Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to address the House regarding Bill C-249, an act to amend the Nuclear Liability Act. The issues raised by the proposed legislation are important to all Canadians. It adds to our international standing as a responsible nuclear nation.
It comes as no surprise to any of us that the bill was sponsored by the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. He has consistently shown foresight and wisdom in bringing matters of national concern before the House. I commend my hon. colleague for his commitment to his principles and to the parliamentary process.
He and I were elected on the same day to the House. On many occasions we have been seatmates over the years. He has been consistent in his feelings and principles toward various issues that he has promoted.
As my colleagues before me have indicated, the government supports in principle the need to increase operator liability under the Nuclear Liability Act. However, we also bring to the attention of hon. members the need for a comprehensive review of the act to address a number of other concerns as well.
I will take a few minutes to outline the rationale for the Nuclear Liability Act and the principles upon which it is based to underscore the importance of the act and the need to establish some broad based consensus on amendments.
Canada is recognized as a pioneer and world leader in the development and use of nuclear power. I am pleased to note that we were among the first world nations to establish a liability regime geared specifically to the special circumstances of the nuclear energy sector. A distinct regime is needed for a number of reasons.
As hon. members know, a strong nuclear industry brings tremendous economic and environmental benefits to Canada in spite of what we hear from the other side of the story almost constantly.
If it had not been for the Candu reactors in Canada we would have had to purchase coal from Pennsylvania on a large scale to have coal burning furnaces to generate hydro electric power in industrialized Canada, and our environment would have suffered terribly as a result. The Candu reactor is one of the most clean, environmental sources of energy we could have. In particular Ontario would never have been industrialized to the extent it has if it had not been for the Candu reactors perfected in Canada.
In order to encourage investment in nuclear facilities, however, it is necessary to limit operator liability in the unlikely event of an accident. Otherwise the financial risks are simply too great. This is as true today as it was 30 years ago when the Nuclear Liability Act was first presented. At the same time it is important to ensure that Canadians have access to compensation should they suffer injury or damages as a result of a nuclear accident.
Canada's nuclear safety record is second to none in the world. The Atomic Energy Control Act and the Nuclear Liability Act provide a solid legislative framework for regulating the industry and have done so since day one. The former seeks to prevent and minimize nuclear accidents while the latter applies should an accident occur. However, unlikely as it may be, we must be
prepared for the possibility of a serious nuclear accident that could result in significant third party damages.
Candu reactors are the safest in the world because they have built in backup systems in the event that something goes wrong. It is because of the expense of building those safe reactors with those backup systems that they have sometimes been difficult to market in the world. Today countries are beginning to realize that the Candu reactor is not only safe but also very efficient.
I mentioned before about the safety record in Canada being one of the best in the world.
I want to make the point that AECL workers at Chalk River have a lower rate of cancer than the national average and across the country where there are no nuclear reactors or processors. It is because of the safety features built into the system. The employees are well protected. They are checked on a daily basis. If other industries in Canada put as much emphasis on safety factors in their industries as our nuclear industry has done, we would have a better record right across the board in industrialized Canada.
The cobalt therapy unit for the treatment of cancer was brought in by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. Research and development produced that product. We have now sold it in dozens of countries all over the world.
Radioisotopes are produced in Canadian reactors. They are used to sterilize medical instruments. They are used in all kinds of health checks, in checking patients out for various types of injuries and blood conditions. The result is that Canada has a very good nuclear health system.
The results of the non-use of nuclear energy would have had a tremendous negative effect on the health of Canadians because of the environmental fallout of coal dust and fumes.
Canada's involvement in the nuclear industry and in research and development has been for peaceful purposes. Every time people mention nuclear they think of war. They think of explosions and all kinds of other things. However, our work in the nuclear industry in Canada has been to produce energy to drive industry and promote jobs across the country. It has promoted a good environment and cheap energy. It has also been a tremendous asset to Canada's medical industry.
It always bothers me when Chernobyl is thrown into these arguments. The Russian reactor is totally different from the Canadian reactor. The Russians built their reactors with no built-in systems to protect people. We did the very opposite here in Canada by building the Candu reactor. It is the safest reactor in the world and has all kinds of built-in systems to serve workers and Canadians at large.
This is an industry we should positively promote. I totally agree with the hon. member that with this safety record we should be looking at greater insurance for the people in the areas of these developments.