Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to speak to Bill C-5, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident.
The bill would replace the 1976 Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act and would establish a clear regime in the event of a nuclear accident. The bill establishes a compensation and civil liability regime to address damages resulting from radiation in the event of a radioactive release.
I want to speak a little about the nuclear industry, how it relates to the bill and Canadians, and how it relates to our energy consumption and industry.
Before I go into that, I want to speak about Canada being a world leader in uranium, uranium being the substrate utilized in our reactors. Canada, as I said during questions, is the world's leading producer of uranium. We produce 22% of the world's uranium, which is quite exciting for us.
What is very interesting is that the electricity generated from our Canadian uranium worldwide avoids more than 650 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually. It is really quite amazing that the utilization of uranium actually reduces that much carbon dioxide, which, as we know, is one of the greenhouse gas emissions.
Uranium is a metal and is found in abundance in certain parts of the world. We are lucky that we have it in our country. It is able to generate very large amounts of energy. We know about the possible costs of nuclear utilization. We know what happened in Chernobyl. Perhaps a little later on I will get to how that disaster happened.
However, nuclear energy does not pollute the air and neither does it produce smog or rain. It does not produce any greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide, methane or nitrous oxide. Nuclear energy in Canada avoids the emission of about 90 million tonnes of greenhouse gases per year.
What does that mean in terms of cars, for example? Essentially it is equivalent of taking 18 million cars or trucks off the road. That is a staggering amount when we apply it to the real world. The amount of uranium we produce through our reactors in our country is the equivalent of taking 18 million cars off the road every single year, which is about 12% of our greenhouse gas emissions. It also reduces by 10% the amount of smog that would be produced if those cars were allowed to continue on our roads.
Much is made of the factor of radiation emissions from nuclear power plants. It is very interesting that a lot of mythology surrounds it, but I think it is wise for us to put it in context. We know there is a natural supply of radiation in the world. Radon is ubiquitous in nature, and the amount of radiation that we receive from travelling in a plane, for example, is quite extraordinary.
Many of us travel by plane to come to work in these hallowed halls. For those of us who travel from the west coast of Canada to Ottawa, we receive, from a one-way flight, the equivalent of 15 to 20 times the amount of radiation a person would receive if he or she lived on the perimeter of a nuclear power plant. On one trip from Vancouver to Toronto, the amount of radiation we pick up during that one flight, and not a return flight, would be 15 to 20 times the amount of radiation we would pick up if we lived on the perimeter of a nuclear power plant for a period of one year. If we were to travel once across the country one-way, it would be the equivalent of living next to a nuclear power plant for 15 to 20 years. It is quite phenomenal.
It is also important to know that in Canada we have quite a good nuclear safety regulation process. We have not had any substantial accidents in our country, unlike others. The big problem most of us have and are concerned about is the disposition of the spent nuclear rods.
These materials are still of danger. They are buried in the Cambrian Shield, for example, deep within the earth's core. It is done quite safely. There are concerns of course as to the transportation of those materials, but we have very good procedures in our country.
The same cannot be said for other parts of the world, and one of the challenges that I think everybody has, and that I might say is receiving short shrift in terms of the ability of our government to address it in its foreign policy perspective, is the loss of fissile material.
We know, for example, that one of the objectives of terrorist groups is to acquire fissile material, not necessarily to build a bomb, but in essence to use what is called a dirty bomb where they actually take the nuclear material, pad C4 or dynamite around it and blow it up. The effect is that this nuclear material is spread in an isolated area, affecting people in the immediate vicinity of the blast zone, and also there are long term effects of being exposed to nuclear material which can be an array of cancers and other health problems.
The challenge therefore is how we can secure that material, and I will give one anecdote. The Russians had backpack nuclear devices, small nuclear devices that were on backpacks, and when asked where these backpacks were, a key general in the Russian army, a very senior general, said, “I do not know”. Russia cannot account for the backpack nukes that they built during the cold war. That has to be very worrisome to most of us.
Therefore, when the government actually gets around to appointing a foreign minister on a permanent basis, one of the goals of the minister should be to work with his or her counterparts in the United States. I know for a fact that Congress is very concerned about lost nukes and lost fissile material from other parts of the world, particularly Russia and Eastern Europe where it is much easier to acquire this material and the controls on this material are more difficult.
I mentioned Chernobyl. Many people like to equate the fact that because Chernobyl occurred, somehow we are going to have a Chernobyl in Canada. What happened in Chernobyl was that the actual workers in the institute were playing a game. They had turned off all the fail-safe mechanisms, turned off all the redundancies to stop an event from occurring to see how high the temperature would go within the reactor core, with catastrophic results.
However, that was a human failure that occurred, not a failure of the system itself. We know that we can always pervert a system if there is enough determination to do that.
The amount of waste that we have within our own reactors is relatively small and the amount is quite well controlled. The benefits, as I mentioned before, in terms of the production of energy and electricity is vast. The benefits to our environment are quite considerable and it is very important to actually be aware of this.
If we are going to be able to meet our greenhouse gas emission targets through Kyoto or beyond Kyoto, then nuclear power will be a part of that. What is also interesting to know is that the cost to actually manufacture power and through the life span of a nuclear reactor, the costs are equivalent to other alternative forms of energy, such as wind, solar and hydro power. That is important to be aware of because those who choose to demonize nuclear power need to be aware of this.
The other aspect of excellence that we have in our country is in the production of nuclear isotopes that are used in the medical field, and I think it is important for us to know that we as a country produce more than 50% of the medical isotopes in the world.
When the situation occurred not so long ago, with the minister making some grave errors at the end of last year in dealing with the nuclear isotope catastrophe that we had and the shutdown of our nuclear reactor in Chalk River, it bespoke of the fact that we lacked a redundancy in the system. As a physician, I frankly did not know that we did not have a redundancy in our system, so in that time of crisis we were trying to get isotopes from places like South Africa, which produces them too.
In the face of this, we had the production of the MAPLE reactor, but we have learned in the last 24 to 48 hours that the MAPLE reactor is now not going to open up.
What this means for Canadian patients and for those doctors who work in the care and in the diagnosis of patients who are ill is that we do not have the redundancy we need in acquiring the isotopes that are absolutely essential for the more than 60,000 procedures that occur every single day in the care of those who are ill in our country.
I would submit to the government that it has to come to the House and tell the House and the Canadian public what it is doing to ensure that we have redundancy in the production of radioactive isotopes in our country. If it does not do that, and if we have another problem with this 50 year old reactor at Chalk River, I might add, then Canadian patients will be left out on a limb.
Few things are more frightening for patients than to have to get these tests but more frightening to them is to be let down at the last minute that they cannot have the tests because they do not have access to these nuclear materials. It is heartbreaking for the patient. It is heartbreaking for the person's caregiver.
We know MDS Nordion supplies over half of the world's isotopes for the diagnostics and treatment of some very serious illnesses including numerous cancers. It is also used in the diagnosis of a number of diseases both malignancies and non-malignancies. We are also a leader in the development of gamma technology that is used for the elimination of food borne pathogens such as E. coli which can cause an array of problems.
I would only submit that it behooves the government to get on this right away. The Minister of Natural Resources must come to the House and tell the House and tell the Canadian public what he is doing to deal with this problem as quickly as possible.
On the energy security issue, I know that we will have to deal with a number of alternate forms of power including tidal power, wind power and hydro power. I want to draw to the attention of the government a really critical problem that is occurring right now in my province of British Columbia. It is going to wipe out the Similkameen Valley.
The Similkameen River that runs through the Similkameen Valley comes from south of the border. The United States has an option to build a high level dam on the river. That is going to back up the water and cause the destruction of the Similkameen Valley, destroy aboriginal lands owned by them, and destroy a park that is in the middle of that territory. In effect, the flooding of this area is going to wipe out the ability of a new park to occur in southern British Columbia.
What we have heard from the government on this is nothing. The people of the Similkameen Valley are deeply concerned about this, yet there are options. There are in fact three options. Option one is a high level dam that will result in the destruction of the valley, the destruction of aboriginal territories, the severing of a potential national park in half, the destruction of critical habitat, and the destruction of a number of species, flora and fauna that are significant and that are endangered and specific to the valley. The second option is to build a mid-level dam. The mid-level dam can be an option because it will not result in flooding. The third option is a low level dam that would be a run of the river dam.
The last two options, the mid-level dam and the small dam, are options that the government can negotiate with the United States to ensure that it has its power needs met, whereas we ensure that the integrity of the Similkameen Valley is going to continue. However, what is not an option is for the government to remain silent and not to bring this up with the U.S. government.
This requires the urgent attention of the Government of Canada. We have heard nothing on this whatsoever. I would like, as a British Columbia member of Parliament, to ask the government to come to the House as quickly as possible to inform the House and the Canadian public what the minister is going to do to address this particular problem.
It is grave, it is critical, and it requires the minister's and the government's utmost urgency, otherwise we are going to have a very big problem in British Columbia. It will be an environmental disaster, it will be a political disaster, and it will be an economic disaster.
The next issue concerns the oil sands. I know many of the members in the government come from the beautiful province of Alberta. The oil sands are in an area of some potential. They are in an area that is fraught with a lot of difficulty and could produce an environmental catastrophe.
The water issue alone is enough to make Albertans deeply concerned about this particular issue. That perhaps is why Alberta is looking toward the development of a nuclear reactor so it can get some of its energy needs from the reactor.
If the tar sands continue to go the way they are going the water security of the people of Alberta will be deeply damaged. Their ability to actually engage in farming and agriculture production that they have done so ably for so long will be compromised, and the beauty and environmental integrity of what I consider one of the most beautiful parts of the world will be damaged. This does not have to happen, but what it requires is a government that is willing to get off its backside and engage the private sector that wants the government to do it, to address the challenges within the tar sands.
If the government does not do that then the development of the tar sands without any consideration whatsoever for the environmental and larger economic concerns of other industries in Alberta will be a catastrophe for the people and province of Alberta as well as the people of Canada and for the world. The environmental damage that would be inflicted on the world and our country by that particular project would be so profound that it would damage the ability for us to get a hold of our greenhouse gas emissions in the future for a very long time to come.
This is not a given but it does require leadership and it does require the government working with the private sector. I want to emphasize that the oil producers in Alberta are smart people. They know the problems that they face and they would like to work with the government to resolve those problems. The people of Alberta know that and they want this to happen, too, but what they have received from some of their elected officials and from the government is dead silence. That is not an option.
Lastly, I want to address two other options. One is the issue of tidal power. Our country actually, interestingly enough, is a leader in this field. Many of the phenomenal scientists who have been involved in tidal power have actually exported their talents to other parts of the world such as Great Britain. Great Britain has overcome some of the initial scientific problems and obstructions that existed with tidal power. There were rusting problems, problems in terms of tidal movements being translated into the energy that is produced and also some security and consistency in the way that it is done. But those interestingly enough have actually been overcome, overcome I might add by Canadian scientists.
Now, our job is to bring those scientists and technologies back to Canada and to utilize tidal power. My riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca is on Vancouver Island. When I am back home on the island, all I see is potential energy that is going to waste and I ask myself, would it not be remarkable if we were able to harness the energy and utilize it, particularly in coastal areas?
It would be clean without any production of greenhouse gases. This could be one of the major exports that we could have, one of the things we could use within our own country to reduce our dependence on carbon-based fuels, but also it could be a phenomenal export potential for our country because many of the people of the world actually live in coastal areas.
One can imagine the potential that exists if we were able to capitalize and become world leaders in the area of tidal power. We are doing some of that in fact in my riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. We have an area near Race Rocks but that kind of superb cutting edge science and research needs the attention of the federal government to ensure that we are able to maximize that potential, and utilize and export it to other countries.
The Liberal Party will be conditionally supporting the bill as it moves forward. Our critics will keep an eagle eye on it to make sure that it meets our demands in the interests of Canadians. If it continues to be a good bill, and answers our questions and those of our citizens, then we will support it through to the end.