Mr. Speaker, given the atmosphere this afternoon, I must say that I find it a bit unfortunate that, as soon as the Bloc Quebecois members, the member for Berthier-Montcalm and the member for Rimouski-Témiscouata, raised their point of order, they left the House.
I find it a bit unfortunate that these members did not stay for a speech that is very important, on a topic that is also very important, not just for Quebecers but for all Canadians.
I am well aware of this bill. I think it is an important bill and it certainly affects me as a member of Parliament whose riding has one of the largest nuclear facilities in the country.
I want to commend the hon. member for Parry Sound-Muskoka on the excellent job done in committee and getting the bill to third reading. I also want to take the opportunity to thank the parliamentary secretary, the member for Dauphin-Swan River, and the minister on their excellent effort on a bill that I think modernizes our need for legislation and gets a brings a piece of legislation that has been around for a long time up to speed.
As hon. members are aware, the purpose of Bill C-23 is to establish a more effective and efficient regulatory framework for Canada's nuclear industry. The nuclear industry provides many benefits to Canadians but if Canadians are to realize those benefits the risk associated with nuclear energy must be minimized.
In addition, Canadians must be confident that a nuclear regulator is fully able to ensure those risks are controlled. Their legislation will establish a modern regulatory regime for Canada's nuclear industry so that Canadians can have that confidence.
There are costs to regulation, both in financial terms and in terms of constraints placed upon industry and individuals who work or deal with the industry. But there are benefits as well. To put this legislation into perspective I would like to remind hon. members of
this House of the nuclear sector's contribution to economic growth, job creation and a healthy environment for all Canadians.
Canada is a fortunate nation in the sense that it has a variety of electricity sources. Hydroelectric power is the major source, producing 60 per cent of our supply. Thermal electricity, generated mostly by burning natural gas and coal, produces about 20 per cent of the supply. Nearly 20 per cent is provided by nuclear power.
Nuclear power is certainly important in Ontario not only for the sake of my riding, but for the entire province where it produces more than 60 per cent of the electrical supply. It is probably not news to this House but nuclear power produced in Canada uses Candu nuclear reactors. In Canada we have 22 reactors of which eight are in my riding; one finds itself in the province of Quebec, and there is one in New Brunswick. They are all licensed and regulated by the AECB, the Atomic Energy Control Board of Canada.
The Candu reactor is a Canadian high technology success story. In 1987 the Engineering Centennial Council listed the Candu as one of the ten most outstanding engineering achievements of the preceding century.
One of the most attractive features of the Candu reactor is that it uses natural uranium as fuel. Other types of reactors use enriched uranium. Producing enriched uranium is an expensive process and the technology is a secret very closely guarded by a handful of countries. Therefore the Candu design allows us to capitalize on our abundant uranium resources.
Yet another attractive feature of the Candu reactor is that it can be refuelled on line. This has helped to make Candu reactors among the most reliable in the world. Canadians can take great pride in the fact that in terms of lifetime capacity utilization, three of the world's top ten reactors and seven of the world's top twenty-five reactors are Candu.
It is equally important to Canadian industry that the Candu design does not require large high pressure reactor vessels. This gives Canadian firms a great share in the manufacturing and construction of these reactors.
The technical excellence of the Candu has made it a desirable product for export. Four have been sold to South Korea, one to Argentina and one to Romania. On November 26 Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. signed a contract to sell two Candu reactors to China. The nuclear industry is one of the few high tech industries that are actually net exporters of goods and services.
Nuclear energy and nuclear power are economical. The economies of scale associated with using nuclear power to generate electricity make it one of the lowest cost alternatives for meeting large base load demands.
During the 1970s and 1980s the cost of electricity from nuclear power plants in Ontario was on average about 30 per cent less than the cost of electricity from the more traditional conventional coal fired power plants. Electricity provided by natural gas and coal fired generating plants has become more economically attractive in the past 10 years but the cost of nuclear power remains competitive for large scale base load generation under a number of scenarios. Canada's nuclear power plants will continue to provide clean economical power for the foreseeable future, and we hope that will be a long one.
Canada is a pioneer in the use of nuclear technology to support material science. Nuclear technologies also have applications in the oil and gas, metals inspection and agricultural industries, to name a few. Canada is the world's leading producer and exporter of uranium, but for peaceful purposes.
Canada's nuclear technology is literally saving lives here and around the world. This may come as a surprise to those who are usually quick to discredit it. For the past 50 years, Canada has been an international leader in medical applications of nuclear technology. In particular, our nation has become the world's leading producer of radioisotopes, which my hon. colleague from Parry Sound-Muskoka spoke so eloquently on.
In particular Canada has become the world's leading producer of such isotopes as cobalt 60 which is used to treat cancer and technetium 99 which is essential to many diagnostic procedures. Many people are amazed to learn that about 25 per cent of patients admitted to hospital in Canada today undergo a diagnostic process that involves nuclear technology.
In considering Bill C-23, hon. members must not overlook the fact that the Canadian nuclear industry is also a major employer. In 1993, the last year for which figures are available, the industry directly employed about 26,000 people. At least 10,000 jobs in other sectors depended indirectly on the nuclear industry. Many of these highly skilled scientific, engineering and manufacturing jobs can be seen right across this country, including the benefits which arise in my own riding.
Nuclear power represents more than just jobs, industrial growth and export potential. It is also one of the most important means by which Canada can achieve its sustainable development goals. Quite simply, the sustainable development of Canada's resources is essential to our international competitiveness and the long term health of our economy and of course the maintenance of our higher standard of living.
A key element of the sustainable development challenge is Canada's commitment to control its emissions of greenhouse and acid gases. Along with hydro power, nuclear energy is essential to this effort. Neither of these electricity sources produces greenhouse or acid gases. As a result of Canada's strong reliance on hydro and nuclear power, which by the way is uncommon among OECD countries, our electricity sector produces a smaller proportion of the country's total greenhouse gas emissions compared with other countries that depend on traditional fossil fuels. In fact if we decide
not to have nuclear reactors, our electricity sector would emit about twice as much as it does now.
I would like to emphasize that all the activities I have described today are regulated by the Atomic Energy Control Board to ensure that workers, the public and the environment are not exposed to unnecessary risks. The AECB has ensured that these risks are very low indeed. The benefits associated with nuclear technology far outweigh its risks.
The bill before us today addresses several concerns relating to the regulation of the industry. I draw the attention of hon. members to two key points. First, the industry has standards of regulation which it must meet. It needs to know what powers the regulator's inspectors have and it needs to have access to a legal appeal mechanism. Second, the Canadian public has a legitimate interest in nuclear safety. Bill C-23 gives Canadians an opportunity to express concerns whenever major facilities are being licensed.
It is for those reasons that Bill C-23 in my view is a bill well worth supporting. It is a bill whose time has come. For the residents of Pickering I think this makes absolute sense. I commend the government and the minister of energy in pursuing this.