Mr. Speaker, the question of nuclear safety and regulations is of interest to me. As a resident and the elected representative of an area located in central Quebec, I live very close to the Bécancour nuclear plant, which is about forty minutes north of Drummondville.
Let me just start by saying once again that my party is against Bill C-4.
First, we believe that the hazards relating to nuclear energy require tighter regulations than for any other type of energy.
Second, if financial backers find this too risky an investment, there is no reason for society to see it differently.
Third, the government should focus its efforts on developing clean energy such as wind power.
Finally, where energy is concerned, the Bloc Quebecois also demands, first and foremost, ratification of Kyoto.
What is the purpose of this bill? It amends the legislation to vary the classes of persons that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission may order to take measures to reduce the level of contamination of a place.
Currently, the Nuclear Safety and Control Act allows the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to “order that the owner or occupant or--this is the point Bill C-4 seeks to amend--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”.
I understand that the scope of the phrase “any other person with a right to or interest in, the affected land or place” is rather broad. More simply put, this means that any person with an interest may be made to pay should a spill or other problem occur.
It is conceivable that a bank that granted a loan to a nuclear plant could be sued and would have to pay out a lot of money. It then becomes easier to understand the purpose of the bill, which seeks to exempt third parties from possible legal action. It is a way of protecting those likely to finance the nuclear industry.
So the bill seeks to replace “any other person with a right or interest in, the affected land or place take the prescribed measures to reduce the level of contamination” with a less stringent statement narrower in scope. The amendment would read as follows, “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”.
This amendment would exempt a whole group, including banks, from the obligation to decontaminate. We believe this amendment to the legislation is inappropriate.
The use of nuclear energy involves risks, huge risks. Obviously every technical precaution is taken to avoid an accident that would be both dangerous and costly. The way nuclear plants operate makes it impossible for a fission reaction to get out of control and for a reactor to explode.
However, the reactor's water pipes may break and, in spite of reactor containment, slightly radioactive water might be released as steam into the atmosphere or into surrounding bodies of water.
In the most serious cases, the fuel might melt down and release very radioactive substances into the environment. There might be a power outage that would disable the reactor and its safety systems. This is why there are numerous independent electrical circuits.
Earthquakes, attacks or plane crashes are unlikely events that are taken into account in the design of the plant and during its operation.
It must be said that, in Canada, there has been no serious accident in nuclear plants where the people living nearby were subjected to nuclear radiation. Strong efforts are made by operators to always increase the security and the reliability of reactors. But we must not forget that there is always an element of risk.
Even when everything is fine, the production of radioactive waste has in itself harmful consequences in the long term. As in all industrial activity, the use of energy and radiation produces waste, which comes from power plants, other nuclear installations, nuclear medicine services, research labs, and so on. Nuclear waste is essentially made up of contaminated objects and materials as well as products resulting from uranium fission.
Nuclear waste is classified according to its characteristics: its radioactivity level and its lifespan. Each category of waste is managed differently. Approximately 90% of waste has a short lifespan. The radioactivity of waste will decrease to a level comparable to natural radioactivity in several hundred years. The remaining 10% has a long lifespan.
We ask ourselves this: what will be the impact of nuclear waste on future generations?
The use of nuclear energy raises a lot of questions. For example: is there sufficient data to analyze the biological effects of artificial radioactivity?
I know that serious research on the consequences of significant levels of radiation started with the follow-up on the victims of Hiroshima. An unusually high incidence of breast cancer was detected in that population. Since then, many biological and ecological studies have been conducted, and our knowledge of the effects on humans and on the environment, meaning plants and animals, is ever increasing. Yet numerous questions remain unanswered, like the effects of low levels of radiation.
Here is another question: how can the ground be decontaminated after an accident? The techniques vary depending on the size of the area. Large areas cannot be decontaminated. The only solution is to restrict access, to put strict controls on agricultural production and to avoid the resuspension of radioelements, through fires for example. If the area is small, such as a prairie, the ground can be scoured, since radioactivity is concentrated in the top ten centimetres of soil, and the radioactive waste can then be stored.
For very small areas, chemicals can also be used to wash the contaminated area, but these must then be stored just like waste. It is a costly process.
Let us get back to the Minister of Natural Resources who, in this bill, is proposing an amendment he believes to be of an administrative nature.
We think that if the minister can argue that lenders were facing an unknown financial risk that could be disproportionate to their commercial interest, is the population not facing the same risk should a nuclear accident occur? It is important to ask ourselves that question.
A simple cost-benefit analysis shows that the investment is not worth the risk and, for a bank, the risk of having to pay for decontamination some day is just too great.
If the banks feel the risks are too high, why should we feel otherwise? Why give this energy special treatment, when it is far from being considered clean energy, and when alternatives exist? Why would the government not turn to clean and renewable energies?
It is certainly topical to be discussing responsibility for our environment. We in the Bloc Quebecois are in favour of developing alternative energies and have, moreover, already proposed an investment plan of some $700 million over 5 years to encourage the development of wind energy in Quebec. This plan alone might help create 15,000 jobs in Quebec, in Gaspé for the most part, where jobs are greatly needed.
In the throne speech of last week, the government spoke of its intention to ensure a healthy environment and to rise to the challenge of climate change. We are aware that our geographical position will make us vulnerable to such changes sooner than other countries. The government has made a commitment to meet its obligations as far as greenhouse gas emissions are concerned, and now it must stop hemming and hawing and start taking action. That is why we in the Bloc Quebecois have proposed a major federal wind energy program for the Gaspé.
As I have already mentioned, the Bloc Quebecois has proposed a federal investment program in the wind energy industry of $700 million over five years. This amount is equivalent, on a per capita basis, to the federal aid to Newfoundland for the Hibernia project. The federal government has the means to do so, as proven by its $9.8 billion surplus for fiscal year 2001-02.
The objective is to create a wind power capacity of a minimum of 1,000 megawatts in Quebec, mainly in the Gaspé. In order to accomplish this, a strong wind power industry needs to be developed. I remind hon. members that installation of such an industry would have the potential to create, as a conservative estimate, 15,000 jobs.
That is why the program will focus on the building of plants manufacturing wind turbines. These projects must, of necessity, include a significant local content component as well as an aspect aimed at bolstering regional industry.
Other aspects of the program can provide grants to farmers or landowners interested in this form of energy. The government could, for example, help with the necessary bank loans to purchase equipment at advantageous 10-year interest rates.
As well, the program could also contain elements to facilitate the construction of infrastructure, such as highways or power transmission lines.
Let us get back to the ratification of the Kyoto accord. The position of the Bloc Quebecois on environmental protection has been known for a long time. Incidentally, several city councils my riding of Drummond have sent me resolutions supporting the ratification of the Kyoto protocol. I have given these resolutions to the hon. member for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, who is a passionate advocate of this issue.
The Quebec National Assembly adopted a unanimous motion supporting the ratification of the Kyoto protocol, but the federal government is constantly dithering, in an attempt to back out of its commitments, while Europe has confirmed that it will ratify the accord. A number of ministers, including the Minister of Natural Resources and the Minister of Industry, have acted as spokespersons for the western oil lobby, in an attempt to impede the ratification process.
Quebec believes that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will not only benefit the environment and future generations, but will also promote innovation and new investments that will give new momentum to our economy.
The fact that the environmental impact of climate change is huge for Canada and Quebec cannot be ignored. One does not need to be an expert to see the effects: the increasing frequency of floods and droughts, the damage caused to our natural areas, not to mention the higher incidence of several infectious diseases, are convincing enough.
In February 2001, an article published in the daily La Presse mentioned the following, regarding the fact that the level of water in the St. Lawrence River was getting lower:
The flow of the St. Lawrence River will be reduced, but the rise in the sea level will increase the risk of flooding along the shores. In the Prairies, crops will be affected by drought.
What else? The poorer quality of the air we breath generates astronomical health costs. In June 2002, the Ontario Medical Association said that annual costs amounted to $1 billion because of the greater number of hospitalizations, visits to the emergency room and absenteeism.
At some point, we will have to deal with these issues. Moreover, people, particularly children, are developing more and more allergies. We have yet to deal with the issue of why there is an increasing number of people who are allergic to food items, to dust and to all sorts of things we breathe. It goes without saying that this is related to climate change. Be that as it may, we will have to collect data and do research on this. It is very important that we look at this issue to improve people's health and quality of life.
Since the ratification of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, Quebec has exercised strong leadership on the Canadian scene. After endorsing by decree the objectives of the convention, Quebec implemented a first action plan on climate change in 1996, and a second one in the year 2000.
Following on the unanimous resolution passed in the National Assembly in April 2001, the Government of Quebec came down repeatedly in favour of ratification of the Kyoto protocol by Canada. Because of its dithering, the federal government is preventing Quebec from expressing its views worldwide and playing a leading role in environmental issues.
It is perfectly legitimate for Quebec to expect a positive return on the actions and the decisions made in the past as far as energy and the environment are concerned. We believe that these innovative moves will allow it to maintain its economic growth and the competitiveness of local businesses at every level: interprovincially, continentally and internationally.
In Quebec, we believe that a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions can lead to technological innovation that can revitalize our economy. The government of the Parti Quebecois wants the economy to be dynamic.
The development of new technologies, like wind power, gives us the opportunity to set up structuring industries in the regions. The diversification of regional economies would ensure a better future for the next generation.
Moreover, according to a study released by the Analysis and Modelling Group in November 2001 and published by Le Devoir on January 29, 2002, and I quote:
With the ratification of Kyoto, sales of the Canadian environmental industry would go up, from $427 million to $7 billion a year until 2010.
Other benefits worth mentioning include a better environment, which would lead to better health. Social benefits from a more healthy population could reach $500 million a year.
Since I am being shown that I only have one minute left, I will conclude. I could have addressed the issue by talking about the assistance the federal government has already provided to other energy industries. Billions of dollars have been spent on developing industries using fossil fuels, $66 billion to be specific, four times the health budget for Quebec, in the form of direct subsidies to the oil and gas industry.
While wind energy is growing and creating jobs everywhere else in the world, the Liberal government wants to relax the rules to promote the development of a type of energy that involves high costs and risks not only for us, but also for future generations.
That is why I am against Bill C-4, An Act to amend the Nuclear Safety and Control Act .