The Conservative member says it is up to us. I think the member should understand that it is a two-way street. The government members have a big role to play in the reason that the House gets off the rails so often.
Though I had not been elected at the last Parliament, I remember when the Conservatives were torching their own committees.The whole place was shut down and things were not getting done. They say one cannot teach an old dog new tricks. I think we seeing some evidence that one can, because we do have a couple of committees in the House now that are working very well. We see some possibly positive signs of some future improvements and cooperation.
That said, the NDP is on record as opposing Bill C-20, the Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act. We do so for a number of reasons. In particular, this bill covers liability of only $650 million. That may seem like a lot because the current legislation allows for only $75 million. It is hard to believe that here we are in 2009 with limits on liability for nuclear reactors of only $75 million. That is extremely small.
Clearly, this law has to be updated. It is time to get it updated. The government has decided to raise the bar to $650 million.
We say that $650 million is far too low. If we look at our largest trading partner, the United States, they have a $10 billion limit. We know that when nuclear reactors are built, whether they are in Canada or the United States, they are likely going to be built in populated areas, near cities. So I cannot, for the life of me, see why we should somehow have only a $650 million liability limit in Canada and a $10 billion liability limit in the United States when the reactors are in proximity to the same sorts of risk and exposure.
That is one area I see as a problem. Certainly, if there is damage with a reactor in Canada, there is likely to be as much damage out of a reactor that melts down in the United States. There is a consistency there between the companies.
U.S. nuclear companies want to buy Canadian nuclear facilities. They require this change, so the U.S. companies want this legislation before they buy in. Today in the paper we have an article regarding the sale of our nuclear facilities to a private interest. That gets back to the budget, when the government announced that it was going to raise $6 billion selling government assets. There is no worse time to be selling government assets than when we are in a recession.
What is the government doing? We were trying to determine what sort of assets it would be selling off. Clearly, this is one area where it is looking at selling off assets. It seems to me that to the extent that we have to be involved in nuclear, and I do not really like to see us too heavily involved in nuclear, certainly not building any more new plants, but dealing with the plants we have, we should be at least keeping the ownership of the facilities within the purview of the government.
At the end of the day, if we are going to privatize nuclear facilities and require liability limits from these same facilities where there were 81 nuclear accidents in the last 50 years, we know that the risks involved are sufficient that we would not find insurance companies wanting to cover it, and if we do, it is going to be at very excessive rates. What will happen after a loss is that the taxpayers end up picking up the shortfall anyway. So why would we allow private entrepreneurs to own nuclear facilities, and after they construct their facility, they come to us after a couple of years and say they were not able to obtain high enough levels of liability insurance? What are we going to do at that point? Are we going to dismantle the plant? No, the government is going to backstop. The bottom line is that we know, at the end of the day, when the insurance policies run out, the government is going to backstop the whole process anyway.
We are dealing with an industry that has a very spotty safety record. I have a list of 81 nuclear accidents since 1950. Certainly within my lifetime, on December 12, 1952, Chalk River, which is seemingly always in the news, had a reactor core damaged. Approximately 30 kilograms of uranium was released through the reactor stack. There was a huge problem involving that incident in 1952.
On May 24, 1958, once again at Chalk River, just a few years later, over 600 people were employed in the cleanup of the spill at that time.
When we juxtapose 81 nuclear accidents with, say, a more friendly source of energy such as hydroelectricity, I am not aware in Manitoba or in terms of Hydro-Québec, or any hydro producer in North America, of these utilities having any incidents at all. If we do have a hydro failure, the worst that happens is that we have a blackout, which we had a couple of years ago. We had rolling blackouts through the United States and parts of Canada, but we do not see huge contamination. We do not see people being poisoned, cancer rates going up, or the cleanup problems we have with nuclear.
Also a big area of concern is the storage. We have a big issue in Manitoba with the Pinawa area and the desire to store the waste in a mine shaft. All the studies that have been done and the opposition to the idea have eaten up a lot of time and money to try to determine how stable the rock is in the mine to enable storage of the nuclear material.
We have examples, as I mentioned yesterday, of certainly the Russians, but probably the Americans too, dumping nuclear waste into the ocean. Who is to know where that material is and whether those barrels are leaking? It seems to me that eventually it is going to happen and we have just contaminated our environment for the last 50 years using this approach. Why do we keep doing the same things when we know they do not work?
I mentioned yesterday the asbestos situation. There was a time when we did not know the effects of asbestos and we spent billions of dollars installing it in government buildings and other buildings. Then at a certain point we found out the medical evidence was that it is not safe. Now we are spending billions having it removed from government buildings.
There is the whole issue with trans fats and DDT. We have had long experience with nuclear power and we see the government trying to kickstart the process, privatize the nuclear industry, basically selling it to the Americans at cut-rate prices, and trying to facilitate more development, particularly in places like India.
There is an article in the paper today talking about how contracts are contemplated with India and all the provisos we have to make sure that country does not use it to build nuclear bombs. That is nice. How well did that work in the past? We started out with only two nuclear powers, and there are so many right now that I do not even know what the final count is. Dozens of countries are in the process of trying to obtain a nuclear bomb, and one way they are doing that is starting out with nuclear power plants.
This could be an overpowering issue, a supported issue, if we did not have alternatives available. We have hydro power. There is Hydro-Québec in Quebec and Manitoba Hydro in Manitoba. Manitoba has developed 5,000 megawatts of power and there is another 5,000 megawatts that can be developed.
What we should be doing is building an east-west power grid. I know members of the Conservative government are supportive of that. The member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia and Minister of State (Democratic Reform) is a strong supporter of the idea of building an east-west power grid. What happened? The federal government wrote a cheque for $500 million or so to the Ontario government a year and a half ago, and nothing has been done as far as an east-west power grid is concerned. I think the money is being used to develop nuclear plants.
If we could build a power grid to Manitoba and beyond, we could develop our final power plants and provide the power to Ontario so that it could get rid of the coal plants it is using now. It would stop the need for developing more nuclear power.
How long is it going to take Ontario, Saskatchewan or Alberta, all interested in nuclear power plants, to develop them? They are never going to get done. I do not know of any politician who would go out door-knocking and campaigning in favour of nuclear power. I may be wrong, but certainly none in Manitoba will. This industry is still very tarnished and I cannot see members of any party campaigning on nuclear energy.
A member from Saskatchewan stood yesterday and talked about that very issue. I suggested to him that if Brad Wall and his Conservative government in Saskatchewan think they are going to be re-elected in two or three years after campaigning that nuclear power plants are going to be built, I say good luck to them. It does not matter who the NDP nominates at next week's leadership convention; he or she is going to be the next premier of Saskatchewan if the Conservatives run on that issue.
We have dealt with the hydro situation. Let us deal with wind power. Wind power was not a going concern. Even though Holland had windmills for hundreds of years, wind power has not been a going concern over the years. If people go to Pincher Creek, Alberta, as I have, they will see wind farms that were built in 1990-91, sort of at the beginning of the wind farm development in Canada. It is amazing. It is almost like a museum of wind farm development. We see small turbines from those days and compare them to the huge turbines we see now, and the cost of production of those wind turbines has dropped substantially.
Wind power is clearly the way to go. Gull Lake in Saskatchewan has 99 megawatts of wind power. We have the St. Leon wind farm in Manitoba and a new one is coming up that will be the largest in Canada. This country's potential for wind development has no end. We only need to look at what Germany has done in turning the whole equation around, away from the focus on nuclear and oil, and over to wind development and solar panel development.
A program on CBC or CTV the other day described how Canada lost a cutting edge solar panel developer who took his plant and built it in Germany. He is thriving there all because the government did not have the foresight to look ahead, plan ahead and try to get him to locate that plant here.
This country needs to start catching up in the process. It is falling behind. We need to look at countries like Germany that are leading the way. A German politician has made a career of trying to turn around this slavish loyalty toward the old ways of doing things. We need to get moving forward. I know we have allies in the Liberal Party and in the Bloc in this area. We just need to pull the Neanderthal Conservatives along and we can get things done.