Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act

An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.


Christian Paradis  Conservative


Second reading (House), as of May 14, 2010
(This bill did not become law.)


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment establishes a liability regime applicable in the event of a nuclear incident that makes operators of nuclear installations absolutely and exclusively liable for damages up to a maximum of $650 million. Operators are required to hold financial security in respect of their liability. This amount will be reviewed regularly and may be increased by regulation. The enactment also provides for the establishment, in certain circumstances, of an administrative tribunal to hear and decide claims. Finally, this enactment repeals the Nuclear Liability Act and makes consequential amendments.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

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May 13th, 2010 / 4:55 p.m.
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Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

moved that Bill C-15, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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May 13th, 2010 / 4:55 p.m.
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Cypress Hills—Grasslands Saskatchewan


David Anderson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to be back discussing this bill one more time. It is the first time in this session of Parliament, but I know some of my colleagues who have been on the natural resources committee over the last couple of years, or even the last five years, are very familiar with it.

It is my pleasure today to rise in the House to present Bill C-15, the nuclear liability and compensation act. This legislation would replace the 1976 Nuclear Liability Act. Its purpose is to update the insurance framework that governs the nuclear industry and protects the interests of Canadians in the unlikely case of a nuclear incident.

Bill C-15, as I mentioned, will not be new to the members of the House. Indeed many individuals on both sides of the House and, in particular, members of the present and past House Standing Committee on Natural Resources have worked together and actively contributed to its improvement. Amendments proposed at committee were incorporated into the legislation that is being reintroduced. I would like to thank the members of the committee for their helpful contributions.

Canada's nuclear safety record is second to none. We have a robust technology, a well-trained workforce and stringent regulatory requirements. There are now two pieces of legislation that provide a framework for the regulation of the nuclear industry: the Nuclear Safety and Control Act and the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act. Nevertheless, we must be prepared for the possibility of a nuclear incident that could result in civil damages and have specific legislation that prepares us for such an event if it were to happen. The responsibility of doing so falls under federal jurisdiction.

However, traditional insurance is not appropriate for dealing with this kind of liability. It is difficult, for example, to determine the levels of risk involved. Canada, like virtually all other nuclear countries, first addressed this void with the enactment of special legislation. In the 1970s, we in Canada put in place the Nuclear Liability Act.

What this means is that Canada's existing act reflects the thinking of an earlier period. In the interim, the evolution of jurisprudence has contributed to substantial increases in the potential liability for nuclear incidents, and our approaches to dealing with industrial accidents have evolved. Accordingly, our liability legislation must be upgraded.

Bill C-15 would modernize the older Nuclear Liability Act. It would do so by bringing victim compensation into line with internationally accepted compensation levels. It would do so by expanding categories of compensable damage, improving compensation procedures and increasing the financial liability of nuclear operators.

Up-to-date liability rules are needed to encourage investment in nuclear facilities. They are needed to provide certainty regarding insurance and legal liability for suppliers and for operators. Without this certainty, insurers would not extend coverage to nuclear facilities and nuclear development in this country would be severely curtailed.

The Government of Canada has taken action to assist Canada's nuclear industry remain at the forefront of a highly competitive field. It is investing $300 million in the operations of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited to try to help strengthen Canada's nuclear advantage.

Global nuclear needs are expanding. Nuclear energy is an important emission-free source of power and it is key to achieving Canada's objective of being a clean energy superpower. However, without certainty regarding insurance and liability, Canada would not be able to advance or attract leading international suppliers and technology firms in the development of our nuclear industry. Having a proper liability regime in place is mandatory if Canada's nuclear industry is to remain competitive.

Of course, it could be argued that Canada's current legislation more or less accomplishes these objectives. Why do we need new legislation when we have a serviceable act in place already? The simple answer is that the current act is outdated. The Nuclear Liability Act was passed in 1970. In terms of today's nuclear technology, that is the Middle Ages. Several lifetimes of nuclear and related technologies have come and gone since then.

In short, as I said before, Canada's existing Nuclear Liability Act reflects the thinking of an earlier period. Our liability legislation must be upgraded.

Nevertheless, there are certain fundamental principles of the 1970 act that must be retained. These are the principles of absolute liability, exclusive liability and mandatory insurance.

Absolute liability means that the operator would be held liable for compensating victims in the rare case of a nuclear incident. This means that victims would not have to negotiate a highly complex industry to determine who was at fault. There would be no question of where to take a claim for compensation.

A second and related principle, exclusive liability, means that no party other than the operator, for example, no supplier or subcontractor, would be held liable.

This removes a risk that would deter secondary enterprises from becoming involved in a nuclear project. Nevertheless to modernize our liability scheme we must have legislation that goes further, while retaining those fundamental principles. This is what Bill C-15 would do.

I would like to talk for a minute about the proposed changes. The proposed legislation would increase the limit of liability for nuclear operators. The current act sets the maximum at $75 million, an amount that now stands as one of the lowest limits among the G8 group of nations.

The proposed legislation would reflect the conditions of today by raising that limit to $650 million. This would allow operators to provide adequate compensation without burdening them with huge ongoing costs for unrealistic insurance amounts, amounts for events highly unlikely to occur in this country. Moreover this increase would put Canada on a par with most western nuclear countries.

Bill C-15 would also increase the mandatory insurance that operators must carry by almost ninefold. It would permit operators to cover half of their liability with forms of financial security other than insurance. For example, this could be letters of credit, self-insurance and provincial or, in the case of AECL, federal guarantees. All operators would be required to conform to strict guidelines in this area.

Bill C-15 would make Canada's legislation more consistent with international conventions. It would do so not only with respect to financial matters; it would also do so with clear definitions of nuclear damage reflecting today's jurisprudence and more closely aligned with international nuclear civil liability conventions.

These definitions include crucial matters such as what constitutes a nuclear accident, what damages do or do not qualify for compensation and so on. These enhancements will place Canadian nuclear firms on a level playing field with competitors in other countries.

Both the current liability framework and Bill C-15 contain limitation periods restricting the time period for making claims. Under the act passed in 1970, claims must be brought within 10 years of the incident. However since the passage of that earlier liability legislation, we have come to understand that some radiation-related injuries have long latency periods.

Accordingly, the proposed legislation would raise the time limit on compensation for claims related to injury or death from 10 to 30 years. Both the earlier Nuclear Liability Act and Bill C-15 provide for an administrative process that would operate faster than the courts in the adjudication of claims arising from a large nuclear incident.

However, the proposed legislation would clarify the procedural arrangements for a quasi-judicial tribunal that would hear these claims. This new process would ensure claims were handled both equitably and efficiently.

There has been previous debate about some of Bill C-15's proposed measures. For example, there has been discussion about how and why the government arrived at the $650 million amount. Questions have been asked about the adequacy of $650 million for compensation of victims: why the civil liability of a nuclear operator should be limited in amount when the civil liability of other industries is unlimited, why the civil liability of Canadian nuclear operators should be limited at $650 million when operators in some other countries have unlimited liability and why the civil liability of Canadian nuclear operators should be limited at $650 million when we are told U.S. operators have a liability in the order of $10 billion Canadian.

The government's position is that the $650 million liability would adequately address the public's need for compensation in the event of any foreseeable incident at a Canadian nuclear plant. Although the U.S. operator liability limit is cited as $10 billion Canadian, in practice individual U.S. operators effectively carry $300 million Canadian in insurance coverage.

A few countries, like Germany, Switzerland and Japan, do incorporate unlimited liability of the operator under the provisions of their nuclear civil liability legislation. However in practice their liability is always limited to the amount of coverage provided by existing insurance plus the net worth of the operator that is liable.

Questions have also been raised as to how victims would be compensated if damages from a nuclear incident exceeded the operator's $650 million liability limit. Bill C-15 makes it clear that the minister would be required to assess the need for additional funds and report this information to Parliament. Parliament would then make the appropriate decision on providing funds for compensation.

There has been discussion on the provision in Bill C-15 that limits the ability of operators to carry more than 50% of the required financial security in forms other than insurance to cover their liability.

This provision was introduced in the bill to address operators' concerns regarding, first, the substantial increase in insurance premiums that they may face and, second, their perception of the monopoly held by nuclear insurers in providing the required financial security.

However, certain operators have said they would like more flexibility in negotiating the percentage of alternative securities which they could hold to cover their liability. This 50% limit may be changed by regulation.

Worldwide nuclear insurers have been providing nuclear civil liability insurance to operators for more than 50 years. They provide secure capacity. They are knowledgeable when it comes to assessing and pricing nuclear risks. They have experience handling claims.

Generally, a first tier compensation under national legislation or international conventions governing civil liability requires operators to cover their liability with private insurance or other forms of financial security. Worldwide private insurance continues to be the choice for nuclear operators over other forms of financial security.

The challenge the government faced in developing its legislation was to be fair to all stakeholders and to strike an effective balance in the public interest.

In developing Bill C-15, we consulted with nuclear operators, suppliers, insurance companies and provinces with nuclear installations. They generally support the changes I have described.

I should mention that this bill has also been the subject of a lot of consultation at committee. I think this will be maybe the fourth time that it has been before committee, and we have had extensive hearings each time. There has been widespread consultation on the bill.

While some nuclear operators may be concerned about cost implications for higher insurance premiums, they also recognize they have been sheltered from these costs for some time.

Suppliers welcome the changes as they provide more certainty for the industry. Nuclear insurers appreciate the clarity provided in the new legislation and the resolution of some long-standing issues. Provinces with nuclear facilities have been supportive of the proposed revisions to the current legislation. Municipalities that host nuclear facilities have been advocating revisions to the Nuclear Liability Act for some time. They are supportive of the increased levels of operator liability and the improved approaches to victim compensation.

In short, Bill C-15 was not developed in isolation. The evolution of policy was guided by consultation with the key stakeholders, with Canadians, and by experienced gained in other countries.

The reality is that we have the general support of the nuclear industry and Canadians at large for Bill C-15. I would urge members of this House to join in that consensus.

To conclude, Bill C-15 would establish the compensation and civil liability regime to address damages resulting in the unlikely event of a radioactive release from a Canadian nuclear installation. It would ensure that a compensation scheme is in place for victims and would promote nuclear development by channelling civil liability to operators, effectively indemnifying contractors and suppliers.

The introduction of Bill C-15 adds to the government's track record of making responsible decisions on the safe, long-term future of nuclear power in Canada. It adds to the government's record of promoting a safer, more secure and cleaner world through the responsible development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

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May 13th, 2010 / 5:05 p.m.
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Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, I had occasion to work with colleagues on the natural resources committee last fall on this bill and I am pleased that the government has adopted the amendments that were made at that time.

There is one thing I am curious about. The bill is basically the same, with a few small amendments, as it was when it came forward the first time four years ago. Over that time we have certainly seen inflation, but the government has not moved from $650 million up to even a slightly higher number over that period. That, to me, is a bit surprising.

I would like my hon. colleague to comment on that.

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May 13th, 2010 / 5:10 p.m.
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David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Madam Speaker, there has been a lot of discussion at committee as the member opposite knows. Actually, the committee agreed to the amount of $650 million as well, as recently as toward the end of the last session of Parliament. There are a number of reasons for this.

As I mentioned in my speech, one of the reasons is that this seems to be an adequate number to provide compensation that would be sufficient in the event of a nuclear incident or accident.

There has to be a balance between providing the compensation and being realistic in the compensation and the insurance limits that can be provided to the operators. The balance is there. What is best for Canadians? What do we need to have in place in order to protect Canadians? On the other side, what can we do that is realistic? There is no point in making unlimited liability where the operators cannot possibly get the insurance.

The amount of $650 million has been accepted by the industry, by Canadians, and it was accepted by the committee as well, as a reasonable amount that would be appropriate for an insurance level for operators in Canada.

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May 13th, 2010 / 5:10 p.m.
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Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to the member speak to the bill. I have had the privilege of speaking before in the House of Commons to that bill. I have also paid attention to the testimony that we got before committee on the bill.

I would like to start into a long speech, but let me just limit my comments today about what I think are false claims the member is making with respect to the liability standards that exist in other countries.

The government claims that the $650 million limit is based on international standards, the capacity of the insurance industry and the likely cost of an accident. I think it is wrong on all three fronts.

Let me just remind members what we heard at committee with respect to international standards. Most countries of similar GDP have much higher limits. Germany has unlimited liability and a $3.3 billion financial security requirement. The U.S. has $10 billion in pooled insurance. Japan has $1,300 million. Sweden, Austria and others are moving to unlimited liability. The limit of $650 million is at the bottom of reasonable international standards.

When we talk about the insurance industry capacity, the Nuclear Insurance Association of Canada testified at the committee that it has increased its capacity and can now offer more than $1 billion in coverage. If the coverage is available, our law should require it.

Last, with respect to the likely cost of an accident, the department based its cost estimate on a risk study that was restricted to a minor accident at a small plant far away from population centres. The report author recommended repeating the analysis for serious accidents for larger plants near population centres, like Pickering and Darlington where, of course, we have a nuclear plant. The government failed to respond to this one simple and significant recommendation. As a result, the estimate of the cost of a nuclear accident is far too low, and I think undermines the $650 million limit.

I would like the member to respond to those concerns, because they are not just concerns raised by us on this side of the House. As I said, those concerns arise out of the testimony that we heard at committee about this very bill the last time it was introduced, and I do not think in this new version the government has done its homework. I do not think it has addressed any of those issues.

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May 13th, 2010 / 5:10 p.m.
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David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Madam Speaker, I am glad the member has been following the committee, although she was not at it in terms of the discussion.

We need to point out that a number of the NDP amendments were accepted by the committee and they had to do with that. One of them involved reviewing the operator's liability limits.

The government was willing to work with the opposition to try to make the bill work. One of the amendments was that we would be willing to review operator liability limits. Actually there is a five year mandatory clause to do that. In terms of that, the government is certainly willing to take a look at the limit.

Again, as I pointed out, to say that there is unlimited liability in countries really becomes a concept that is meaningless, because at a particular point, insurance companies cannot provide insurance above a certain level. Clearly, insurance companies would provide insurance at any level as long as the premiums were paid, but at some point the premiums become unrealistic.

What we are trying to do, and we have heard a lot of testimony at committee about this, is to balance the interests of Canadians in the event of an incident. What would be the likely scenario if there was an incident? What kind of insurance compensation needs to be there? On the other hand, what is able to be achieved in terms of getting nuclear coverage at these installations?

I think that the limit of $650 million seems to set that middle ground. We had a lot of discussion about this at the committee, but in the end it was generally agreed that this is adequate and is good enough.

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May 13th, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
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Mike Allen Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the parliamentary secretary, my colleague on the natural resources committee, for his comments today. There was a lot of discussion at committee, and this will be my fourth time dealing with the bill as a member of that committee.

There was some discussion about the liability amounts. The member is right in that there is an amount the insurance companies will cover. We even had testimony at committee which indicated that if that insurance was set at too high a level, what it could mean for the operators is that there would be a shutdown of the unit, which would lead to a stranded investment, which would lead into the ratepayers' pockets. I am sure that is what the NDP was hoping for anyway.

I would also like to ask the parliamentary secretary to elaborate on some of the amendments that were adopted in committee, because the last time was the first time that we actually adopted amendments. There were some very good amendments and some good discussion on not only the liability amounts, but some other things as well. Would he talk about some of the other major issues and testimony that we heard?

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May 13th, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
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David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Madam Speaker, this is important because the bill has come to the committee a number of times and actually passed without amendment a couple of times. The last time we really wanted to try to work with the opposition and there were some amendments made. We had a lot of discussion and the committee seemed to work very collegially through those amendments. I would be glad to go through the half dozen amendments that were made.

Clause 22, for example, was amended to require that the minister review operator liability limits. We touched on this a minute ago. Actually that also requires that the minister take into consideration the nuclear liability limits in other countries, so the concerns that the NDP member addressed a few minutes ago are taken into account with that amendment.

Clause 69, for example, was added to provide that the first review of financial liability limits had to be completed within 15 months of the act coming into force. The government was not interested in sitting on it for years. If something was not going to be working properly, we were ready to review it and to change it. We think that the limits are good the way they are, but we are certainly willing to take a look at that.

Clause 22(3) was added to the bill in order to stipulate that the minister had to consult before he or she could change the financial liability limits, so the minister would have to go to industry and non-industry stakeholders and also, which is interesting, refer the matter back to the parliamentary committee. Once again the committee could come back into the discussion as it has in the past. I think that some of the members of the committee probably know as much about this bill as anybody in the country.

Clause 26 requires that the minister table the reinsurance agreements. There were concerns about the insurance and reinsurance agreements that are going to be in place for a number of different types of facilities. Those will need to be tabled before the House. They will need to be tabled with an assessment study concerning those agreements. Again we are trying to make sure that the insurance is in place, that it is valid, that it is adequate, and that any reinsurance agreements that are made are publicly available, people can see them and the assessments that have been done on them.

Clause 37 was amended regarding the advertisement of the public tribunals. In case of a public incident, there will be tribunals set up in order to make the judgments about compensation and those kinds of things. We simply made it easier for people to know that this is going to be taking place. Newspapers were added as a media outlet. That is a small amendment but one that is important, because people get so much of their information from newspapers.

This government has shown quite a willingness to open up the bill and to allow the opposition members to have their input into it. We look forward to working with them over the next few months as we move the bill to committee and hopefully on to completion.

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May 13th, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
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Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, as Yogi Berra once said, “It's déjà vu all over again”. We are back with this bill that the House has seen a few times.

I am a bit surprised in a sense to be speaking to this bill today. Six months ago I was under the impression, at least as far as the House was concerned, and I do not want to speak for the other place of course, that it was a fait accompli. Once the committee had worked out amendments to the bill and agreed to pass it in committee, I thought the chances were very good that it would come back and pass at report stage and third reading and then go off to the Senate.

However, we had something called prorogation as members may recall. For some reason the Prime Minister decided he was not that keen on too much democracy, that the House should not sit for a while and Parliament should be prorogued.

It is becoming clear that while the Conservatives want us to believe this bill is a priority, their actions make a mockery of that kind of assertion. After all this is the third time they have tried to update Canada's Nuclear Liability Act and they do not seem to be in that much of a hurry. The first time was a few years ago with Bill C-5, and we heard how important it was.

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May 13th, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
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David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Be nice now.

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May 13th, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
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Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

My hon. friend is making some comment, but I cannot quite understand it. I guess it was humorous because his colleague from Tobique—Mactaquac enjoyed it. I am glad to see they are enjoying themselves.

We heard how important it was at that time when they brought this bill in as Bill C-5. Those comments were repeated last year with Bill C-20. Now we are dealing with Bill C-15, the latest incarnation of the government's nuclear liability legislation, and the same arguments are being echoed. It is almost as if there are ghosts in here, there are so many echoes. We will see how far it makes it this time.

Canadians will recall that two years ago it was politically convenient to jettison this legislation so Conservatives could break their own fixed date election law and force a vote before they had to admit how badly they had mismanaged the country's finances. As we learned, they had put the country into deficit before the recession even began by their decisions in terms of spending and tax cuts that they could not afford. We had a deficit last year of $54 billion and who knows how much in the current year.

Last December the nuclear industry was quite excited when the bill was introduced, when it passed second reading, when it went to committee where it was approved and then reported back to the House. Industry stakeholders thought that after many years the bill would become law. Of course the Prime Minister panicked over the prospect of having to tell Canadians the truth about Afghan detainees and promptly prorogued Parliament to protect his political assets. Nuclear liability legislation became collateral damage to that decision in the government's ongoing battle to suppress the truth. It is really part of the government's ever-expanding Conservative culture of deceit.

However, now we start again from square one. We heard the parliamentary secretary tell the House how important the legislation was to the government and how significant it was to Canada's nuclear industry. That was quite a performance, deserving of some sort of Prairie Oyster award or something like that.

The bill would provide much needed update to industry standards to ensure stability and protection for Canadians. Hopefully this time the Conservatives can put the needs of the nation ahead of their party interests and actually enact the legislation, not prorogue the House, not break a fixed date election law, or whatever.

Bill C-15 would replace the 1976 Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act and establish a clear regime in the event of a nuclear accident. While we pray that never happens, the recent events in the Gulf of Mexico remind us we need to always be prepared, as my son the Boy Scout would say.

One of the key changes in Bill C-15 would be to increase operator liability from $75 million to $650 million. That is a significant increase but some ask if it is enough. The last time the legislation was before us the government claimed that $650 million was all the Canadian insurance industry could bear. That is why it would not entertain going higher to $1 billion, for example.

However, during a comprehensive study, which we heard about at the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, we learned that this was not quite the case. Hopefully, during this debate, we will hear some more about why the government feels that $650 million is adequate. Hopefully this time we will get a clearer and stronger answer. We have had a bit of an answer today. We need to hear more about that.

When the former bill went to committee, before it was killed along with the government's talk tough on crime agenda and other bills that the government claimed were so important before it prorogued and killed them all, all parties at that time did agree on a number of amendments that strengthened the legislation. I look forward to the committee's further study in the weeks ahead. My party and I will be supporting sending Bill C-15 to committee.

While the bill would provide much needed changes, the basic principles of the nuclear liability and compensation act will remain the same. Operators are absolutely and exclusively liable for damage. That is one principle. Operators must carry insurance. An operator's liability is limited in time and amount. Suppliers and contractors are effectively indemnified. All those are important basic principles.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, the new liability limit reflects a balance of considerations. It is looking at the question of risk and if it address foreseeable rather than catastrophic accidents and if the insurance reflects insurance capacity that can be available at a reasonable cost. It puts Canada on par with the liability limits in many other countries. It responds to recommendations made by the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources.

Since this is the third time the House has seen this legislation, there is little need to address all of its details. Instead, I would like to note that despite the fact that the Conservatives consistently lack the legislative fortitude to actually see nuclear legislation completely through this process, at least they have not been too afraid to bring it to the House for debate. They brought it back after they prorogued for other reasons.

That is not the case for another key aspect of the nuclear industry, the sale of AECL assets. The government continues to hide its highly suspect plans for the outright sale of our world-class CANDU technology. I find that very disconcerting. Like Bill C-15, this is critical for the industry, but the Conservatives believe they can move without consulting the people most impacted, people directly involved in the industry, the employees of AECL and the industry itself.

The Conservatives believe it is okay to hide what they are doing from the same Canadian taxpayers who have invested hundreds of millions in this industry in recent years. In fact, they put the terms of this in the budget bill. Why would the decision of whether one sells a Crown corporation be in the budget bill? What place could it possibly have there? It does not make much sense.

It is not like this is the sale of a surplus filing cabinet or a used prime ministerial limo. We are talking about an industry that supports about 70,000 jobs, after all. In fact, a lot of those jobs are in the ridings of Conservative MPs. Like Bill C-15, the sale of AECL will impact a lot of jobs in a lot of Conservative ridings.

In order to encourage investment in our nuclear industry and to protect this sector and the jobs it generates, we are debating Bill C-15 as a way to provide legal and insurance certainty for suppliers and operators. However, while it is good to debate Bill C-15, the government has dropped a cone of silence over its privatization plans for AECL. Conservative MPs have been muzzled once again by the Prime Minister's Office.

Maybe we should not blame them, though. When people are so immersed in the Conservative culture of deceit, they may not recognize what is actually happening. Maybe they feel it is safer to bow to the wishes of the Conservative upper echelons who consider this industry an embarrassment and just want to get rid of it. They want to unload the CANDU technology. They want to unload AECL after many years of Canada being a world leader in the development of nuclear technologies. Things like medical isotopes were developed right in Canada. Canadians can be very proud of that. It is a shame.

There is even a story going around that we are about to sell off AECL to foreign interests because of a tantrum the Prime Minister threw when his ministers repeatedly bungled the medical isotope crisis. It is a scary thought that this is his reasoning behind this decision.

If the government really believes in strengthening the industry with legislation like Bill C-15, why is it not prepared to openly debate the outright sale of AECL's commercial assets? I do not know what Conservative MPs are telling those families in their ridings who rely on jobs in this sector, but I hope they will come to their senses on this one and insist that the government open up debate on this question.

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May 13th, 2010 / 5:30 p.m.
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The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member will have approximately nine minutes when the debate resumes.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from May 13 consideration of the motion that Bill C-15, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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May 14th, 2010 / 10:40 a.m.
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Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

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.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

May 14th, 2010 / 11 a.m.
See context


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I thank the hon. member. When debate resumes, he will have 10 minutes for questions and comments.