Mr. Speaker, we note that the Conservative Party is applauding for us. The Bloc Québécois, a party that represents the interests of Quebec, has been applauded.
I have the pleasure of debating Bill C-15, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, which aims to establish a liability regime applicable in the event of a nuclear incident.
Since I represent a region located near a nuclear plant, I am very familiar with the issues related to nuclear energy, and I am aware of the questions that have been raised in my region after Hydro-Québec decided to refurbish the Gentilly-2 nuclear power plant.
The Gentilly-2 nuclear power plant, which has been in use since 1983, is part of the regional landscape in Mauricie and Centre-du-Québec. It is located on the north shore of the St. Lawrence, in the Gentilly sector of the city of Bécancour. A number of citizens have shared their concerns about Hydro-Québec's decision. They are wondering how this will affect the health of the people who live in the surrounding area and the health of the environment. A number of people have raised questions about the permanent management of high-level radioactive waste.
Therefore, I am very familiar with the issues surrounding this subject, and I understand the importance of reviewing the current legislation, because it simply does not meet the international requirements for liability in the event of a nuclear incident.
Given that the government has taken a keen interest in nuclear power, and that Ontario and Alberta are about to embark on this new and difficult venture with the help of the federal government, updating the current legislation, which is over 30 years old, is crucial.
The current act is out of touch with new developments in the nuclear power sector in Quebec and across Canada. Contrary to what the Conservative government says, nuclear energy is not clean energy.
Both the Conservative government and the Liberals express unflagging optimism about nuclear energy, especially in connection with Alberta oil sands exploitation. We believe that the government should exercise extreme caution with respect to this source of energy, which is very controversial and comes with serious risks.
Let us not forget that radioactive waste is still a major problem and very expensive to manage. Let us not forget that the experts have yet to find a miracle solution for dealing with highly radioactive waste accumulated over years. That waste is so toxic that it has to be stored in sealed reservoirs for thousands of years so as not to compromise the health of future generations. That is a major problem that remains to be solved.
That is why, when it comes to nuclear power, the Bloc Québécois believes that strict and effective oversight at all stages—extraction, transportation, heat and electricity production—is critical. Who could forget the disasters that happened in Chernobyl, Ukraine, and Three Mile Island in the United States? We must not compromise on nuclear safety. These tragedies should forever stand as reminders of the serious consequences of nuclear incidents and the importance of doing everything in our power to prevent them. Public health should be our top priority.
That is why the Bloc Québécois supports the principle underlying this bill to hold operators responsible for nuclear incidents. We have to do as much as we can to prevent such incidents, but when they do happen, we have to compensate everyone who is affected, bearing in mind that no sum of money can replace a human life.
Although Bill C-15 is far-reaching and complex, its main purpose, which is to set up a liability regime in the event of a nuclear incident, relies on three basic principles. First, it defines the liability of facility operators. Second, it defines the financial terms and limits of that liability. Third, it creates a process or administrative tribunal to hear claims in case of a major incident, which no one wants to have happen.
This bill is flawed, but it does improve the existing act, which, as I said, is more than 30 years old and is not suited to the new reality. It improves the existing act by updating the financial responsibilities of nuclear plant operators. The operators have financial and social responsibilities pertaining to public health.
The bill that has been introduced redefines nuclear damage. The new definition is clearer and more complete, and it is closer to the international standard, but still does not quite reach it. The international standard is $1.4 billion. This bill would increase compensation from $75 million to $650 million in the event of a nuclear incident, so it is an improvement. The amount of $75 million is obsolete; it put very little responsibility on the companies.
Bill C-15 clarifies the liability of nuclear facility operators. It clearly defines what kind of damage is compensable and what kind is not; it lists all of the compensable damages, such as bodily injury or damage to property. A nuclear accident can have catastrophic consequences. The companies that run these nuclear businesses must accept significant responsibilities towards the economy and community.
In short, this means that if there is a nuclear incident, regardless of the cause, with the exception of an act of war, civil war or insurrection, the facility operator is responsible and must compensate those affected.
In addition to updating the responsibilities of nuclear plant operators, the bill also significantly increases the financial limit on this responsibility, from $75 million to $650 million. I would remind the House that the federal government has not reviewed that limit since 1976. That is unbelievable. We know that this Parliament can be very slow to react to new situations that come up in Quebec and the rest of Canada and this is a perfect example.
It was definitely time to increase the liability of these companies. This is a significant jump, which is an excellent reminder that it is precisely because of the federal government's mismanagement and failure to periodically adjust the amount that such a drastic adjustment is needed at this time. The amount should be adjusted regularly—more often than every 30 years.
If the federal government had fulfilled its responsibilities in this matter since the bill was first enacted, the amount of insurance would have been raised gradually to allow for suitable compensation, instead of increasing it so drastically because it has become apparent that the amount is ridiculously low.
Lastly, Bill C-15 also establishes a special tribunal to hear claims when the Governor in Council believes that it is in the best interest of the public.
The debate we are having on this bill today serves as a powerful reminder that the government has very little credibility when it comes to nuclear energy. I know that my colleague across the floor will not appreciate that statement, but it is an important and fundamental observation. I must also warn the government on this.
We wonder why the government is so enthusiastic about this energy source. It is always saying that nuclear energy is clean, yet it has not solved the problem of how to manage the nuclear waste that has accumulated over many years. It has not yet found a good way to manage this waste. If it had, it would not have to go to such lengths to regulate and define nuclear plant operators' legal and financial liability. We believe that nuclear energy is dirty energy, which is why this bill provides for a very elaborate liability regime in the event of a nuclear incident.
As I said in my speech, nuclear incidents have catastrophic economic, social and human costs. The people of Mauricie are concerned about the development and management of the Gentilly-2 nuclear plant, and they need information. They have been living with this plant for a number of years now, but naturally they have concerns. The people need reassurance, and they need more information about nuclear plant management, nuclear safety and the health impact of nuclear power.
The Conservative government, which continues to be optimistic about nuclear energy and especially its potential use in extracting oil from the oil sands, should exercise caution, because this energy source is far from universally accepted and carries risks that are far from benign. Without being alarmist, we have to realize that nuclear energy should not be this government's first choice.
At a time of climate change and sustainable development, going the nuclear route is not a sustainable solution, particularly because there is a lack of expertise in managing nuclear waste. By making bad choices, the government will end up shifting the environmental burden the nuclear industry leaves behind onto the shoulders of the next generation.
Although nuclear energy produces only a small amount of greenhouse gas, it does produce radioactive waste that is difficult and expensive to manage.
We often hear it said that nuclear energy is not expensive. However, the investment required to build a plant and the cost of managing nuclear waste are astronomical. We should spend more on green energy such as wind, geothermal or other forms of energy that are much cleaner.
In our opinion, the government should concentrate on these new emerging and alternative forms of energy instead of putting all its eggs in the nuclear basket.
Unlike nuclear energy, really clean energy such as solar energy and hydroelectricity are not a threat to people's health and safety. The government should adopt a long-term energy policy based on the implementation of an energy conservation program and significant bolstering of funding to develop renewable sources of energy.
The Bloc Québécois will carefully examine Bill C-15 in committee to ensure that it has no loopholes enabling operators to shirk their responsibilities under the bill.
The bill increases the liability of businesses from $75 million to $650 million, which is a significant improvement. However, we know that the international average is $1.4 billion. American and European governments require even higher amounts from nuclear operators. Therefore, we still have work to do. However, this bill is a step forward and for that reason we are supporting it.
Taxpayers should not share the risk and the cost of compensation. In recent years, the trend has been to give the profits to the private sector and to give the losses to the public sector. This must not happen with the management of nuclear energy.
Finally, the amount of insurance coverage should be reviewed regularly to ensure that it is in compliance with international standards and that it represents the real cost of the damage that may result from a nuclear accident.
I will close by stating that the Bloc Québécois will support this bill because it increases the liability of operators substantially, from $75 million to $650 million. Nuclear safety should always be questioned because people often worry about nuclear malfunctions or accidents that could happen and seriously affect their lives, as we have seen with nuclear accidents in recent years.