Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for raising this important issue and I welcome the opportunity to speak to the matter.
The federal government has provided $90 million to Tokamak de Varennes from 1981 to 1997. The government chose, however, not to terminate funding abruptly. This would have been unfair to the scientists and researchers.
When the government decided to terminate its support for fusion at the end of March 1997 it provided a lump sum payment of $19 million to Hydro Quebec thereby absolving the government of any future liabilities for this project. Hydro Quebec agreed to operate the facility for an additional three years, complete the experiments in progress and allow for an orderly shutdown of the facilities.
Hydro Quebec announced in May that it would be shutting down this facility earlier than anticipated because of budgetary pressures. It seems that Hydro Quebec has decided, like the federal government, that fusion cannot be a priority at this time.
Federal funding of fusion research has been a difficult issue over the years as the funding requirements kept escalating. Fusion research is expensive and equipment had to be kept up to date with advances in fusion science to be able to make meaningful contributions to the knowledge base. Although the science was very good the technology was very expensive and has a payback that is at least 30 to 40 years in the future. It is not certain the technology could be successfully developed.
Natural Resources Canada decided that fusion could not be a priority given the spending cuts that had to be made and the limited resources at our disposal. In energy R and D the government is focusing on those areas that have the greatest promise for reducing greenhouse gases and for helping to meet our commitment to the Kyoto protocol.
Many accomplished dedicated scientists were associated with this project. They are to be commended for their contribution to this field of research. The Government of Canada has a responsibility to Canadians, however, to manage public investments prudently and to establish strategic priorities in energy research. It simply does not have the means to fund all research, as worthy as it may be.