus. He pointed very well to the long term nature and impact of nuclear accidents, incidents, storage, spills and all the rest of it, which concerns us in terms of the length of time that we are debating and what the bill before us applies to in terms of liability, but we are also very concerned about where the nuclear industry is going in Canada.

We have the issue of the status quo and what we now know exists in our country, but there are also moves afoot by the government and possibly other governments in terms of supplying energy to the United States, which is a huge problem. We need to take into account, as we debate the bill, that we may see an expansion of the nuclear industry in Canada.

We need to ask a question. Will the bill be adequate? We know that the current bill that is being amended was clearly inadequate. Everybody agrees that a significant change was needed in terms of the liability but the serious question is whether the changes that are being brought forward in Bill C-5 would begin to address even the status quo.

With the increase or expansion in the nuclear industry and capacity in Canada, we may, unfortunately, see an increased risk in terms of accidents, spills and situations that are dangerous, and then this bill becomes very critical.

Could the member comment in terms of what he might see as we move toward the future and the dangers the bill has because it is so limited?

Nuclear Liability and compensation Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, crucial to the debate is how our risk assessment is conducted by the nuclear industry, both for existing plants as well as new ones. It is not just the potential for new plants, which is a reality I think we will be confronting, it also involves existing plants because parts of a number of them are not functioning now and a lot of proposals on the political agenda are for them to be reactivated at very substantial cost. We are talking hundreds of millions of dollars at a minimum and usually several billions of dollars to get a reactor back online once it has been shut down and then the restoration has to be done.

The way the financing industry works, if we need to go to the private sector to borrow money, one of the things it looks at is what happens if it does not work and it has a mortgage or security against the property. In law in Ontario and in all of the common law provinces, when one places that kind of security on a property and there is default, the lender assumes ownership responsibility. As part of that ownership responsibility, the lender must face the consequences of the cleanup.

Therefore, a big financial institution could tell, let us say, the people at Bruce Nuclear that it is prepared to lend them $2 billion but that there is no way that it will accept responsibility for billions more dollars if there is a contamination. The institution could ask for a limitation on the liability because it wants the security of knowing it will not have to pay an additional $650 million if a disaster or any kind of substantial consequential leak from a rupture occurs. The lenders are really pushing for this.

People may wonder why a company would not just go to an insurance company and buy insurance. I will point out that there is fixed liability in the United States but it is $10 billion. The nuclear industry has been able to get insurance. We hear from the nuclear industry, which the government has bought into, that Canada could not get that kind of insurance, that the limits could not be set that high. I do not understand that.

Canada's insurance industry is as active and vibrant as it is in the United States. Given that we compete with the Americans with regard to producing energy, it seems to me that we should at least be playing on the same level playing field as they are. It is always the term we hear, mostly from Conservative economists, that we want to be on a level playing field but this is one of the times we would not be. It is to the detriment of Canadian society that we are not prepared to follow those rules even though they are demanded of us in so many other areas.

Therefore, even if we were to fix it at $10 billion, it would be a substantial improvement over this bill by a long shot.

The other thing it does is it forces the financier to look closely at the safety measures implemented by the operator. There is another check and balance, if I can put it that way, by that methodology and the greater the liability the closer that scrutiny is.

Nuclear Liability and compensation Act
Government Orders

Noon

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to speak to Bill C-5 regarding nuclear liability.

What is the cost of cleaning up a nuclear accident? We had a nuclear accident in the 1940s in New Mexico and a series of nuclear accidents in the 1950s in Russia, in Chalk River, Ontario and in Illinois. If I have time later, I will go through some of the examples.

However, the nuclear accidents that captured the public's attention the most were Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Windscale.

I pay a lot of attention to Chernobyl because we have seen a huge increase in the rate of thyroid cancer in children and families in Chernobyl. I know a lot about thyroid cancer because I have thyroid cancer and after studying the disease I noticed that one of the causes was exposure to nuclear reactors, nuclear waste or nuclear radiation.

Thyroid cancer is one of the fastest growing cancers in the world, aside from skin cancer, although both have a growth rate of about 5% per year.

What is the cost of helping survivors of this disease? Once the thyroid has been removed, people will need to take certain types of drugs for the rest of their life. The cost of the drugs, in a country where there may not be adequate health care or pharmacare, could be enormous. Therefore, it is absurd that the bill would limit the liability of a nuclear accident to only $650 million. It costs so much more, not only for each individual, but also to repair all the damage that is inflicted by a nuclear accident.

The liability for a nuclear accident in U.S. is $10 billion. The Canadian amount of $650 million is at the bottom of the heap according to the international standard. Yes, Canada is well known to be at the bottom of the heap with regard to the international standard, not only on nuclear liability but also with regard to nuclear waste. Nuclear waste lasts for thousands and thousands of years. It is a good comparison to look at something that lasts for that length of time versus something that is so much about our future, our children.

The children of Canada are our first concern because they are our future. Canada is not only at the bottom of the heap in terms of nuclear liability and the $650 million limit if this bill passes, but we are in fact putting our children, in terms of our investment in a national child care program, also at the bottom of the OECD heap.

In terms of liability, in Germany there is no limit. Not only Germany but a lot of European countries are moving more toward unlimited liability limits. As the world is going in one direction, Canada is going backwards as usual by saying that we are going to cap the liability at $650 million. Also, no private insurance would be made available.

That actually says to a lot of the cities and areas around nuclear plants that they are only worth $650 million. If there is a nuclear accident, it would cost billions of dollars in damage, personal injury and death, so who would pay? Let me answer that question in a minute, because this is the critical situation. If it is not the corporation that is paying, who is paying?

That is why the New Democrats, at the committee and at report stage, moved 35 amendments. We took the Liberal Party at its word. In the House of Commons in October of last year, the Liberal critic said:

--this is a very important bill and I will be recommending to my caucus and my leader that we support it and send it to committee. In committee we will be doing our job as official opposition listening to stakeholders and experts, and we will review the bill in detail.

However, as usual, the Liberals are missing in action. They try to say that they really are worried about the nuclear industry, but they are not sure whether they are saying yes to nuclear industry expansion. They were saying that maybe the liability was too low, maybe they would amend this, and maybe they would study it.

After all of that discussion, what did they do? They did not bring in any amendments whatsoever. We are not surprised, are we? The Bloc did bring in a few amendments, which were nothing that would fundamentally alter the bill, but it did not matter, because the amendments from the Bloc and the New Democratic Party were defeated. Why? Because the Liberals did not support any of them, even though they said publicly that they were extremely concerned about nuclear safety.

As members may recall, when there was a shutdown at AECL, the Liberals were saying that safety is really important. They said that we must invest in safety. As for the history of AECL, for example, there was hardly any investment in the last 15 years. What the Conservative Party is doing right now, after firing Ms. Keen because she said that perhaps it was not very safe, is to sell AECL and privatize it.

I notice that the Conservatives have not met an issue that they do not want to privatize. They are privatizing the airline industry safety measures in Bill C-7, which we are debating. It is about privatizing airline safety so that the airlines would police themselves. The Conservatives are saying not to worry, to let them do their own thing.

On immigration, it is the same thing. They are saying to privatize it, to give the contracts to the visa office and let those private companies deal with it.

It is the same thing here in Bill C-5. If there is a problem, the government is saying, we will let the taxpayers pay for it. But $650 million is not enough. It will take many billions of dollars. Who is going to carry the costs of cleanups?

Who is going to carry the cost of cleaning up of the Great Lakes if Pickering has some trouble? Who is going to clean up the environment? Who is going to deal with the people who develop ill health? It will be the taxpayers, not the industry. The government does not worry about taxpayers. It will let the industry do its own thing. In fact, this legislation is a big yes to the nuclear industry.

I note that the Conservatives want to sign on to the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership and turn Canada into a nuclear waste dump for those who do not have space for nuclear waste. Canada is a big country. Maybe they can put some of it here, because after all, if there are any problems, the liability would be capped at only $650 million. Do not worry about it, that is the attitude, and do come to Canada, even though we know there is no long term nuclear waste storage solution in the world.

For example, let us look at cleanups. There are huge and expensive cleanups. Port Hope is stuck with a huge number of problems that it has to clean up. The Northwest Territories is another example.

Nuclear waste remains deadly even after thousands and thousands of years. The bill in front of us is saying that the government will not have to worry about this waste, that taxpayers can handle it. That is extremely unfortunate. Why? Because many of the municipalities in southern Ontario are saying no to this kind of reckless behaviour.

Let me give the House an example. Twenty years ago, Guelph had a record of being one of the best cities in terms of dealing with waste management. Now, with the new mayor, the entire city is focusing on how to have zero waste. Guelph wants a big reduction in the amount of waste.

Last weekend, a conference was held in Niagara Falls. It was put together by the Ontario Zero Waste Coalition. The coalition is looking at a situation in which companies that have waste take on the responsibility for that waste. For example, Interface is a big carpet company. If someone buys a new carpet from Interface, it takes the old one back.

We are seeing a trend toward this, which is that people and companies must take care of their products, whether it is the waste or the packaging. That is the direction the world is taking. We should do the same thing with nuclear waste.

If there is a nuclear installation, we want make sure that its waste is taken care of and that if there is an accident, the liability limit is unlimited, or at least to a standard that is extremely high, in the billions of dollars, for example, not this measly $650 million in Bill C-5.

That is why I am astounded that the Liberals and the Bloc will not do everything they can to block this bill. This bill really limits the civil liability and compensation for damage in the case of a nuclear accident. We know there has been a series of accidents in the past. I have a long list of them. How can it be possible that on the last day of this sitting of the House of Commons we get no debate but only complete silence from both the official opposition and the Bloc?

Are they not worried about their residents, their voters, discovering that in the last few sitting days of the House of Commons before the summer break we allowed a bill of this nature to pass? How can we possibly do that?

Do we think that people in southern Ontario, where there are big nuclear plants, are not worried that if there are even more nuclear reactors being built the company liability would be only $650 million? What is the worth of a city? Let us look at Guelph. What is the worth of the Great Lakes? What is the worth of Aurora, right beside Guelph? I went to the University of Guelph for a short period of time. There is the city and the zoo and a great number of places. In Pickering, it is the same thing.

How can we say that if there is an accident it would cost $650 million and we could repair everything that is damaged? Just for the lake itself, cleaning up the water would cost $650 million, never mind the health damages and contamination of all the buildings in the area.

Let me tell members about some of the nuclear leaks. I will start with recent ones. In Tennessee in March 2006, 35 litres of a highly enriched uranium solution leaked during a transfer into a lab at the Nuclear Fuel Services plant in Erwin. What happened? The incident caused a seven month shutdown and required a public hearing on the licensing of the plant.

A company wanting to build a new plant and seeing a liability of only $650 million perhaps might think that it could skip a few safety standards. Maybe it would not do everything that it should to ensure that it has the safest nuclear facility because, after all, the liability is only $650 million.

Further, by the way, the bill also says that a person would have to take action within three years of becoming aware of damage, with an absolute limitation of 10 years after an incident. In the case of bodily injury, the limit is 30 years.

However, we know, and I know personally, that cancers and genetic mutations, et cetera, will not appear for at least 20 years following exposure. That is why in Chernobyl for the first 10 to 15 years it was not very obvious. It was only 20 to 30 years later that we began to see the huge rates of thyroid cancer, other cancers and genetic mutations in the future generations, with the children suffering.

By that time, according to this bill, it would be too late. No one could sue or do anything because of the time limit.

The bill also restricts liability to Canadian incidents except when there is an agreement in place with another country and the operators are Canadian. What happens if the operators are not Canadian? They could be German, Chinese or American. Does it mean that the operators would not be liable? That is outrageous. How can we possibly allow this bill to pass?

I have at least 14 pages of nuclear accidents since 1945. There are hundreds of them, and each of them has had serious implications. Let me list another one. In 2005, in Illinois--

Nuclear Liability and compensation Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order. I will have to move on to questions and comments.

The hon. member for Mississauga—Erindale.

Nuclear Liability and compensation Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, frankly I am quite disturbed by what I heard from the member. The member consistently throughout her speech misled Canadians, fabricated allegations and fearmongered. If she keeps that up it is going to ruin her chances of winning the provincial leadership of the NDP. She needs to stick to the facts and act as a responsible member of Parliament.

She said that nobody from the Liberal Party debated this bill. She said that nobody from the Bloc debated this bill. She said that nobody asked serious questions or acted responsibly. She knows that she was not at committee. She knows that this bill transcended partisan politics. Committee members worked together, listened to witnesses, experts, nuclear scientists. Yes, there is a legitimate debate about at what amount the liability limit should be capped and other issues. There are legitimate questions and legitimate debates, but the member is misleading Canadians, misleading her constituents. She is trying to stall this bill. Why? What will happen if she stalls this bill? The liability will remain at $75 million. How is that good for Canadians?

Host communities of nuclear power plants said that they support this bill and are waiting for its approval. What is she doing? Why is she stalling? Why is she being an obstacle to the communities that are hosting nuclear plants?

Nuclear Liability and compensation Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I noticed in the old days when we were debating other accident prone projects, such as Adams Mine, the home area, for one reason or another, would make a decision as to what it supported and did not support.

What I have said is clear. I said that the Liberal Party did not put forward one amendment, not one at committee. It is true. I also said that all amendments, whether they were Bloc amendments or NDP amendments, were defeated. Why? Because the Liberals and the Conservatives voted together to strike all of them down. That is what I said.

I was asked why would I stand against this bill. Had the Liberal member heard me earlier on, he would have heard that I have a particular interest in nuclear reactors. Why? Because the fastest growing rate of cancer is thyroid cancer. The number of people who have thyroid cancer is dramatically higher in places like Windsor and Sarnia, places that are close to huge amounts of pollution and degradation of the environment.

That is why I am personally interested. I know that nuclear reactors and nuclear waste cause thyroid cancer. That has been proven. That is why I am very interested in this bill. That is why in the last two days of this sitting we should not allow this bill to pass.

Nuclear Liability and compensation Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, first of all it is unfortunate that the member for Mississauga—Erindale did not even bother to listen to the response from the member for Trinity—Spadina, given that he asked the questions.

I listened to the whole speech by the member for Trinity—Spadina. I want to thank her for sharing very personal information about her own life and the fact that she is a survivor of a thyroid cancer. I know that the member for Trinity--Spadina did an incredible amount of research and that is why she is very knowledgeable of the relationship between thyroid cancer particularly and the nuclear industry. As she has pointed out, thyroid cancer is one of the fastest growing cancers. I do not think it is always easy to share one's own personal experience, particularly when it comes to one's health and family. I want to thank her for being very open about that because I think the more awareness there is about thyroid cancer and other cancers and their direct relation to environmental concerns, the better. There are genetic links as well, but in terms of the environment, there is such a strong relationship.

The member pointed out that the Liberals had really done nothing to address this bill. I would like to draw to her attention that the member for Mississauga—Erindale said last year:

This is a very important bill and I will be recommending to my caucus and my leader that we support it and send it to committee. In committee we will be doing our job as the official opposition listening to stakeholders and experts, and we will review the bill in detail.

I am not sure that happened and so here we are. The NDP put forward 35 amendments in committee. We did not see any substantive changes from the Liberals to improve this bill which is seriously flawed.

Maybe the member for Trinity—Spadina would like to comment on that.

Nuclear Liability and compensation Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not understand how we can say that we are extremely concerned about the environment, that we will shift taxes, that we will do everything we can to protect the environment, that we will tax more, move things around and give corporations at least $1.7 billion here and there and yet say to Canadians that if there is a nuclear accident, they should not worry about it, but they will be picking up the tab. I have not seen any cleanup of any nuclear accident that cost less than $1 billion. Normally if it is a big accident the cleanup costs billions of dollars. How can we say we will limit it? How could any member of Parliament of any party possibly stand here and say that they are extremely concerned about our planet, are extremely concerned about the future of our water and our air quality, and that is why they will support this bill? I do not understand it.

I want to point to one incident. On April 26, 1986, in Ukraine which was then in the U.S.S.R., there was an explosion and complete meltdown. It started with a mishandled reactor safety test, which led to an uncontrolled power excursion causing a severe steam explosion, meltdown, and release of radioactive materials at a nuclear power plant approximately 100 kilometres north-northwest of Kiev. Fifty fatalities resulted from the accident in the immediate aftermath, most of them being cleanup personnel. The people who went in to clean up died. There were nine fatal cases of thyroid cancer. Members will notice that I have been talking about thyroid cancer. Five fatal cases of thyroid cancer in children in the Chernobyl area have been attributed to the accident. The explosion and the combustion of the graphite reactor core spread radioactive material over much of Europe, not just in Chernobyl, but much of Europe.

How many people were evacuated? A hundred thousand people were evacuated from the area immediately surrounding Chernobyl and an additional 300,000 from the areas of heavy fallout in Ukraine and Russia. There is an exclusion zone of 3,000 square kilometres encompassing the whole site, which has been deemed off limits for human habitation for an infinite period of time; not for one year, five years, or ten years, we are talking about forever.

We have seen studies by the government, by UN agencies and by environmentalists--

Nuclear Liability and compensation Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order. Resuming debate. The hon. member for Vancouver East.

Nuclear Liability and compensation Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak in opposition to Bill C-5, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident.

As the House has heard from other members of the NDP today, we are very concerned about the bill. We are on the second to last day of Parliament and the bill has been around for a while. Extensive work has been done in the committee. The NDP brought forward 35 amendments to try to make some improvements to it because we felt it was so significantly flawed. Unfortunately, we did not have the support of other parties for those amendments, so here we are.

Yes, in truth, we in the NDP are trying to stop the bill. We do not think it should go through. I am certainly going to put forward my two cents' worth today.

I am from Vancouver East, British Columbia. People in B.C. have always lived in an environment with the potential of nuclear accidents because to the south of us there are nuclear facilities. There is the Hanford facility in Washington State, which has been the site of serious accidents in the past. I know people in communities in southern British Columbia live with much concern about their future and the future of their children because of the nuclear industry and what happens when there is an accident.

Nobody wants an accident to happen and we need to have the maximum number of precautions to ensure none do. However, the bill before us deals with the question after the fact. What happens if there is an accident and what is the liability?

First, members of the NDP agree 100% that the current legislation, which goes back to the 1970s, is terribly inadequate. It set a liability limit of $75 million, which in today's terms would be nickels and dimes in liability for the nuclear industry. The new bill sets the liability limit at $650 million.

Some may look at that and say that it is a big improvement and suggest that we should go for it. However, when we scratch the surface of the bill and start to examine it in terms of international law and context, the limits contained in the bill on a nuclear operator of $650 million is at the bottom of the international average. To me that immediately raises questions. Why would we place ourselves at the bottom of an international average? Also, why is this bill being put forward at this point?

We have heard concerns from communities, environmentalists and people who are opposed to and worried about the nuclear industry. They say that the bill has more to do with the Conservative government's plan to sell off Canada's nuclear industry and then set up an insurance scheme, and it knows the current act and scheme is completely inadequate, that takes the liability away from operators and puts it in the public purse.

By setting the cap at $650 million, we know there is a provision where a special tribunal could be set up by the Minister of Natural Resources and if further funds were required, they would come out of the public purse. This basically means that a nuclear operator would have to pay out a maximum of $650 million and the public would be on the hook for millions and possibly billions of dollars in the case of an accident.

Right off the top, the numbers do not work. If we are going to amend the act, and it should be amended, then let us do it properly. Let us ensure we set the liability at a level that is within the context of what happens in the international community.

We are also very concerned that Canada is signing on to the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership and that this could turn Canada into a nuclear waste dump. There could be all kinds of contamination as a result of that as well. Some of my colleagues today, the members for Trinity—Spadina, Western Arctic and Windsor—Tecumseh, have spoken about what we see as the long term impact and effects of this bill. Let it be said that the $650 million is very inadequate.

We worked very diligently in committee to seek amendments to the bill. We put forward over 35 amendments to try to improve the bill, the accountability, the discretion of the minister, the level of liability and so on. It is a surprise to me that those amendments failed and here we are today with the bill at third and final reading.

When we look at the history of the nuclear industry globally, but certainly in North America, a long record of incidents have taken place. My colleague from Trinity—Spadina referred to a list of nuclear accidents that we have been referencing.

When we read that list, which is 14 pages long, it is pretty scary to know these incidents have taken place with a fair amount of regularity over the decades, beginning August 21, 1945, at the beginning of the nuclear age.

It was in Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico, U.S.A., where a criticality accident with a plutonium metal assembly happened. Harry Daghlian was hand stacking tungsten carbide brakes around a plutonium metal assembly. The plutonium assembly compromised two hemispheres with a total mass of 6.2 kilograms, just short of bare critical mass. While moving a final brick, the experimenter noticed from neutron counters that the final brick would make the assembly supercritical. At this point, he accidentally dropped the brick onto the pile, providing sufficient neutron reflection to result in a supercritical power excursion. The experimenter quickly removed the final brick and disassembled the assembly. He sustained a dose of 510 rem and died 28 days later.

I do not know all the science behind it, but it seems to me it is important to reflect on these things because that happened in our modern day age. This is in the era of the beginning of the nuclear age in our world and we can see that these accidents have taken place, beginning in August 1945. Some of them are seared in our brains as we have watched images on television, particularly Chernobyl. I am reading from the list.

Even in Chalk River on May 24, 1958, there was fuel damage. Due to inadequate cooling, a damaged uranium fuel rod caught fire and was torn in two as it was being removed from the core at the reactor. The fire was extinguished, but not before radioactive combustion products contaminated the interior of the reactor building and, to a lesser degree, an area surrounding the lab site. Over 600 people were employed in the cleanup.

There was an incident at Hanford Works in Hanford, Washington on April 7, 1962. This is the one I am more familiar with, not that I was there but because Hanford is very close to Vancouver. It is something that peace and anti-nuclear movements in British Columbia have watched for a very long time because millions of litres of contaminants are stored in Hanford.

It is a vast area in Washington state. It is surrounded by security and fences. It is obviously not publicly accessible. There is an international boundary, the 49th parallel, but when it comes to a disaster, that boundary does not mean anything. These contaminants can get into the groundwater, wells, rivers and the air, so these are a very serious situations.

In April 1962 there was a criticality incident with plutonium solution. An accident at a plutonium processing plant resulted in a criticality incident. Plutonium solution was spilled on the floor of a solvent extraction hood. Improper operation of valves allowed a mixture of plutonium solutions in a tank that became supercritical, prompting criticality alarms to sound and the subsequent evacuation of the building.

Exact details of the accident could not be reconstructed. The excursion continued at lower power levels for 37.5 hours, during which a remotely controlled robot was used to check conditions and operate valves. Criticality was probably terminated by a precipitation of plutonium in the tank to a non-critical state. Three people had significant radiation exposures.

The list goes on and on.

Probably the most infamous one, and one that had global proportions, was on April 25, 1986, the complete meltdown at Chernobyl. This involved a mishandled reactor safety test, which led to an uncontrolled power excursion causing a severe steam explosion, meltdown and release of radioactive material at the Chernobyl nuclear plant approximately 100 kilometres northeast of Kiev. Approximately 50 fatalities resulted from the accident and in the immediate aftermath, most of those being the cleanup personnel. In addition, nine fatal cases of thyroid cancer in children were attributed to the accident.

The explosion and combustion of the graphite reactor core spread radioactive material over much of Europe. I am sure like many people, I remember the images of that accident and the fear the people felt. One hundred thousand people were evacuated from the areas immediately surrounding Chernobyl, in addition to 300,000 from the areas of heavy fallout in the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

An exclusion zone was created surrounding the site, encompassing approximately 1,000 miles, or 3,000 kilometres. It has been deemed off limits for human habitation for an indefinite period. I know there have been documentaries about what happened at Chernobyl by people who have gone back and filmed this vast area, which is now, in effect, a dead zone where human habitation cannot take place.

These are very serious matters and a bill like this gives us cause for reflection about the nuclear industry in Canada. The bill is setting the stage for expansion in Canada. In fact, I asked my colleague from Western Arctic earlier, because he is our energy critic and he is very knowledgeable on this issue, far more knowledgeable than me, what he thought about the bill in terms of what it meant for the future. He pointed out that Bill C-5 was really the tip of the iceberg.

We know nuclear energy is being looked at as a solution to greenhouse gas for producing energy sources. He informed the House of the situation at the Peace River nuclear plant being contemplated, with transmission capacity that could go to Montana. Again, we see a pattern of decision-making and privatization that is linking us with the enormous energy needs in the United States.

These issues are linked. What begins as a bill in terms of what appears to be a question of liability is linked to a much larger question as to where the government plans to take us in the nuclear industry and the kinds of expansion plans contemplated.

People in my riding are very concerned about that. People feel adequate safeguards are not in place today. We have had the whole debate in the House about what happened at Chalk River with the shutdown of the reactor and the crisis it created for medical isotopes. We saw the debacle that took place with the Conservative government when it fired the head of the organization. This is all part of a greater scheme of a privatization and a sell-off of these nuclear resources to put it in private hands.

On the one hand, we have to debate that. We have to examine that from a public policy perspective. On the other hand, we have a responsibility, as parliamentarians, to ensure the legal framework is put in place, whether we talk about public policy or private operations, and that the liability will be adequate.

I hope that I have provided information today to alert people to the fact that the bill really does not go far enough. It is something that will pass, we presume, unless we can hold it up and that is what we are going to try to do. I think, as we now move into new decades of nuclear expansion, it makes one wonder if we will be again back at the drawing board if we do have a significant incident in this country.

God forbid that that ever happens, but if it does happen, will the provisions in this bill have the capacity to deal with the claims that would result when people in a local community, businesses, livelihoods, people's health and children's health are impacted by such an accident?

It is interesting to note that in the U.S. the liability is $10 billion. That is actually shared among the plants. It is a joint effort. That is more than 10 times higher than what we are talking about in this country. Again, we have to question why has the limit been set at $650 million. It just seems to be woefully inadequate.

We would like to see the bill not move forward, not pass. We would like to see further consideration on this question of liability. We would like to see discussion and some really clear plans from the federal Conservative government as to exactly what its intentions are with the nuclear industry here in Canada.

While we would certainly agree that the current bill has to be changed because the liability is so low, we do not think this particular bill will do the job. It needs to be contained within a much broader policy debate about the nuclear industry. The paramount question in that debate and in any legislation that comes forward is the public interest.

It is not the interest of the nuclear industry. It is not the interests of the people who want to just suck up more and more energy and more and more capacity for energy, it is not the interests of U.S. multinational corporations who might be looking to Canada as a place where they want to do business. The primary concern is public health, the public interest, and the interests for future generations.

In that regard, the bill seems to be very short-sighted. I want to thank my colleagues, the member for Vancouver Island North and the member for Western Arctic, who have been our two primary critics. They worked really hard on this bill. They went through it, every clause. They figured out that it was very limited and it was something that we could not support. At committee, they went to bat and put in a number of amendments. It was very surprising that those amendments were defeated by the government and by the other parties.

I know the Bloc put a few amendments and we certainly appreciate that. However, at the end of the day, the bill has not been changed. So we move forward now with a bill that is very limited.

Therefore, we will be speaking on this and we will be pointing out these deficiencies. We want to draw people's attention to the fact that the bill is now at this very critical stage. We are going to certainly do what we can to make sure that it does not pass, not because we do not want to see a liability set but because we want to make sure that it is being done in a proper way. That it is going to be done in a way that protects people so that if there is an incident, an accident, that people will actually have the capability to make a claim and receive some sort of compensation. It will not be at the discretion of a tribunal that the minister sets up, but a due process and a fund will be created which will protect people. Surely, that is the most important thing that we are considering here today.

I urge my colleagues to consider those concerns that we have. I am very proud of the fact that we have taken the time to look at the bill and to come to the conclusions that we have based on what we believe to be in the public interest of Canadians, and that is why we will be opposing the bill.

Nuclear Liability and compensation Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for taking the time to address this issue and to ensure that she gets her point of view on the record.

I note that many of the other members of Parliament from the different parties have chosen not to speak on this issue. There has been this overwhelming silence in many cases from both the Liberals and the Conservatives about what this bill means. I say thanks very much to my colleague for putting forward her point of view.

When we talk about liability within the existing structure, as long as the Canadian government is the main owner of the nuclear facilities in Canada, in reality what that means is that there is almost unlimited liability for the nuclear industry because the government is backing it up. What we are doing with this bill is creating a situation where we are going to use the minimum international standard, so we can open up the opportunity for other companies to take on the responsibility for our plants or take them away from the government.

In the United States there are laws where if a company works in a country where the laws do not match the international standards, the American company may be judged by the American laws. That puts them in a situation where they would be judged under the liability of $10 billion.

By the government moving out of nuclear energy and turning it over to the private sector, we are actually limiting the liability that Canadians have. We are setting in many distinct rules which are going to make it very difficult.

Nuclear Liability and compensation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

What does this have to do with the carbon tax?

Nuclear Liability and compensation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I am getting sort of a short shrift from my Conservative colleagues here in the House on this issue. If I can once again get the--

Nuclear Liability and compensation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I think the hon. member for Western Arctic still has a few questions to pose. Some members are talking about some other issues that may or may not come up later on in the day. We should stick to questions or comments based on Bill C-5. It looks as though the hon. member may have finished asking his question.

The hon. member for Vancouver East.

Nuclear Liability and compensation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think the Minister of the Environment is too eager to get to question period. He cannot wait to go at it. We will get there in about an hour, but right now it is nuclear liability.

I would like to thank the member for Western Arctic because I think he has put his finger on it. What is presented in this bill is only the tip of the iceberg. It is a bill that is setting the stage for the privatization of the nuclear industry in Canada. It is setting the stage to limit the liability, so that it is easier for operations to happen.

If I could answer the member's question, I think that raises the most serious question as to whose interests is this bill in? For the NDP the primary interest is Canadians and the protection of the health and welfare of people in the local communities.

Yet, when we look at this bill and what its impacts could be in the future, if there were an accident and the fact that the liability is being limited to a paltry $650 million, which in nuclear terms is a nickel and a dime, then obviously we have a lot of worries about the bill. It seems to be pandering and catering to private interests to allow a desirable environment in which they can move. That is not necessarily good for Canadian interests. In fact, we would argue on the contrary, that it is very bad.

I think the member has identified one of the key concerns that we have about this bill, that it is only the very beginning of a much bigger debate that unfortunately we have not had. It is not for lack of trying to raise that debate. I know the member himself has been a very strong advocate for the need for a national energy debate, so that all of these questions can be related: the need for an east-west grid, the need to consider why it is we are moving so rapidly to build the capacity of the tar sands to supply American markets, how environmental concerns are being thrown out the window, and the fact that nuclear capacity and availability could be part of that scenario. We see that already as something put forward as a response to greenhouse gases.

There is a lot that meets the eye here. I thank the member for raising these concerns.