Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity today to express my views on Bill C-236, standing in the name of the hon. member for Fraser Valley-East, which would prevent the importation of radioactive waste into Canada.
The hon. member is to be commended on his initiative, and I want to say that I support his proposal, because this is a very serious matter, involving future generations for which we are responsible.
Much has already been said by my colleagues who support this bill and who spoke earlier in this debate. After the events of Chernobyl, none of us can afford to ignore the terrible impact such dangerous materials have had on the local population. Ukraine, with thousands of people dead, people who are sick and children who have become invalids, knows the consequences.
We have no right to put humans at risk nor, for that matter, the animal and vegetable species of this planet. We must not expose our country to potential disaster for financial considerations.
That is why legislation is needed to ensure that commercial interests do not look to the market in radioactive waste as a golden opportunity to make a quick buck, at the expense of the health and safety of the public.
Let me explain. Certain groups see attempts being made by countries to get rid of their own radioactive waste as an opportunity to make a huge profit. We must have the courage to speak out, again and again, because the huge amounts of money they can charge for burying radioactive waste are the only reason why they are prepared to ignore the very real risks involved.
It is surprising that despite the potential risk, there is no legislation to control the importation of radioactive waste. Because of our vast uninhabited areas, Canada is the ideal destination for industrialized countries that are incapable of dealing with the disposal of their radioactive waste.
I cannot imagine my riding, Abitibi, most of which is covered by the Canadian shield, being selected for this purpose. I might as well say right away that the people of Abitibi, like Canadians generally, do not want radioactive waste in their backyard, especially if it comes from a foreign country.
The people in my riding held a major debate some ten years ago, when there was a possibility of excess PCB material being stored in our region. I expect that the debate would be stormy if the subject were nuclear waste.
It is, of course, our responsibility to get rid of our own nuclear waste, but other countries must make the same commitment. We have no responsibility in the problems currently faced by the United States, for example. The United States is no doubt a country of excess, in economic and other terms, but surely in terms of its radioactive waste as well.
For example, the Hanford site, 300 kilometres south of the British Columbia border is a huge radioactive waste disposal site. To give you an idea of the size of it, it is some 26 times the size of a football field and a metre thick. You can imagine the cost.
The American government estimates the cost to be approximately $57 billion, only to convert the site. As I mentioned earlier, you can imagine that certain groups see this as an opportunity to make huge profits by importing waste and burying it here. They figure the profits will be good. The cost of cleaning up all of the States is estimated at $230 billion. With a net profit of 1 per cent, these companies could make a tidy sum eliminating these products, but at what risk and to whose advantage?
Are we prepared to become the nuclear graveyard of the U.S. or any other country in exchange for financial compensation? I think the people of Canada would say no.
Why do countries trying to get rid of their waste by selling it not keep that money and invest it in research to find a solution to the problem they have created for themselves? Because, however advanced the technology may be today, it cannot be denied that there are still risks involved.
I digress for a moment to say that Canada is not necessarily better than any other country, as it is not considering the use of other technologies to eliminate large amounts of nuclear waste.
For example, the Tokamak nuclear fusion project in Varennes offers unique high technology facility for research on clean energy, because unlike fission, fusion produces energy without radioactive waste. If it could be commercially developed, this process would allow atomic energy to be produced without any waste.
The federal government refused to finance half of the $14 million project by investing $7 million into it, arguing that it could not afford to spend that kind of money, when it has spent $23 million on the flag project. The way of the future may be to manage our own nuclear waste, but it would certainly be brighter if very little or no waste was produced.
I would like to remind the federal government that Canada is party to the convention signed in Switzerland on March 22, 1989, that came into force on May 5, 1992. The terms of this agreement were clear. They provided among other things that no country will import dangerous waste that poses a threat to the environment. Everyone will readily agree that there is a very serious threat to the environment involved. This is an indisputable risk, given that nuclear material can have effects that last for thousands of years.
However, under the convention, the export of waste is allowed if the exporting country does not have the necessary facilities to dispose of the waste, and if the importing country can recycle and manage that waste. One can see the danger for companies trying to
prove that they can manage and bury their hazardous waste, in order to make a profit.
The fact is that we have not found a solution to stock our own waste. We have been searching for a solution for 10 years and we have invested several millions of dollars without being sure of finding a solution. The Canadian shield may be a solution to deeply bury our own radioactive waste, but that solution cannot apply to all the countries in the world.
Daily newscasts remind us that the issue of atomic waste must be taken very seriously. We must not confuse the recycling of plutonium from nuclear warheads, as part of the disarmament process in the United States and in Russia, with other requests. Canada can indeed do its share to promote nuclear disarmament in the world, but some would probably take this opportunity to get rid of other dangerous radioactive material in their country.
As member of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, I discussed Bill C-23, which seeks to replace the old Atomic Energy Control Act. Bill C-23 will still allow the commission to import radioactive material, but does not specify the nature of this material. The bill of my colleague, the hon. member for Fraser Valley East, Bill C-236, is intended as a complement to this to prevent any legal possibility of importing radioactive waste.
In closing, I should like to return to the speech made by my Liberal colleague, who said this was not necessarily the right time to introduce this bill. On the contrary, I believe that, given the present turn of events, this is the ideal time to introduce a bill on this matter, so as to protect Canadians and Quebecers.
She also said that the public is sure that current waste processing operations are safe. This is not true. At the present time, regardless of the studies, there is no certainty that this is a risk-free undertaking, even if the Canadian shield, a very good location, is used.
She also said that there were no plans for importing waste at this time, while in the same speech she referred to Nordion, which was taking back the waste from its sales. I also believe that the purpose of a law is prevention, and there must be prevention before we have to face the consequences.
You will conclude that the Bloc Quebecois and myself are in agreement with legislation in this area. If the Liberal government thinks this is not totally justified, it will have the option of tabling a bill which might not be totally airtight, perhaps, but it absolutely must see that a bill on the importation of radioactive waste is necessary. And we shall be voting in favour of the bill.