House of Commons Hansard #62 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nuclear.

Topics

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. I regret to interrupt the hon. member.

At this point I must, pursuant to Standing Order 38, inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for St. Paul's, Health; the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, Arts and Culture.

The hon. member for Trinity—Spadina may resume.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

May 27th, 2009 / 4:35 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, as I was saying, the United States has a compensation limit of $10 billion. If we look at other countries that have had quite a few nuclear accidents, whether it be Germany or Japan, we will notice that they do not have an upper limit at all, that if there is an accident, the company must pay all the costs of cleaning it up.

This bill used to be called Bill C-63, then it was called Bill C-5 in the last Parliament, and now it is Bill C-20 and the number remains the same. New Democrats said back then that we do not support $650 million as the existing compensation limit because it is way too low. We said it then. We say it now. Why are we seeing this number again?

I believe one of the reasons we are seeing this bill reintroduced today is because American nuclear companies are really interested in purchasing significant sections of Canada's nuclear industry.

Under the current legislation, they would subjected to the American rules as Canadian law does not meet the international baseline. We know the international minimum, according to the two international agreements, the Paris and Vienna conventions, requires a bare minimum of $600 million. Because of that, under American law, the parent company of a subsidiary can be sued for compensation due to the actions of, say, a Canadian subsidiary of an American company if the law governing that subsidiary is below the international standards, as it is now. If this bill were passed, then the American corporations could pick up any number of nuclear companies.

What concerns me most is what is happening at Chalk River. We have a reactor shutdown. We have at least 30,000 patients per week who need the precious medical isotopes the reactor produces and we know that these isotopes will run out in a week. We also know that the reactor has had a heavy water spill and we also know that it will be shut down at least until mid-June, and maybe even longer.

Now, people who have cancer or who need heart scans cannot get the scans done. People who have thyroid cancer, as I have had, after the thyroid has been removed, need to ingest a medical iodine isotope, pill I-131, which I remember taking. It would then destroy the cancer cells in the thyroid area as the thyroid attracts these nuclear iodines made by the isotopes. If people do not get it treated, if they do not take that iodine pill, which is called a seed, then the thyroid cancer cells could spread.

I am glad that when I was diagnosed with that cancer, I was able to have it removed and then, at that time, able to have access to this iodine I-131 pill. I cannot imagine what will happen to these thyroid cancer patients who need this treatment, and then to have them hear that we are going to be running out of these isotopes in a week. What is going to happen to them?

Instead of focusing on a plan B, instead of looking at whether to build a new reactor that is supposed to be on line, we are discussing this bill that certainly does not really make sense because the liability of $10 billion is 1,540% higher than the limit proposed by this bill.

Is it because our reactor is that much safer than what the Americans have? Is it because Canadian taxpayers have far more money, that if there were a big accident, certainly the Canadian government could do the cleanup? I just heard that we have at least a $50 billion deficit. Where are we going to find the money to do the cleanup if the company is not liable?

Is the imminent sale of AECL to an American company that has the government so eager to make the Canadian nuclear legislation more American-friendly? That perhaps is one of the reasons. We are quite concerned because right now in tough economic times, the value is the lowest, which means that AECL can easily be picked up if there are interested buyers once this bill has passed.

We believe that this is bad legislation. We do not think that it can be amended, especially the dollar amount of $650 million, through the committee. I have already heard that such an amendment would be ruled out of order when it is referred to committee, which means that we are stuck with this dollar amount of $650 million. In the speeches I have heard today, whether from the Liberals or the Bloc, there is concern that $650 million is too low. This bill cannot be passed at second reading because it is just not good enough.

If we think of forecasting costs of possible accidents, a major accident at the Ontario Darlington nuclear plant, God forbid, east of Toronto, which is not far from where I am, could cause damages estimated in the range of $1 trillion, not $1 billion but $1 trillion. No wonder the Japanese and the Germans do not have an upper limit.

There are statistics of the costs of past accidents. On October 5, 1966, the Enrico Power Plant, Unit 1, outside Detroit, Michigan, not far from our border, suffered a minor issue in its reactor. The public and the environment did not experience any tragedy. The minor repairs of the entire accident, which were not entirely fixed until 1970, were $132 million in 1970 dollars. This amount would be covered, but that was a 1970s figure and it was for minor damage.

If we look at Three Mile Island, which I think everyone is familiar with, in 1979 in Harrisburg, again there was a minor nuclear incident. It caused one to two cases of cancer per year and the cleanup and investigation of the incident cost an estimated $975 million U.S. That is over the Canadian limit already and again we are talking about seventies and eighties dollars.

It is troubling that we have such a low limit of $650 million. We know that nuclear energy is extremely unsafe if it is exposed. I remember when I had to take a radioactive iodine pill, I was in a secure room. No one could come anywhere near me for at least three days. The food was put in through a secure passageway. It was extremely radioactive. No one would want to sit beside me when I was taking that pill.

If we look at the world's foremost expert on nuclear liability, Norbert Pelzer, he is saying that the upper limit should be unlimited and that even the $10 billion in the United States is insufficient to cover a huge nuclear incident. Our amount is not even enough for a minor issue, never mind a major problem.

The other part of the bill that is problematic is the compensation process is cumbersome. It should be like an insurance claim. Instead, right now victims of nuclear accidents have to go through court. Going through the legal system is extremely costly and not everyone has access to it.

The other problem is the bill does not cover any accidents outside the plant setting. For example, if oil and mining companies use radioactive materials and a mistake is made, such as a spill or something takes place, this insurance would not cover that at all and the victims would be left high and dry.

When we calculate the cost of cleaning up Three Mile Island, if that dollar amount did not come from the nuclear industry itself but directly from taxpayers, we could have built 1.15 million hundred watt solar panels. We should think of the possibility of the green jobs we would be missing if the taxpayers have to pick up the tab if there are any accidents. We certainly need to have more green jobs.

Canada ranked 11th in last year's poll, measuring wind power and in the last budget, the government cut off the grants for wind energy, which will make it even worse. The bill is really not helpful.

I want to point out various accidents. For example, East Germany had an accident in 1975. On May 4, 1986, again in Germany, there was fuel damage. What happened was attempts by an operator to dislodge a fuel pebble damaged its cladding, releasing radiation, detectable up to two kilometres from the reactor.

In June 1999 Japan had a control rod malfunction. The operators, attempting to insert one control rod during an inspection, neglected the procedure and instead withdrew three, causing a 15 minute uncontrolled sustained reaction at the number one reactor of the Shika Nuclear Power Plant. The electric company that owned the reactor did not report this incident and falsified records, covering it up until March, 2007.

Also in September 1999, a few months later in Japan, workers did something wrong, which exceeded the critical mass, and, as a result, three workers were exposed to radiation doses in excess of allowable limits. Two of these workers died and 116 other workers received lesser doses, but still have a great many problems. In March 2006 Tennessee had a big problem.

These countries that have had problems have set either no upper limit or a limit in the billions. In Canada setting the limit at $650 million is really not at all useful. That is why the New Democrats will not support the bill.

We would hope the government would take it back, consider the upper limit, either make it similar to the U.S. or, even better, do not set an upper limit. That would be a new nuclear liability and compensation act, which is overdue, and it would certainly get the support of New Democrats.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Madam Speaker, I listened to my hon. friend's remarks.

First, does she realize that the compensation as set out in the bill is for victims and not to repair everything that may possibly happen in a nuclear accident?

Second, does she not realize that it is not only commercial nuclear reactors with which we have to be concerned? There are smaller accidents as well.

Saskatoon, for example, has a nuclear reactor, which is experimental and is used for research. We have to be concerned about those, and there are many others across the country.

Third, does the hon. member realizes that if we do not pass the bill, the limits will remain lower than they are? I can understand the hon. member wanting the limits to be higher, but if the legislation is defeated, the limits would stay low instead of rise to give more compensation.

Could the hon. member comment on those three points?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, of course $75 million is nowhere near to being adequate. Neither is $650 million. Right now if American companies purchase a Canadian company, then the $10 billion U.S. figure kicks in, not the $75 million.

Yes, I know there are 30,000 men and women working in 150 companies in Canada. I also know AECL, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., is a publicly owned entity, and I am glad it is. We should not privatize it. What I am concerned about is the bill would open the door for privatization of AECL and/or other industries that could be picked up by the Americans.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I want to note that we have a list of nuclear accidents, totalling some 81 over the years. These have caused untold damage to the surroundings.

We have no such record when it comes to hydro development. I do not think we can find any serious accidents in hydro development in Quebec, Manitoba or anywhere else in the country that have caused deaths and the disruption that nuclear accidents cause.

Wind development is catching on big time around the world and it is being developed in Canada. There are no serious ramifications similar to what we have determined with nuclear accidents.

In terms of the liability issue, are we making an assumption that Canadian reactors are going to be built out in the middle of nowhere? Whether a plant is developed in Japan, Germany or in the United States near an urban area or in Canada, why would we have a $650 million liability in Canada, $10 billion in the United States and unlimited in Japan and Germany? It makes no sense.

The bottom line is the taxpayers are going to end up footing the bill for this at the end of the day. If the accident is big enough, the company will declare bankruptcy and turn the whole mess over to the taxpayer. That is what we will end up with.

Clearly we should not be developing any further nuclear plants. We should keep the ones we have going as best we can and raise the limits for them. However, we should not develop new ones when we have such good opportunities to get into wind and hydro development.

We were told years ago that DDT was safe, then we banned it. We were told that asbestos was safe, then we banned it. Now we know that nuclear power is not really very safe. Why do we continue to ignore these warnings and want to develop more?

I was very disappointed when I heard from the member from Saskatchewan say that his government was considering new nuclear plants. There will be an election in Saskatchewan in a couple of years and I think we would like to fight an election on that issue, and see how it resolves itself. Therefore, I do not think the Saskatchewan government should go ahead and build many plants because it will get them half built and then they will be shut down.

There are many other areas we should be looking at, and I think the member is on the right track when she talks about wind development and hydro electric development. We should be proceeding with that and not developing more nuclear power.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, in this economic downturn, green jobs are the way to go.

We need an alternative energy plan for renewable energy whether it is solar or wind. That is the way to go. We should be investing in the technologies for batteries and panels, for example, so we can harness solar energy and put panels on as many building as possible.

We have a huge country with a great land mass, so we could be the superpower of wind energy. We could even manufacture those wind blades or different types of wind turbines in Canada. That would produce jobs and energy. It is certainly a win-win situation. We would burn less and we would pay less.

However, there are existing nuclear plants. Some of them have to be fixed and some have to be rebuilt. Privatizing the existing ones or having a fire sale is not going to do the job. At the end of the day, taxpayers will be paying for it. Inevitably and unfortunately there could either be human error or the plants may be too old, they might leak and there would be consequences.

Nuclear waste or spillage is extremely dangerous and harmful to people, plant life and the environment. It is very costly to clean up. Nuclear waste stays forever, so it has to be contained. Once it has leaked out, it is very difficult to clean up. That area is going to be very costly, and $650 million for liability is just not enough.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I would like to follow up on the member's comments. Would she agree that an amendment could be introduced, if this bill were to pass second reading and go to committee, to increase the liability to an unlimited amount, which is the case in Germany and Japan? Even though we do not particularly like the bill and do not like further nuclear development, at least we would get some sort of structure in force that would be consistent with the highest standard, that being Germany and Japan, as opposed to some low standard here of $650 million, which hardly seems adequate given the situation in the world right now?

Does the member think that will have any real negative effect in the sense the companies may or may not be able to get liability insurance in an insurance market that keeps going up and down in a very inconsistent way?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, the New Democrats will support any bill that would increase the liability limits to $10 billion or that would have unlimited liability, just like in Japan and Germany. We would give it very speedy passage. It is long overdue. The existing Nuclear Liability Act does not work because the limit is so low. We need it renewed because it has not been changed since the mid-1970s. However, this is not the way to go.

Once it passes second reading, it cannot be amended at the committee because it is a substantial change. The government should either withdraw the bill and bring in a new bill with different limits or there should be an amendment to change the numbers.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
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5 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague for Hamilton Mountain.

I rise with deep regret to speak to Bill C-20, the nuclear liability and compensation act, because I believe all members of good conscience should oppose this bill. It leaves Canadians and our communities woefully under-compensated in the event of a nuclear accident.

Communities, like Kincardine near the Bruce nuclear facility; Whitby, Oshawa and Toronto adjacent to Darlington; Bécancour near Gentilly in Quebec; and Point Lepreau in New Brunswick, are all in jeopardy if a major accident were to occur. We know that a major accident at the Darlington nuclear plant would cause damages in the range of $1 trillion. Clearly, $650 million or even $10 billion are insufficient in terms of liability coverage.

Interestingly enough, there are no nuclear facilities in British Columbia. Madam Speaker, I am sure you are well aware of that and perhaps a little bit grateful. This could be because of the mess at Hanford in Washington state. It has cost taxpayers billions because of the expensive remediation that has been going on there for years with no end in sight. Today, Hanford is the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States and the focus of the largest environmental cleanup in U.S. history. It is hugely expensive. It is certainly more than $650 million. It is in the range of several billion dollars or perhaps a trillion dollars.

Hence, we have the $10 billion liability demanded in the United States, which is far less than the unlimited liability required in Japan and China, because, quite simply, the cost to a community and the people who live there is without limit in the case of a nuclear accident.

As we all know, this bill is being reintroduced by the government despite its many deficiencies. In the last Parliament, New Democrats were the only opponents to this bill, and with good reason. No private insurer will cover an individual for compensation from damage caused by a nuclear accident.

While Bill C-20 updates legislation from the 1970s, as has been pointed out, it only increases compensation levels to the absolute minimum international standard. The existing compensation limit of $75 million and the new limit of $650 million is simply not acceptable. What on earth is the government doing? Why is it so prepared to ignore the reality of this situation?

American nuclear companies are interested in purchasing significant sections of Canada's nuclear industry. Under the current legislation, they would be subjected to American rules because Canadian laws do not even meet the international base line. Under American law, the parent company of the subsidiary can be sued for compensation due to the actions of its foreign subsidiary if the law governing that subsidiary is below international standards.

These American corporations are reluctant to invest in the Canadian industry, that is until Bill C-20 is passed. Sadly, the government does not seem to understand the irresponsible nature of this legislation. However, the nuclear industry has the attention of the Canadian public and this issue has strong political resonance with all Canadians. They are, quite simply, concerned about nuclear safety.

The NDP is the only party that is taking the health of Canadians seriously, so seriously that we have been asking the difficult questions, such as why is the liability limit $10 billion in the United States and only the proposed $650 million in Canada? There is no reason for that. It is not rational. The American limit is a whopping 1,540% higher than the limit that is proposed by this bill.

I have another question. Is the imminent sale of AECL to an American company making the government eager to make Canadian nuclear legislation more American-friendly?

Those are important questions but so far we have heard no acceptable answers.

It is more than clear that only New Democrats are serious about protecting the interests of ordinary Canadians while the government takes a cavalier attitude toward nuclear safety.

The Conservatives certainly seem to be laying the groundwork to sell AECL during tough economic times when the value is so very low. We, as Canadians, need to be profoundly concerned about the possibility of the privatization of nuclear facilities. These facilities must be properly managed, and there is no question about that, and that is in the public interest. I, for one, would feel far more comfortable if they remained in public hands. I do not see much evidence that the government has the public interest at the centre of its many questionable policies.

Quite simply, the Conservatives are failing to protect Canadians in the event of a nuclear spill. This level of compensation, the $650 million, would mean only a handful of dollars for the loss of a home, a business or the loss of a life. It is far below that which is required by the international community. For Canadians, and particularly those who live near nuclear power plants or other nuclear installations, this is unacceptable. Their government has sold them out to vested interests.

New Democrats will not be supporting this limited level of liability, nor will we be supporting the bill. It does not even begin to touch on the real cost of a nuclear accident, and that is a betrayal. It is a betrayal of Canadians and of our communities. It is simply not the kind of behaviour that I believe many Canadians expect of our government and should demand of their government.

This is nothing less than a corporate subsidy to the nuclear industry to make it possible for it to move in, take over and privatize the industry that Canadians built. We on this side of the House simply will not bow to that kind of corporate subsidy. We will not allow the government to get away with that without a great deal of discussion and raising our voices on this side of the House.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
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5:05 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I would ask my colleague to maybe expand on the notion of what would happen in a community. I think we can all imagine. Those of us who are of a certain age can certainly recall Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and other accidents that have happened. The devastation and damage is immediate from the explosions.

My colleague talked about further implications for communities and I would ask her to maybe expand on that. What sort of things are we talking about in a community, not just the hours after a disaster but in the days and weeks after and the ability of citizens to survive and continue their life as they know it in their own homes and in their own neighbourhoods?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Speaker, it is very difficult for Canadians to imagine. We have seen accidents in other parts of the world and so far we have been spared those horrific events.

We know there are leaks and we know there have been leaks at AECL into the Ottawa River. We know there have been leaks at the Bruce Nuclear Power Plant into many centres that take their drinking water from Lake Huron. However, we have not seen the kind of devastation that was suffered at Three Mile Island or Chernobyl.

In terms of Chernobyl, generations have been affected by the fallout from that accident. The people who provided emergency assistance when Chernobyl exploded are long dead and gone. Their lives were shortened. They were afflicted with miserable radiation sickness and, even worse, cancers and death as a result of the fallout.

I cannot imagine what could possibly happen in densely populated areas like Toronto, Oshawa, Whitby or Pickering if we experienced a nuclear accident. If Darlington were to fail in some catastrophic way, we simply would not have the facilities to manage. Hundreds of thousands of people would need immediate help and our hospitals would be overwhelmed. The reality is that our systems are overburdened because federal and provincial governments have not seen fit to keep up with the needs of the medical community and hospitals. Hospitals and emergency services would be overwhelmed. Homes would be lost.

We know that in other kinds of disasters, such as floods, fires and hurricanes, the loss of homes is catastrophic to the people who live in those communities. Imagine hundreds of square miles where homes become uninhabitable, schools can no longer be utilized and there simply are not the kinds of services to support a huge population. While it may seem extreme, this is what we need to be prepared for.

Nobody who lived in Chernobyl believed that the nuclear plant would blow sky high until that catastrophic event, which left a community bereft, created illness and destroyed the future of not just the first generation but the second, third and fourth generations. We have no idea how many generations will suffer as a result of that accident.

We need to be prepared and $650 million does not do it and $10 billion does not do it. It is something we need to be cognizant of. We cannot allow taxpayers, the people of this nation, to be put on the hook to allow private sector nuclear facilities to pop up in order for the nuclear industry to prosper exponentially in terms of profits. We need to stand firm.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
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5:10 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and join my NDP colleagues in speaking against Bill C-20, the nuclear liability and compensation act. In fact, we are the only party in this House that refuses to give the government a blank cheque on this inadequate reform to the limits of nuclear liability.

Simply put, I oppose this bill because it does not keep pace with the rest of the world's measures to provide safe use of nuclear energy. Nonetheless, there is no doubt about the need for modernizing the act. The liability limits were initially set in the early 1970s by the Liberals, but the limits were inadequate even then and certainly by today's standards are even worse.

To its credit, this bill does propose to increase the maximum liability for operators of nuclear installations for damage resulting from a nuclear accident from $75 million to $650 million per nuclear installation, but this limit remains shamefully low when we consider the consequences of a nuclear accident.

This bill seems designed to protect corporations rather than citizens. The total liability is way too low and will not be able to cover a medium-sized accident, never mind a catastrophic one. It has been estimated that a nuclear accident would cause billions of dollars in damage in personal injuries, death and contamination of the surrounding areas. According to the director of environmental governance for the Pembina Institute, a major accident at the Darlington, Ontario nuclear plant east of Toronto, and very near to my own riding of Hamilton Mountain, could cause damages in the range of an estimated $1 trillion.

Six hundred and fifty million dollars does not even come close to being adequate and taxpayers will be on the hook for the difference. Does the government and its friends in the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois really believe that $650 million would be sufficient to clean up and rebuild after such a disaster? Apparently so.

The U.S., on the other hand, has a cap of $10 billion. Germany, which has experienced the fallout of the Chernobyl meltdown, has an unlimited amount. Many other countries are also moving in that direction toward an unlimited amount of liability. Does the government really believe that Canadian lives, properties and communities are worth less than those of our U.S. and European counterparts? Again, judging by this legislation, one would think so.

Even relatively minor nuclear accidents can have huge costs. In the 1960s, a minor issue in a reactor in Michigan cost an estimated $132 million and that was over 40 years ago, but the government, propped up again by its partners in the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois, believes this bill goes far enough.

One of my big concerns is that this bill really is not about protecting Canadians but is all about the Conservative government laying the groundwork to sell Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. Privatization should never be acceptable and particularly not during tough economic times when the value is at its lowest and the Conservatives are contemplating a fire sale.

Perhaps more than anything else, this bill and the debate around it highlight the outrageous costs and potentially devastating risks of nuclear energy, particularly when we compare it to greener, more sustainable alternatives.

For example, the Three Mile Island incident outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1979, which my colleagues have already talked about, was a relatively minor nuclear accident, but it cost an estimated $975 million for the cleanup and investigation. To put the absolute enormity of these costs into context, for the cost of cleaning up Three Mile Island, 1,147,058 100-watt solar panels could have been bought and assembled.

The total subsidies for Canada's state-owned nuclear company, AECL, from 1952 to 2000, were approximately $16 billion. This is money that could be spent investigating safer methods of energy. But the enormous costs do not just apply when things go bad. The planned construction costs for the third Fermi plant in Michigan will cost an estimated $10 billion U.S. and take approximately six years to complete. The price of wind power, on the other hand, is dropping fast and can even be had for as low as 16¢ per kilowatt hour right now. Imagine the cost savings to taxpayers and the lower electricity bills for seniors and hard-working families if we could shift to cheaper, safer and more sustainable power. On top of the financial expenses, nuclear energy in general is extremely unsafe, both to the environment and to human life.

There can be no doubt that Canada needs a greener approach in terms of power. Statistics show that Canada ranked 11th in 2008 in a poll measuring wind power capacity. If Canada expects to be seen as a leader in the world, we need to compete in the field of clean renewable energy.

This pressing need is why we in the NDP launched a task force on the economic recovery which I have been proud to co-chair with my colleague, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, who has done incredible work on environmental issues over the years.

As we confront the current economic crisis, we must be looking toward the future. We must ensure that the economy of the 21st century is green, sustainable and affordable for ordinary Canadians.

In my hometown of Hamilton, community organizations, environmentalists and ordinary citizens are coming together to imagine and realize that kind of green future. Green Venture, for example, has been doing home energy evaluation since 1997.

Environment Hamilton recently received a Trillium Foundation grant in support of its work on a green economic recovery for Hamilton. Environment Hamilton understands that fighting climate change and creating green jobs go hand in hand. I want to congratulate Lynda Lukasik, who is the executive director of Environment Hamilton, her staff and the board at Environment Hamilton for securing this important multi-year grant for advancing the future of our city.

Environment Hamilton has also launched an innovative project aimed at helping Hamilton area faith groups to conserve energy both at home and in their places of worship.

I recognize that nuclear energy provides jobs for a large number of Canadians and has been a part of our economy since 1949. The industry cannot and will not disappear overnight, but the real issue is that Bill C-20 just does not do enough to bring safety to a naturally unsafe and volatile substance. The compensation process would remain cumbersome and force victims of nuclear accidents to go through the courts. We know how costly and inaccessible the courts are as a remedy for this kind of situation.

Furthermore, the bill does not cover any accidents outside of the plant setting. Oil and mining companies and medical facilities use radioactive materials that can be dangerous, but they are not liable for any accidents related to their use or disposal.

It is as clear as it is unfortunate that only the NDP is serious about protecting the interests of ordinary Canadians while the other parties take a rather cavalier attitude to nuclear safety.

I can only hope that this debate will give the government, members of the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois pause. We need to protect families and communities from the devastating potential of nuclear disasters and this bill simply does not do that.

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5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Madam Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on her speech, especially the part where she said we need to develop other forms of energy. The Bloc agrees completely.

She said several times that we would agree with the limit of $650 million and that we feel that it is enough. It seems to me that I was clear earlier, and I was speaking on behalf of the Bloc. We feel that this is not enough, but that it is better than $75 million. We need to vote in favour of the bill, because if we do not, then the $75 million limit will remain. We cannot change this amount in committee.

The member mentioned that Japan has unlimited liability. What does it mean when a company owns a nuclear facility and has unlimited liability? It means that if the damages run too high, the company will close up shop and go away. That is what it means. The government will be forced to pay. We have to be realistic. We are dealing with companies. The same is true of Germany. Companies can declare bankruptcy and stop paying. Governments are forced to pay.

So yes, we feel that it is not enough, but on the other hand, it is not necessarily true that other countries have found the ideal solution. In the United States, the limit, which is between $9 billion and $11 billion—it is not $10 billion, it varies—would not be enough in the event of an incident such as the member described earlier. She said that it would cost $3 trillion if there were a complication in Hamilton. How could an insurance company insure for that much money? That is my question.

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5:20 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I do welcome the question. I think the member and I fundamentally agree that this bill, as it stands, and its predecessor with the lower limit of $75 million in liability, are wholly inadequate.

The member raised the question about what happens if there is a catastrophic nuclear accident where the costs are in the billions and trillions of dollars. He is quite right in pointing out that we ought to be concerned about the fact that companies will close up shop and Canadian taxpayers will be left with the bill for the cleanup. I think he is absolutely right about that.

That is one of the really disappointing parts of this bill. The government is proposing a solution that in fact only tinkers. It does not provide a comprehensive solution to the question of nuclear liability and, more important, the protection of Canadian citizens as we are contemplating nuclear accidents, be they minor or catastrophic.

That is the part of this debate we have essentially skimmed over by focusing on whether $75 million is enough or $650 million is enough.

We know from the recent debate about events at Chalk River, where we are now experiencing an urgent crisis with respect to the supply of medical isotopes that yes, in fact our nuclear facilities are in relative states of disrepair. We need to invest, we need to regulate and we need to ensure nuclear safety.

One of the things that is really troubling to me is that the nuclear safety inspector whom the government fired last year has now been replaced by a political appointee. That is a position that should not be political. We need an independent person in that position. We are not talking about any of those issues though; we are simply talking about whether the amount should be $75 million or $650 million.

Canadians deserve better. They deserve a more complete answer. For that reason, I do not think it is good enough to pick a number out of a hat, such as $650 million, which we know from international experience is not adequate, and say, “Good job. Our job here is done with respect to nuclear liability and compensation”.

Canadians deserve better. This House deserves better. We must give this issue much fuller attention.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I just wanted to address what I thought was unnecessary fearmongering on the part of the hon. member and some of her colleagues.

In not being happy with the $650 million number, is there another number she might wish to posit that might be suitable for a disaster of the type she conjures up?