Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to conclude this debate in the House of Commons on the proposed legislation, Bill C-236.
Throughout the debate we have heard many arguments for and against this bill. The members opposite repeatedly stressed that they want to prevent Canada from becoming the world's dumping ground for radioactive waste. The image of a dumping ground is misleading. Today radioactive waste in Canada is managed in an environmentally reasonable way. All forms of radioactive waste management and disposal are strictly regulated by the Atomic Energy Control Board, the independent federal nuclear regulator.
As the House is aware, the Government of Canada has recently introduced modern and comprehensive legislation, the Canadian nuclear safety control act. Bill C-23 updates the Atomic Energy Control Act. During the debates the Government of Canada presented its reasons for not supporting Bill C-236 and the three main reasons can be summarized as follows.
First, this bill is simply not needed. The regulatory system in Canada already strictly controls the management of radioactive waste, including imported waste specifically. Canada has the knowledge base, the expertise, the infrastructure and the regulatory systems to ensure that radioactive wastes are treated in such a way that they pose no undue risk to human health or the environment.
In Canada an independent federal agency, the AECB, strictly regulates the nuclear industry. This bill adds nothing to Canada's current regulatory system. It adds nothing to the regulations under the Atomic Energy Control Act, nor to those under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
Compliance with these regulations is mandatory for all licensed applicants to the AECB whether they be individuals, companies or groups, including aboriginal groups. There are no exceptions.
The current concept for the disposal of nuclear fuel waste in Canada is intended for handling waste from domestic CANDU reactors. There are no plans to import nuclear fuel waste from other countries.
In Canada, the owners and the producers of low level radioactive waste are planning for the disposal of their own waste. Under the radioactive waste policy framework, waste producers and owners
are responsible for funding, organizing, managing and operating disposal and other facilities for these wastes.
Uranium mine and mill tailings will be decomissioned at the mine sites.
Second, the bill is a threat to Canadian companies exporting medical equipment containing radioactive substances or the substances themselves.
Let me offer two examples to highlight the government's concerns. Nordion International Inc. is a worldwide leader in the production of medical radio isotopes. In 1995 its total revenue was $191 million. About 98 per cent of its sales come from exports and it sells to more than 70 countries. Should the bill pass, the company expects to lose half of its annual revenues.
This is because its clients around the world in developed as well as developing countries require sales contracts to include a take back clause for the spent radioactive sources. These spent materials are considered radioactive waste.
Nordion is quite willing to include such a clause since Canada can indeed effectively deal with the disposal of such waste. Take back provisions and practices are highly recommended by international organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency since it ensures that the wastes are managed by the most capable authorities under effective regulatory regimes.
Theratronics International Ltd. is a worldwide leader in cancer therapy machines. It would also be hurt by this bill. In fact, Theratronics executives say that the legislation would probably put the company out of business since the repatriation of radioactive sources for disposal is an integral element in its contract and is often a condition for new sales.
The company feels that it has an obligation to offer disposal services such as services for a good way to keep track of spent radioactive sources. This tracking is essential to avoid the kind of tragic radiation accident that occurred a few years ago in Brazil where several people died after being exposed to radioactive materials that had been carelessly abandoned.
If we are not prepared to take back the spent radioactive substances resulting from the use of medical equipment abroad, then Canada may have to stop exporting to countries that cannot deal with the waste.
This would deprive the people in those countries of access to modern medical devices. The result could be needless illness and death in client countries, the disappearance of these successful Canadian high tech companies and significant job losses.
Third, the bill would impair our co-operation on radioactive waste management initiatives with other G-7 nations, especially the United States. It would also hurt our reputation with developing countries.
Again, let me be more specific. The law in both Canada and the United States covers on-site storage of radioactive waste at hospitals. Under some circumstances it may be more practical, effective, efficient and environmentally sound to use the disposal or storage facilities across the border, but this co-operation has to work both ways.
Developing countries, many African nations for example, have recognized that they do not have the expertise, the infrastructure or regulatory authority to safely handle these wastes and have banned their import. They are well aware that they will have to export such waste if they are to avail themselves of modern medical devices that contain radioactive material. This is not the case for Canada, which has leading expertise in this area.
If passed, this legislation would send a signal to developing countries that we are indifferent to their medical needs. As a developed nation, Canada is an active and effective participant in international fora to develop conventions, codes and guides to ensure that all countries adopt proper radioactive waste management practices.
Up to now Canada's views have commanded respect in the international community. Our opinions are actively sought because we have the expertise, the infrastructure and the regulatory authority to deal with radioactive waste safely. This legislation would show the G-7 countries that Canada is no longer prepared to effectively participate in international fora.
I will address the specific issue of nuclear fuel waste. Canada has developed something called the deep geological concept, a proposed method for disposing of nuclear fuel waste generated in this country by burying it deep within the stable granitic rock of the Canadian Shield. In the international scientific community there is general agreement that the deep geological method is the best form of disposal for nuclear fuel waste.
I re-emphasize that Bill C-236 offers no advantages and entails many harmful consequences related to the import of radioactive waste. This bill would produce no benefit whatsoever for Canadians and would add nothing to Canada's current regulatory system. On the contrary, it would inhibit environmentally responsible practices both here and abroad and would result in significant job losses in the nuclear medical equipment industry in this country. I strongly urge members of the House to vote against this bill.