Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-57, which was introduced at first reading on May 31, 2002.
It is fair to say that in this House we have seen more comprehensive bills amending a number of acts. However, the bill before us today amends a single section of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act. According to the sponsor of the bill, the Minister of Natural Resources, the bill is designed to amend the Nuclear Safety and Control Act. He calls it an administrative amendment or bill, meaning that it is not a complete overhaul of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act.
However, this amendment, even though this is not obvious yet, will have a serious impact on the way the nuclear industry operates here in Canada. It is significant that the minister has decided to introduce the bill we are debating today. The bill amends the Nuclear Safety and Control Act.
Of course, I will speak about Bill C-57 and the amendments at issue, but I would also like to talk about the long term management of nuclear waste.
Members will recall that there has already been a debate in the House on the disposal of nuclear waste. This debate took place in the context of Bill C-27. This was an interesting bill, as it was introduced and considered in committee. It was also interesting because Canada studied the issue of nuclear waste management for a ten year period with the Seaborn commission, which I will speak about later.
Of course, I will speak to Bill C-57, and I will also refer to Bill C-27 and the whole issue of nuclear waste disposal. I will also speak to the issue of the importance of public consultations in cases where the disposal of such waste is being considered in locations and regions in Quebec and Canada.
As an example, there is a case we asked questions about to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission just this morning in the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development. There was even a ruling on this case by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. It is the case of the Bruce complex in Ontario. This is a site where radioactive waste will be stored on the shores of Lake Huron, and the residents would have liked a commission to have been set up, through the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, to consult with residents and to study the projects.
The Bruce complex is located on the shores of Lake Huron and has been designated, first, as a high level complex. Second, it is one of the biggest disposal sites in the world. The residents would therefore have liked to have been consulted.
Finally, I would like to close by outlining to Canadians and Quebecers the impact that nuclear waste and nuclear energy can have on human health. A number of reports have been published on this. These reports conclude that nuclear waste and nuclear energy are significant in the development of certain diseases when workers, residents and more specifically children are near this waste.
So, Bill C-57 amends the Nuclear Safety and Control Act. Clause 1 would replace a paragraph in the current legislation, which reads as follows: “--any other person with a right to or interest in, the affected land or place take the prescribed measures to reduce the level of contamination”.
Bill C-57 would amend paragraph 46(3) of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act to read as follows: “--any other person who has the management and control of, the affected land or place take the prescribed measures to reduce the level of contamination”.
In fact, only a few words will be changed if this bill is passed. But the impact will be considerable.
In his press release, the minister tells us that these amendments are purely administrative. That may be so from a cosmetic point of view, but the impact will be considerable.
What are the government's true intentions in introducing this amendment? It is good to ask ourselves this question. If the amendment is purely administrative, there should not be any impact. But this bill amends the act significantly and will have a considerable impact on the development of the nuclear industry here in Canada.
Basically, the government wants this amendment to exempt one group from decontamination obligations. Third parties should no longer be responsible for decontamination.
In this connection, we know what the government's intentions are. Its true intentions are to ensure, for example, that a bank making a loan to a nuclear plant could—under the existing legislation, if we succeed in defeating this bill—be taken to court and would inevitably incur very high costs.
It is primarily to exempt these third parties, the banks, those able to finance the nuclear industry, that this bill was introduced.
The government wants to arrange it so that those parties—be they banks or other interests—who have helped developed the nuclear industry in Canada are exempt from their decontamination obligation.
This runs counter to a fundamental principle recognized in Quebec which is that the polluter pays. Anyone who contributed to the contamination of a site must share the costs of decontamination.
We on this side of the House are of the opinion that to the extent that a citizen, a third party, but more importantly a citizen, whether a corporate entity or not, has contributed to contamination by nuclear wastes, he must assume the costs thereof. This is what the government is trying to take away with this bill and this is basically what we are opposed to.
There have been some significant debates on this in the past. As my colleague from Sherbrooke has indicated, a commission was set up here in Canada because the storage of nuclear waste needed to be given some thought. There are 20,000 metric tonnes of waste—or 18,000 to be more precise—in Canada at the present time.
This represents 1.3 million bundles, as we know, and we also know that there are three types of waste: nuclear fuel waste, low level radioactive waste and uranium mine and mill tailings.
It is worthwhile taking the time to look at the nuclear waste situation in Canada. It must be pointed out that, of these 20,000 tonnes of waste, the bulk of it comes from spent nuclear fuel bundles. We are talking here of the 22 Candu reactors, most of which date back to the 1970s. Ontario Power Generation Inc. is currently operating 20 reactors. At the present time, 90% of the nuclear waste is in Ontario.
Hydro Québec produces some at its Gentilly plant, of course, but the nuclear waste produced in Quebec accounts for only 3% of the total of 20,000 tonnes currently available, if I may use such a term.
An energy company in New Brunswick accounts for another 5%. Atomic Energy of Canada' experimental reactors produce 2%, of the total of 1.3 million bundles.
We have trouble understanding how certain obligations can be taken away, how steps can be taken so that third parties will no longer be responsible for decontamination, when we can see what the problem is like in Canada at this time as far as the management of nuclear waste storage is concerned. How can bills get passed in this House that will facilitate the development of the Canadian nuclear industry while we are having such trouble managing the present 18,000 tonnes? This makes no sense whatsoever.
Why, as a matter of public policy, are we not focusing on the development of clean renewable energies, as my colleague from Jonquière suggested about ten minutes ago? How can we adopt measures like the one in front of us, which benefits this industry, while we are still waiting for financial incentives to develop renewable energies?
I am glad to see that the Minister of Environment is present to hear what I have to say. How can he feel comfortable in a debate on this issue? How can we reject that proposal and apply the polluter pay principle? This bill raises some questions.
I will summarize the Seaborn commission findings. For one thing, what we are expecting from the government in terms of a nuclear fuel waste management plan is that the technical aspects of the storage program be taken into consideration at the planning stage.
Public consultation has to be at the basis of the Canadian policy on waste management. Canadians livre right beside the waste storage complexes. The best solution cannot be only technical. It has to include a sociological approach to management. We would have liked to see the government focus on green energy instead of making social choices that favour the Canadian nuclear industry.
The government is again being called to account for its refusal to hold public consultations, which were called for by the Seaborn commission.
On May 30, 2002, Normand de la Chevrotière appeared as a witness before the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, on the issue of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Bill C-19. He told us that his group, which includes 300 families, had asked the government to establish an environmental assessment board to examine the Bruce complex, which is designed to store radioactive nuclear waste near his community.
This complex on the shore of Huron Lake and the waste storage site are considered among the biggest in the world and are termed high level facilities, and experts will understand what I mean. People from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission told us this morning that they are certainly the biggest in North America.
I was reading some papers this morning, particularly an article from the September 1996 issue of Québec Science . Six years ago, the possibility of storing weapons grade plutonium from Russia and the U.S. at the Bruce complex was being examined . Six years ago, papers in the scientific community were considering this possibility.
The Department of Environment deemed that it was not appropriate to consult the public. It does not matter that 300 families will be living close to this site.
I want to go back to what I was saying two minutes ago when I was referring to the conclusions of the Seaborn panel. Sure, it is necessary to evaluate storage techniques but, more importantly, the public must be consulted.
I am under the impression that this bill is providing oxygen to the Canadian nuclear industry. The government is promoting the establishment in Canada of places to store nuclear waste, while ensuring that third parties, who may not necessarily have the responsibility to manage these sites, cannot be required to decontaminate them.
If a bank decides to fund the Bruce complex storage project, will it be responsible for decontaminating the site if this bill is passed? The answer is no. Those who will have provided the necessary funding to establish this complex on the shores of Lake Huron will have no environmental responsibility.
We want this government to send to the nuclear industry a clear message that its members must behave like good corporate citizens. The legislation already provides for the funding of storage projects by banks. However, it is totally unacceptable on the part of the government to remove the banks' responsibilities by condoning this.
So, this bill must be examined from a different perspective, not from the perspective of the government, which is trying to fool us with mere administrative and cosmetic arguments, because it wants to ram this legislation through the House. This shows how, sometimes, bills that amend only one section may have a major impact.
This is why we are opposed to the bill's only clause. It will have a major impact on the development of Canada's nuclear industry.