Mr. Speaker, Bill C-57, An Act to amend the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, is now back as Bill C-4. It had been introduced at first reading on Friday, May 31, 2002. It went to second reading the following Tuesday, June 4, 2001. I think we all agree that this was fast.
It now is one of the first ones to come back, which shows the government's eagerness to give in to the demands of the nuclear lobby.
Of course, it is not a very large bill. It even seems quite simple. However, if we take a closer look at it, some fundamental issues emerge. The bill is only five lines long. It contains only one short paragraph. Subsection 46(3) of the old act said:
Where, after conducting a hearing, the Commission is satisfied that there is contamination referred to in subsection (1), the Commission may, in addition to filing a notice under subsection (2), order that the owner or occupant of, or any other person with a right to or interest in, the affected land or place take the prescribed measures to reduce the level of contamination.
In the French version, the word “responsable” is being replaced by the word “occupant” , and in both versions the words “with a right to or interest in“ are being replaced by the words “who has the management and control of”.
In the French version, the terms “En outre, elle peut” refer to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. As can be seen, subsection 46(3) is amended as follows:
(3) Where, after conducting a hearing, the Commission is satisfied that there is contamination referred to in subsection (1), the Commission may, in addition to filing a notice under subsection (2), order that the owner or occupant of, or any other person who has the management and control of, the affected land or place take the prescribed measures to reduce the level of contamination.
We can all agree: this is quite simple. However, the government tells us that it is simply correcting an irregularity and that we should move on to other things as quickly as possible. That is the government's wish. However, it is a bit brief.
When we say it is a bit brief, it reminds me a bit of Cyrano de Bergerac, whom I will paraphrase if you will indulge me. We could say the following: “Oh no, young man, that is a bit brief. One could convey much to the gods just by varying one's tone of voice. There is curious: But what does this apparently inoffensive simplicity conceal? Timorous: There are therefore risks if financiers do not wish to commit themselves. Cavalier: Ah, that is a private matter. We should not concern ourselves with it. Interrogative: Can we do without nuclear energy? Affirmative: Nuclear energy is not a greenhouse gas solution. Provident and considerate: Invest in renewable energy; it will be to your advantage.
The arguments of the minister and the sponsor to justify this amendment are clumsy to say the least. They claim that it is merely a very minor technical correction to correct a mistake that was made when the legislation was passed in 1997. According to them, Hansard makes no mention of a discussion on this paragraph and they also claim that the legislator did not intend to make it so difficult to finance nuclear generating stations. These claims distort the reality, or dare I say, the truth.
In a message written to the government, Brian Armstrong, Bruce Power's general counsel and corporate secretary, describes the points that the government should take into consideration, and I quote:
Generally, the legislation has a negative impact on the capacity of private corporations to invest in nuclear plants, and this is detrimental to the future development of the Canadian nuclear industry.
This is all that was needed to launch the debate. There are two specific things in this statement, namely the privatization of nuclear plants and, more importantly, the anticipated development of that industry. I am convinced that this small clause in the bill did not go unnoticed.
In 1997, no one had stated any intention of privatizing nuclear plants. All the funding was provided by the provinces or by their crown corporations through the issuance of government backed bonds, and not through mortgages on nuclear plants. Therefore, it is no coincidence that the legislator acted the way it did. It acted in compliance with the strict rules that have always governed the nuclear industry.
Moreover, the whole argument overlooks the major negative developments in the nuclear industry since 1997, both in Canada and around the world. It is as if they wanted the House to begin this debate with a 1997 vision, that is without taking into account the evolution of the situation in recent years.
On the contrary, I think we are justified in addressing the issue in a 2002 context. We must put into perspective the changes that have occurred in that industry since 1997, and we must see if it is in the public interest to now promote not only the privatization of nuclear plants by eliminating these constraints, but also, as I said, the development of the nuclear industry.
Before briefly reviewing the major events which have occurred since 1997 and which serve as arguments against the nuclear development which the Ontario privatization effort is attempting to achieve, and before showing the increased environmental and safety risks which would result from this amendment, it is appropriate to examine the government's main arguments and to comment on them.
The government tells us that the nuclear industry is at a disadvantage, compared to other forms of energy. It is perfectly normal to treat the nuclear industry differently, since the scope of contamination following a nuclear plant incident is tremendous, both in terms of its geographical impact and the duration of its effects.
The explosion at Chernobyl contaminated the land all the way to the south of France and numerous cancers relating to this accident still surface every day and will continue to do so for decades to come. Therefore, it is normal to be much more demanding with the nuclear industry.
The government also tells us that this puts Canadian industries at a disadvantage compared to their international competitors. What industries? Nuclear power plant construction is totally under the control of the federal government, Atomic Energy of Canada being the sole Canadian supplier. As for the operation of these plants, it has been under the control of the provinces so far, and this standard also applies to a foreign private operator wanting to invest in a plant here. That foreign operator is treated the same way as any local private operator. The government also says that this was an exceptional measure.
When dealing with an industry that produces extremely hazardous waste that will remain hazardous for thousands of years, including plutonium and some other components which can be used and have been used to build mass destruction nuclear weapons and for which there exists no solution that would be safe in the long term, it is absolutely normal that such an industry be subjected to stricter rules than those that apply to an oil well or a hydroelectric dam.
The government also tells us that the general powers of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission are sufficient. In view of the commission's lack of independence, it is preferable to keep this specific power rather than rely solely on the regulatory power provided under section 24 of the act.
I should point out that this commission did not exist in 1997. Until 2000, it was the former Atomic Energy Control Board. As was the case with members of the old board, members of this commission are appointed by the government, which also owns Atomic Energy of Canada and has an obvious business interest in the development of the nuclear industry.
This explains why it has never refused or withdrawn a nuclear generating station licence, despite the many dangerous incidents that occur on a regular basis. It took a report from American consultants, in 1998, to convince Ontario to close half of its reactors, which had become too dangerous after just some twenty years in operation.
Let us look at the important events that have occurred in the nuclear industry since 1997. I say 1997 because that is the year the Nuclear Safety and Control Act was reworked and amended. Subsection 46(3), which the bill seeks to amend, dates back to that time. However, we must look at what has been happening in the meantime to determine if it is still appropriate to privatize and expand the nuclear industry.
First, in 1998 Ontario had to shut down half of its reactors, resulting in a $10 billion loss for Ontario Hydro, which now had a negative net worth and had to restructure. The utility was divided into three, leaving behind a huge debt for taxpayers.
The shutdown was due to the premature aging of the equipment and the inability of the staff to manage an environment that had become difficult and dangerous.
In Canada, we also had the publication of the Seaborn report. Here, as everywhere else in the western world, the commission found, after a ten-year study, that the proposed solution to bury spent fuel was strongly opposed by the general public and that there was no other long-term solution.
To avoid having to shut down plants whose cooling pools were full to capacity, the number of temporary on-site dry storage facilities was therefore increased.
Moreover, no new plant has been built in Canada over the past 20 years, none is planned for the next several decades and none of the plants shut down in 1998 has yet been able to re-open.
The only plant in New Brunswick, which is now 20 years old, is showing signs of premature aging, and over the past 24 months it has had to be shut down on several occasions for prolonged periods of time. According to an ongoing preliminary study, it would take over $850 million to extend its life past 2006, if it lasts that long, which is doubtful.
In Quebec, an identical plant, Gentilly-2, will be 20 years old next year, and the recent increase in the number of reportable problems seems to indicate that it too will have to be shut down earlier than planned.
When it is possible to obtain 800 megawatts for $500 million by constructing a new natural gas fired plant, which is not excessively polluting—I am not promoting natural gas, but speaking against nuclear generating stations—it would be surprising to see $850 million invested in renovating, without any guarantee, an old 675 megawatt nuclear lemon generating 2.3 tonnes of irradiated fuel weekly, without any long term solutions for disposal of that spent fuel.
What is more, as far as events in Canada are concerned, the bad reputation of this industry has put young people off, and as a result, nuclear plants are having difficulty finding replacements for their highly skilled staff.
In the meantime, between 1997 and the present, certain events have taken place in other countries. Most of the countries of western Europe that use nuclear power, with the exception of France, have decided to end the experiment, particularly because of the lack of solutions for disposing of spent fuel, with its 1% plutonium content. This is even the case for heavily nuclear-dependent states such as Belgium, which is 50% dependent, and Germany, which is 30% dependent.
Most of the pressure has come from the public, which refused to allow plutonium shipments to pass through their towns and villages on the way to or from MOX processing sites. They cannot be faulted for this, when we know that a single microgram of this substance can kill in a very short time, if inhaled.
There is one other point. Canada has been unsuccessful in all of its attempts to market Candu to other countries since the China contract. After a long process, Turkey has deferred for another 30 plus years its decision on the advisability of using atomic energy. As for Korea, having had a lot of problems with its Candu, it has decided not to use Canada to supply its needs in future.
Atomic Energy of Canada therefore needs to convert to the service sector, since it does not have a single contract for new power plants. Even the completion of the long-suspended Rumanian plant, which has been on hold for years due to lack of funds, has not yet been approved, and private funding is no more easily obtained.
Still looking beyond our borders, moreover, an accident in 1999 in a Japanese reprocessing centre under construction shook up the entire world nuclear industry and forced it to re-examine its standards and risk assessments relating to this technology. This accident, following the Chernobyl disaster, was the catalyst for a number of countries going off nuclear power.
Even highly nuclear dependent Japan has re-examined its investments. As for France, it halted operations in its breeder reactor, since these were unjustified in a shrinking market context, which ought to lead in the medium term to reprocessing plants, and possibly the nuclear plants themselves, being closed down.
There is one final point in regard to the events in other countries. No new plants have been built in the United States since Three Mile Island, in 1979. The state of Nevada used its veto to stop the planned construction of the only disposal site for millions of tons of spent fuel in the United States. This site was supposed to be built in the Yucca Mountains, approximately 80 miles from Las Vegas. A vote was pushed through Congress in an attempt to go ahead with the project, which has already cost $8 billion for technical studies alone.
A protracted legal battle can therefore be expected in order to prevent any new plants, which President Bush dearly wants, from reaching the drawing board before the end of his term. No one wants to invest in this technology as long as there is no long-term solution for disposing of the spent fuel. This fourth point is the second last one. I have one final point left.
The disappearance of the U.S.S.R., the rise in terrorism, and more recently, the conflict between India and Pakistan have highlighted the grave dangers of nuclear proliferation, both in terms of states capable of producing and launching arms of mass destruction, and small groups that are able to explode dirty bombs made up of conventional explosives and highly radioactive nuclear waste right in the middle of our cities.
Obviously, this was the situation that existed from 1997-2000, which leads us to wonder why the government has taken a position that favours the private sector and places even greater emphasis on the development of nuclear energy.
There are also environmental and safety risks with the nuclear industry. Ontario decided to hand over the ownership and management of a nuclear generating station that is currently closed, to a private company, to the qualified staff of a foreign company, in order to avoid having to make the major investments required before it could be re-opened, because staffing deficiencies were a determining factor in the forced closure of 1998.
In terms of environmental risks, obviously in the event of a major contamination that would bankrupt the local subsidiary, a mortgage lender that had the benefit of a guarantee from the foreign head office in addition to the mortgage guarantee, would exercise the former rather than seize the property, as many businesses often do, which would make it liable for any damage to the environment. In such cases, the head office would cut loose its subsidiary and nobody would be take responsibility for the contaminated site.
There are also security risks. Again, it is clear that putting the private sector in charge of any part of the operation or decontamination of sites containing nuclear material increases the risk of nuclear proliferation through the infiltration of individuals working for terrorist states or cells.
That is why, since 1980, the United States has prohibited the private reprocessing of any nuclear matter within its jurisdiction to prevent even the smallest amount of plutonium from finding its way into the hands of individuals over whom it has absolutely no control.
Regarding plutonium, let me give a quick example to illustrate the situation to our listeners. The size of the piece of paper I just crumpled corresponds to the amount of plutonium that was used in the Hiroshima bombing.
The proposed change to subsection 46(3) will encourage the development of nuclear energy in Canada. Privatization will make it easier to reopen plants that were closed down in Ontario and will increase environmental and security risks.
Because it is contrary to Bloc Quebecois policy to promote the development of nuclear energy, because there is practically a global consensus about moving away from nuclear energy, and because the dangers of proliferation have been abundantly illustrated by recent events on the international scene, we must oppose this amendment, and take this opportunity to promote a broader debate on the relevance of privatization and indeed of this whole foray into nuclear energy.
One objective of the Bloc Quebecois is to initiate a debate in which I think people would be very keen to participate. I have been hearing comments about this debate, and will share a few. Someone said “I will not agree to having future generations foot our nuclear energy bill and pay for our squandering”.
True, there is no such thing as “the rights of the human of the future”. Even the rights of the child are not yet a fait accompli. This does not concern all the lobbies that care only about immediate profit, and do not care about what happens tomorrow, let alone in the distant future.
The nuclear waste issue has yet to be resolved. It will probably never be resolved at a reasonable cost. Meanwhile, the nuclear lobby has opted for site storage, or perhaps underground storage, leaving our children's children with the burden of managing it for centuries to come.
Other comments foster debate or show the need for debate.
Some people have said that the civilian nuclear industry, an offspring of the military nuclear industry, was established without debate. The public, the only beneficiary of this huge source of energy, was not consulted. A true debate was never held. Decisions were always imposed upon the public.
Others have said that nuclear energy is not unavoidable and, most of all, should be thoroughly debated to evaluate its pros and cons; this debate is clearly needed in order to avoid an impasse.
Others also say that nuclear energy has beneficial as well as damaging effects and wonder whether we should consider only its benefits, namely power, and forget its damaging effects, hazards and waste.
We need to ask this critical question: should we, yes or no, drop nuclear energy? As matters now stand, the government has decided to go ahead by privatizing, thus indirectly acquiring the tools needed to develop the nuclear sector. Meanwhile, the fundamental question remains unanswered, and people were never consulted nor informed in a manner that would allow them to take a position on the issue.
I really hope that this short provision of five lines or so will bring about a true debate on the future of the nuclear industry as soon as possible.
Nuclear industry experts define the nuclear energy in three words: hazards, waste and costs. In short, this is what nuclear energy is about. How, then, can we honestly avoid the fundamental debate and promote the development of nuclear energy only because we are in favour of privatization? To my knowledge, there is no one in the private sector who will invest money if there are no profits to be made. And yet, development is often the only road to profits.
If we want to get into the debate, we have to consider hazards, waste and costs.
Let us talk about hazards. The protection of the public and of the environment against atomic radiation hazards generated by nuclear power plants is already a hazard linked with nuclear energy, as defined in dictionaries.
We know that a tremendous media campaign is being conducted tto make the public feel guilty about being concerned. The underlying message is always “If you are worried about nuclear energy, it is because you are stupid and incompetent”. It is urgent to stop making the public feel guilty. Its concerns are perfectly rational. In most forums—but that does not necessarily make it a societal debate—whether on the radio or elsewhere, people and scientists who believe in nuclear energy tend to put down those who have legitimate concerns.
The danger or hazard linked with nuclear energy comes from the very large amount of energy released by nuclear fission and the existence of a chain reaction, which create the risk of an uncontrollable exponential runaway. The radioactivity of the spent materials is released.
The threat posed by nuclear energy is related to several factors. It is often due to operating errors and material deficiencies. Indeed, in nuclear plants, many accidents are caused by operating errors, acts of sabotage, or equipment failure.
The more complex the technology, the more the human factor becomes a key factor. As I explained earlier, because of the bad reputation of nuclear energy, young people who would have the skills, the intelligence and the brain to work in this industry are turning away from it in increasing numbers. The government says that this is yet another reason to privatize the nuclear industry and, perhaps, to hire human resources abroad.
Earlier, I briefly mentioned that it is also for reasons of competitiveness and profitability that the safety aspect is being eroded. It has been said that nuclear plants are getting old. We are told that the costs of renovating and upgrading them are huge. In a strictly private environment where profitability is the number one priority, we have every reason to voice serious concerns.
To ensure a competitive production cost per kilowatt-hour, the operating life of plants is being unduly extended, the downtime of reactors is, perhaps, imprudently reduced and there is also increasing reliance on middlemen. We know that nuclear plants were originally expected to have an average operating life of 25 years. Now, they are talking about extending it to 40 years or more. However, equipment failure is often age-related.
Disasters could very well happen. Who is responsible when disasters occur? The House will remember that, in 1957, the United States congress passed the Price-Anderson Act limiting the civil liability of nuclear operators in the event of a nuclear accident. Such a limit was considered a precedent in civil liability.
Members will also remember than on July 29, 16 European countries signed the Paris convention setting forth the strict liability and the exclusive liability, but also the limitation upon the liability in the event of a serious nuclear accident. Pursuant to the agreement, measures are taken to avoid any interference with the development of the production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Limited liability would help the nuclear energy industry avoid major financial setbacks caused by a nuclear accident. Since exclusive liability applies only to the operator, it protects subcontractors and building companies against any hidden flaws in the construction of the facilities.
This is strikingly similar to the attempt by the government to exempt from reducing the level of contamination anyone who could be linked to such a risky but potentially very lucrative business, if no accident happens. Then, if something bad occurs, the financial security they provide, hence their liability, would be limited.
Later on, in France, the legislation passed on October 30, 1968 set out the terms and conditions of the Paris convention. It confirmed the exemptions to the general law of liability. Section 3, as amended in 1990, limits the compensation to be paid to the victims by the operator to 600 million francs and by the State to 2.5 billion francs. So, there is still a limitation upon the liability of private operators managing and operating nuclear plants. I do not agree with this approach.
Therefore there is a risk of major disasters. As my time is running out and the Chair is indicating to me that I have five minutes left, I will now talk about risk, waste and costs.
We already talked about risk. In terms of waste, last year Bill C-27 provided for large amounts of money to manage dangerous nuclear waste. It also provided for investments from every user. These were large amounts of money, but we do not know how far they will go. We are not even sure how long it will take.
However, as I said earlier, the United Stated has spent $8 billion in studies alone. Imagine what it means in terms of making storage secure or even ideally getting rid of and maybe completely eliminating waste. However, this does not seem possible.
So we are left with what I would call the terrible and catastrophic irresponsibility of our predecessors, who never really wondered how to manage waste, or even eliminate it, and what the impact would be. That is all I had to say about waste management.
With regard to costs, we know very well, for example, that federal subsidies to Atomic Energy Canada over the past 46 years amount in total to $15.8 billion in 1998 dollars.
It should be noted that this $15.8 billion subsidy is real money, and that it does not take into account the opportunity cost, that is what the subsidy would have been worth if the government had invested in less costly initiatives. At a rate of 15%, the opportunity cost of government subsidies to Atomic Energy Canada is $2.2 billion. You see how much money has been sunk into this. We can foresee how much more will be sunk in the future.
The question could be asked during an extensive debate on the nuclear industry. We could ask ourselves the following question: Can we opt out of nuclear energy? The answer is relatively simple. Yes, we can. People will ask what we can turn to. Saying yes, we can opt out of nuclear energy is saying yes to something else.
What are the alternatives? Our renewable resources, of course. Human beings need sun, water and air. The whole earth needs wind to operate properly and renew its own energy. It is the same, in terms of energy, as what the earth needs to operate.
Renewable energy sources are constantly replenished. As I said earlier, these sources are the sun, the wind, water and the biomass. If we put all the money that was invested in nuclear power and related fields, all the money that is still owed, at today's value, and the money we will have to spend to manage nuclear waste and environmental problems, if we invested all that money in renewable energy, we would not even need to bother with Kyoto. The problem would be settled quite quickly.
Here in Quebec—we are not in Quebec, actually—