moved that Bill C-27, an act respecting the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to present Bill C-27 for second reading. This is an act respecting the long term management of nuclear fuel waste.
The nuclear energy option has been part of Canada's energy supply mix for over a quarter of a century. Canada and, in particular, Ontario have benefited from this production. With these benefits, however, comes the responsibility of properly managing the resulting waste.
The waste in question is solid fuel bundles discharged from reactors built with our own Canadian Candu technology. Existing waste is currently stored safely at the reactor sites and await a long term management strategy. The development and control of the nuclear energy option falls under federal jurisdiction and the Government of Canada has a duty to assume its responsibilities in this area, which includes the very critical matter of oversight functions.
The proposed legislation in Bill C-27 is a major step forward in dealing with the management of nuclear fuel waste in Canada over the long term. The bill is the culmination of many years of research, environmental assessment and extensive consultations with stakeholders, including waste owners, the provinces, the public and aboriginal organizations.
Canadians want a solution to this issue and are looking to the Government of Canada to establish a clear, fair and comprehensive strategy to make effective progress. Bill C-27 provides a legal framework for such a strategy and sets the course for years to come.
This federal initiative builds on the government response to the nuclear fuel waste and disposal environmental assessment panel. The panel, also known, for short, as the Seaborn panel, carried out a comprehensive, decade long review while consulting with Canadians from Saskatchewan to New Brunswick. I commend the panel on its efforts to come to grips with this very important issue.
In March 1998, the panel submitted its recommendations to the Government of Canada. In December 1998, the Government of Canada provided its response. In the response, the government agreed with the large majority of the panel's recommendations. In particular, the government agreed that federal oversight was needed to proceed with the long term management of nuclear fuel waste, and we stated three policy objectives for that oversight: first, that it must ensure that a segregated fund be established by waste owners; second, that it must ensure a reporting relationship between the Government of Canada and a waste management organization to be set up by the waste owners themselves; and third, that it must ensure a federal review and approval mechanism, including the issue of access to the fund.
In 1996 the Government of Canada announced a policy framework for radioactive waste which highlighted that:
The federal government will ensure that radioactive waste disposal is carried out in a safe, environmentally sound, comprehensive, cost-effective and integrated manner.
The Government of Canada has already provided oversight to ensure that the safety and environment of Canadians are not unduly affected by the nuclear energy option. This has mainly been carried out pursuant to the 1945 Atomic Energy Control Act which was replaced in 2000 by the new Nuclear Safety and Control Act. The proposed nuclear fuel waste act is now needed to complete the fulfilment of government responsibilities by ensuring that long term waste management activities are carried out in a comprehensive, cost effective and integrated manner.
Bill C-27 ensures: that all nuclear fuel waste to be managed in Canada is addressed under a consistent and unified approach; that all nuclear fuel waste owners fall within the same legal framework; that waste owners will start setting aside funds to fulfill all their financial responsibilities over the long term; and that waste owners will work together in complying with all relevant Government of Canada policies considering technical, socioeconomic and ethical aspects.
The proposed nuclear fuel waste act and the existing Nuclear Safety and Control Act would be complementary. Together they set the foundation for fulfilling federal jurisdictional oversight responsibilities for the long term management of nuclear fuel waste.
What are the main requirements of Bill C-27? First, the bill requires the establishment of a waste management organization by the main waste owners in Canada, which includes primarily the operating nuclear utilities. The organization would be responsible for carrying out government approved waste management operations. This is consistent with the regulatory philosophy adopted in Canada which places the primary responsibility for safety within the nuclear industry.
The safety record of our Canadian nuclear utilities is unparalleled. It is recognized internationally. These utilities understand the need for excellent performance and they understand the need and desirability of public participation in the decision making process. They must, in short, earn the public's trust. The proposed legislation would ensure activities of the waste owners and of the waste management organization are subject to public scrutiny and reviewed annually by the government.
Second, the bill requires the waste management organization to submit to the federal government options for the long term management of nuclear fuel waste. It is important to understand, and I underline this point very clearly, that no decision has yet been made on which management method will ultimately be adopted. The Government of Canada agreed with the Seaborn panel that more work needed to be done in this area before any decisions could be made. Bill C-27 provides a legal framework to carry out that work. The bill requires that the waste management organization examine three options: deep geological disposal, onsite storage or central long term storage. In addition, the waste management organization can propose any other option as well. The bill makes clear that the government will make the final decision on an approach to be adopted for Canada.
Third, the bill requires the main waste owners to put aside real money in a segregated trust fund managed by a third party. Canadians want to be assured that when the time comes, money will be available to fund all long term waste management activities and the Canadian taxpayers will not be called upon to shoulder that financial burden. This is entirely consistent with the polluter pay principle. Therefore, upon entry into force of this legislation, it is expected that deposits as prescribed in the proposed nuclear fuel waste act would start the accumulation of the money that is needed in the trust fund.
The challenge for the government in developing this legislation was to be fair to all of the stakeholders and to strike an effective balance in the public interest. I firmly believe that the proposed legislation fully meets that challenge and it is supported by initial reactions that have been received on Bill C-27.
The main owners of nuclear fuel waste have conveyed to me that they welcome the increased regulatory certainty provided by the legislation, that it provides them with a clear framework to fulfil their public responsibilities and that it does not create an unmanageable financial burden. Small waste owners will note that the new waste management organization would be required to provide them, that is, the small owners, with long term management services at reasonable cost.
In developing this legislation the Government of Canada of course consulted with the affected provinces, that is, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. We addressed many of their concerns and showed as much flexibility as possible without compromising that fundamental point about federal oversight. The provinces recognize that the development and control of nuclear energy is indeed within federal jurisdiction and they are supportive of the direction that we are taking in this legislation.
Government oversight in the legislative scheme provides for mandatory transparency. This was recommended by the Seaborn panel and agreed to by the Government of Canada for increasing public confidence. For example, all waste management organization reports submitted to the Minister of Natural Resources are to be made public. The waste management organization must carry out public consultations at every stage of its process. An advisory council must be established by the waste management organization, whose comments on the organization's activities would also be made public. In addition, over the life of the project the government would exercise additional oversight as required through the Nuclear Safety and Control Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
Care was taken in putting all of this together to avoid overlap and duplication while ensuring that all requirements are fully met. Therefore, as recommended by the Seaborn panel, there are multiple government oversight mechanisms at play here which would ensure that the process proceeds effectively and democratically.
Aboriginal people have shown considerable interest in this important initiative. I have sought their active participation in decision making on the long term management of nuclear fuel waste. They participated extensively in the Seaborn hearings. I have met with a number of aboriginal leaders to discuss how they wish to be further consulted on next steps. This active involvement of aboriginal people has been recognized and ensured in Bill C-27.
In addition the government will continue to carry out related activities pursuant to its fiduciary responsibility toward aboriginal people and recognizes the valuable perspectives and insights of aboriginal peoples which can usefully inform and influence all future steps.
I would make the point that in any of the dialogue that I have had with aboriginal leaders, whether verbally or in writing, whenever we have discussed this matter we have not discussed the issue of where any particular future disposal sight might hypothetically be located. That has not been the topic on the agenda. What we have talked about is how they wish to be consulted in the process, how they wish to have influence on and input into the process. It has not been any form of negotiation. It has been a respectful solicitation of their advice and their insights, because they do have a great deal to offer in this decision making process.
What of the administration of the nuclear fuel waste act? Under the proposed legislation the main decisions would be made by the governor in council. The designated minister for the administration of the legislation would be the Minister of Natural Resources. As such, the Department of Natural Resources would be charged with carrying out ministerial responsibilities under the act.
The department would provide the focal point for interdepartmental, technical, financial, social and ethical reviews and for any independent reviews that might be necessary. The department would provide the government's direct and regular liaison with the waste management organization, the public, the provinces, aboriginal peoples and other interested parties. The department would ensure that the nuclear fuel waste act is complied with and thus would manage all auditing, verification, inspection and enforcement measures.
Bill C-27 was not established in a contextual vacuum. The evolution of policy was guided by consultations with stakeholders and by experienced gained in other countries, together with the invaluable work that was done by the Seaborn panel. The bill adopts a phased, step-wise approach allowing for all planned and executed waste management activities to be reviewed and for the public to participate effectively at every step along the way.
The process would take many years to complete and would possibly affect future generations. The legislation focuses on this generation's responsibilities but is flexible in allowing decision making by future generations if that turns out to be the case.
Canada can now move ahead effectively toward an appropriate solution for the long term management of nuclear fuel waste which takes into consideration not only technical safety matters but incorporates, in a very integral way, the social and ethical values of Canadians. I commend the legislation to the House.