Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to clarify Canada's approach to the safety of radioactive waste management.
I just want to mention I believe that the hon. member for Red Deer referred to plutonium in his remarks. In looking back at the remarks of the hon. member for Fraser Valley East when he spoke on the bill, he said: "From the outset I want to make it clear that this bill would not ban the importation of plutonium from the U.S. and Russian warheads". He went on to say: "That is not waste. We can still do that and Canadians are willing to consider that option because they feel it is part of what we can do. If we can get rid of the number of nuclear weapons around the world, we certainly are prepared to do our part".
Before I get into a discussion on the Canadian approach to the safety of radioactive waste management, I also want to draw the attention of the House to one of the unintended but important negative aspects of Bill C-236. I am pleased that the parliamentary secretary raised this in her remarks because two of the companies
she mentioned are in my riding, MDS Nordion and Theratronics. They literally could be put out of business if the bill becomes law.
Fifty years ago the company we now know as MDS Nordion began operations with three employees in a temporary government building beside the supreme court, just a few hundred yards away from this building. Today in its segment of the health care industry it is recognized as a world leader in the development, production and marketing of radioisotope products and technology.
The radioisotopes it produces and distributes are used in nuclear medicine to diagnose and treat disease. Every year roughly 20 million diagnostic imaging tests are carried out in hospitals around the globe using Nordion's radioisotopes. Industrial processes too, such as quality assurance and non-destructive testing, rely on radioisotopes supplied by the company.
MDS Nordion is also the world leader in the supply of radiation processing equipment and cobalt 60 used to sterilize medical and surgical supplies and a wide range of consumer products from bandages to contact lens solutions to baby powder. This same technology can be used to eliminate salmonella bacteria in poultry and E. coli, a deadly bacteria sometimes found in red meat, particularly hamburger.
MDS Nordion is a major economic contributor to Canada's economy. It employs more than 600 well educated and highly skilled men and women in Kanata, Vancouver, Laval and overseas. Ninety-five per cent of the products it produces at its main production facility in Kanata are exported to more than 70 countries.
Theratronics employs some 240 people in Kanata. It is recognized internationally as the leader in the manufacture of cobalt teletherapy units and cobalt teletherapy treatment planning systems. It has one of the largest installed bases of cobalt units and treatment planning systems in the world. As a supplier of cobalt sources for these units, Theratronics has a moral obligation to offer disposal services.
Many countries do not have the infrastructure to properly dispose of radioactive material. This is because the quantity of the material generated does not warrant a full program. Developing countries often do not have the financial resources to commit to the disposal of radioactive material or do not have the required expertise. Smaller countries with large populations do not have the land or geography required to set up a radioactive material repository.
As with MDS Nordion, the radioactive material which is being imported for disposal by Theratronics originated in Canada and was created through a nuclear process at the Chalk River laboratories. Cobalt 60 is totally Canadian or being replaced by Canadian made sources.
I wish to make it absolutely clear that the control of nuclear energy falls under federal jurisdiction. To prevent undue risks to human health and the environment, any practice involving radioactive waste management would be strictly regulated by the Atomic Energy Control Board, the AECB, and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
The Government of Canada is well aware that the nuclear regulatory body must be competent and empowered by appropriate legislation if it is to ensure that operations in the nuclear industry are conducted safely. The government has introduced modern and comprehensive legislation, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Control Act. This act updates the Atomic Energy Control Act and is currently before the House. I remind the House of this fact in view of statements made during the last two House debates.
During the last two debates members on the other side of the House argued that Canada should not even think of accepting radioactive waste from other countries since it cannot properly manage its own radioactive waste. To support this premise they referred to the May 1995 report of the Auditor General of Canada on federal radioactive waste management. Clearly these hon. members are not aware of the expertise acquired by Canadians over the years. They risk alarming the Canadian public unnecessarily.
The main message of the auditor general's 1995 report was not that Canada cannot properly manage its radioactive waste, but rather that it has not kept pace with some other countries, namely Finland, France and Sweden, with regard to some aspects of disposal plans.
Federal officials closely follow developments in other countries and they know about the processes driving the scheduling of radioactive waste disposal around the world. In fact, countries around the world have already expended considerable effort to come to an agreement on the transboundary movement of hazardous and radioactive waste and to establish appropriate principles for the import and export of these materials.
In Canada steady progress is being made in the field of radioactive waste disposal. For example, on July 10, 1996 the Minister of Natural Resources announced a radioactive waste policy framework that will guide Canada's approach to radioactive waste disposal into the next century.
The framework establishes a comprehensive and integrated approach to long term management and disposal of radioactive wastes. The government developed the framework in consultation with waste producers and owners. The policy framework recognizes the federal government's responsibility for developing policy, regulating the industry and ensuring that waste producers and owners comply with legal requirements and meet their funding and operational responsibilities.
Under the policy framework, the polluter pays. In accordance with this principle, waste producers and owners are responsible for funding, organizing, managing and operating disposal and other facilities for their waste. The policy framework emphasizes the Government of Canada's commitment to sustainable development.
I assure the House that the first priority of the Government of Canada is the health and safety of Canadians. The AECB, through various processes, including inspection and ongoing assessments, reviews, and licence renewal, works to satisfy itself that the operations of its licensees are safe.
The bill we are discussing today does nothing to contribute to safety. It adds nothing of value to regulations under the Atomic Energy Control Act nor to those under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Existing regulations are strictly enforced. National and international organizations continue to develop safe practices for the management of radioactive waste including its import and export. The Government of Canada will continue to ensure that any projects or policies that involve the management of radioactive waste do not pose any undue risks to health, safety, security or the environment.
Canada clearly has the ability to properly manage the waste we generate domestically. Banning the import of radioactive waste on the specious grounds that we cannot even manage our own supply is simply not warranted.
I believe votes in this House should be based on credible information. There is no real doubt that Canada has the knowledge base, the expertise, the infrastructure and the regulatory system to ensure that radioactive waste, including imported waste, is treated in such a way that it poses no undue risk to human health or the environment. I urge all members of Parliament to reject this bill.