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House of Commons Hansard #116 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was industry.

Topics

Nuclear Liability and compensation ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Fitzpatrick Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I listened to part of the member's speech. I am not quite clear on this, but he seems to be opposed to any private ownership in the nuclear industry and he wants control retained by the government. Maybe he could clarify this. It was my impression that the New Democrats were absolutely opposed to any nuclear development, period, whether it was done by the government or by corporations. I would like that clarified. If that is the case, it seems to me there is a lot of sucking and blowing going on at the same time.

Nuclear Liability and compensation ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, there are a number of issues my colleague raised. One of them is the position of the New Democratic Party on nuclear energy. Quite simply, nuclear energy is part of the Canadian energy mix. It exists now and will exist in the future. Our concern is to ensure the nuclear industry is operated in a safe fashion but also to ensure that the problems the nuclear industry has yet to address are addressed.

We have not seen a resolution of the problems that the nuclear industry has with waste. That has not happened, so why would this be seen as a good area to expand in and provide, as the Conservatives did in the last budget, $300 million for the ACR-1000 nuclear reactor? We are not in favour of that. We are not in favour of continuing to subsidize an industry that has been in place for over 50 years.

The industry cannot get its act together to produce equipment at a price that matches that of its competitors, whether it be wind, solar, hydro, clean coal or anything else. If the industry cannot do that, why should the government support it? The government is deliberately subsidizing that industry and then it will turn around and sell it to the Americans. What kind of deal is that? That is simply a bad deal for Canada and for Canadians.

Nuclear Liability and compensation ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is on so many committees, but I am not sure of whether he was at the natural resources committee when minister appeared before it.

Two issues were raised, the first issue being the $600 million compensation cap that was placed through the legislation. I am not sure whether it was the member who asked the question, but the minister was asked why the government would put that cap on when a major nuclear incident would have such larger and more expansive implications geographically.

Is the member aware of what the answer was? What would the appropriate amount and mechanism be, if it were entrenched in the legislation, with which the New Democratic Party would be satisfied?

Nuclear Liability and compensation ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, originally we were looking at the amount that was in place in the United States, our closest neighbour, of some $10 billion in liability. The Americans have a system of sharing the liability among all the existing plants. A system like that in Canada probably would have been preferable to this minimum liability limit. That is exactly how it was portrayed by the minister when he was in the committee.

He said that this was the international minimum standard that the government would go with because it would be accepted by the international community. However, places like Germany, where it has experienced major problems with nuclear reactors, has an unlimited liability for anyone wanting to put one in place.

The reason why the government will not go in that direction is it would make it less attractive to sell AECL. There is a higher liability limit on the plants in Canada. The true costing of the nuclear industry would be more evident in the cost in insurance.

What we see is a compromise to keep the costs down for the nuclear industry. At the same time, the government, in this budget, is recklessly throwing more money into the industry.

We really have not had a national energy debate where we can match up one new form of energy against the old ones.

Nuclear Liability and compensation ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

We have a new national energy program this morning.

Nuclear Liability and compensation ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, it is an interesting thing in Parliament that whenever one talks about the future, some tend to refer to the past. We need a debate on energy in Parliament. We need it now. We have $140 a barrel oil. We have many choices in front of us and we have to make those choices in a reasonable fashion, with Canadians understanding all the costs.

Nuclear Liability and compensation ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Western Arctic because I know he has paid a huge amount of attention to this issue. Because of his riding and the interest there, he is one of the people in this place, and certainly within our caucus, who pays very close attention. I agree with his comments. We need a proper debate and a context in terms of a national energy policy.

We see these piecemeal attempts coming forward that do not give us any grounding or context in terms of what is going to happen in Canada. One of the concerns we have, and what we have heard from the community, is the fact that the Conservative government has big plans for the nuclear industry in Canada and that it has been offered as a solution to the question of greenhouse gases. We see this in Alberta with the oil sands. This is not an existing status quo and it puts a cap on things.

The question of civil liability and compensation for nuclear industry damage is looming. Not only is it a serious situation in the status quo, but also where it leads us in the future.

Could the member for Western Arctic reference that in terms of what we might possibly face in the future in the expansion of the nuclear industry in Canada, so the question of liability will become an even greater issue?

Nuclear Liability and compensation ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting when we talk about the expansion of the nuclear industry. Peace River is looking at a huge 4,000 megawatt plant. That is probably linked into the plans to develop transmission capacity in Alberta to Montana and on into the United States. Perhaps, if we look at it in a longer sense, what we would do is provide an opportunity in Alberta to develop nuclear energy, without the kind of safeguards and liability that the United States has, and then export that power to the United States.

In some sense, that project is still much in doubt. Saskatchewan has suggested that it would like to look at a nuclear reactor. I think what is driving this is its understanding now that clean coal with sequestration is an enormously expensive process, and it is going to get cold feet on that pretty quickly too.

The Conservative government threw a quarter of a billion dollars toward this project and the Saskatchewan government threw in $750 million. The industry has only put $300 million. They are going to produce a 100 megawatt clean coal sequestration plant in Saskatchewan. My goodness, that will never be cost effective. Therefore, perhaps they are going to the nuclear reactors because they do not see this is going to be, in the long term, a very attractive potential.

What we have not done is put it in context. If we do not do that, people will continue to propose projects and look at things in the short term, which may make no sense at all in the long term.

Nuclear Liability and compensation ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-5, the so-called nuclear liability bill is an obvious misnomer. It purports to provide some security to individuals, corporations and communities impacted by the failure of a nuclear power site and provide them with financial compensation for the consequences of that failure and the contamination that inevitably would flow from it. That is the way the bill is being sold. However, the reality is just the opposite.

The bill has nothing to do with protecting working families, neighbourhoods or communities. It is all about making it easier for private interests to build nuclear plants. It is part of the government's agenda, as it was part of the former government's agenda to some significant degree, to privatize the nuclear industry in Canada and to sell off the existing operations in a variety of forms, basically to shift all control to the private sector. Any new operations would similarly be owned and operated by the private sector.

There is a fly in the ointment, if I can use that analogy. The reality is the government cannot get financing in the private sector for the nuclear industry for the construction of new plants or for the renovation of existing plants so they meet operational standards because of the potential for a catastrophic financial risk to the lenders if there is even a minor leak of radiation from a nuclear power site.

It is quite clear that the legislation is totally about protecting the interests of the private sector nuclear industry and the people who would finance it. To suggest otherwise is to either be grossly ignorant or dishonest.

I spent some time on a standing committee a few years ago reviewing the waste management organization bill, which was legislation to establish a government organization to deal with potential sites for the disposal of nuclear waste. In the course of the hearings, which went on for quite some time, some of the information that came forward talked about the consequences of contamination from nuclear power sites.

One of the stories I always remember was about a small nuclear plant, one of the original plants built some time in the early fifties in the United States, that was not properly managed. There were small continuous leaks so the entire site was contaminated, something in the range of about 20 acres. Eventually the plant was shut down.

In the 1990s, after the plant had been shut down and sitting dormant for quite some time, through court orders in the United States it was required that the plant be cleaned up. By this time the private operator had gone bankrupt and was out of the picture, so the federal government and the state government had to take on the burden. At that time, there was no liability insurance available for nuclear plants.

There was no requirement, when that plant was built, to establish a fund to deal with the consequences of a leak or to deal with the cleanup once the plant had closed. There was no money there at all, so it was borne by both the federal and state governments in the United States.

They did get rid of the entire building, which of course was contaminated, but then they had to deal with the site, the soil. Their method of dealing with it was to go down to I think something like 20 feet, truck it to an incinerator and burn all of the soil. What was left, which was still radioactive contamination, was then buried and stored at another nuclear plant site. The price tag for this in the early nineties was $13 billion, and there were no buildings that they had to deal with; that was just the soil.

Let us look at what we would be dealing with if we had a Chernobyl-type disaster, and actually we do not really have to go anywhere near that far.

I want to say, as a bit of an aside, that whenever I think of Chernobyl I think of a meeting I was at of the Essex County Federation of Agriculture in the fall this past year. It was the tradition to have a presentation from an outside group on a variety of topics. There have been a number of interesting presentations over the years, but this last year a family from the Chatham area told about the experiences they had in helping the children of Chernobyl.

What happened after Chernobyl was that there was an immediate evacuation of the area of, I think, a 40 or 50 kilometre radius around the plant, especially downwind, and I have to note that the Minister of the Environment just made a comment about turning the lights out in Saskatchewan. I am sure he is quite capable of operating in the dark because I think that is the way he normally operates.

Back to Chernobyl and a serious issue. When they did this evacuation, they did it in part with the local climatic conditions, in particular with the wind pattern. So people downwind were even more removed.

But then what happened after a number of years, even though the entire site, thousands and thousands of acres, was still contaminated, families started moving back, almost out of desperation and, of course, began producing crops, which continued to be contaminated with radioactive material.

So this family in Chatham and a group they had been helping with had been told that if they could get them out of there, even for a short periods of time, it would reduce substantially their risk of getting cancer from the radioactive exposure they had. And so, there is this international program in Canada, and this family is part of the group, that has begun to assist by bringing both elementary and secondary school-aged children over to other countries.

Ireland is a big participant, as is the United States and Canada. We take students out of that contaminated area during their summer vacations, and just because they are in Canada or in a safe zone for six weeks or seven weeks of the summer, it will dramatically reduce, we are being told by the experts, the potential for them to get cancer, at least at an early age, even though they will go back into the exposure for the balance of the year.

When I think about that story, I also think about who is paying for that. It is not the nuclear industry because it has no liability. The Soviet regime did not require any of that. It is not the current government of Russia or Ukraine because they do not have the resources, Ukraine in particular. This is entirely being funded by this non-profit organization. In fact, the group was there that night to ask for financial assistance. It was interesting to see the emotional response from all of us and a substantial amount of money was raised.

Let us then transpose that to Canada and say we have a significant spill of radioactive material. Whether we take the site at Bruce nuclear or the ones on Lake Ontario near the Toronto-Oshawa area, if there were not money to take care of the area around Chernobyl and there still is no money, imagine what it is going to be like if we have that kind of a disaster in Ontario? What is $650 million going to do?

That is what the absolute maximum limit is under this legislation. It would not do much for that site in the United States that cost $13 billion back in the nineties, which would probably be a $20 billion figure now. It would not do anything for all of the families, individuals and children who would be affected because the $650 million would be gone in the twinkle of an eye.

Think about what it does. We have nuclear plants sitting right there on Lake Ontario and Lake Huron. Any substantial spill would significantly impact on the Great Lakes all the way through into the St. Lawrence. We know that contamination, that radiation, has a lifespan that is beyond the comprehension of our current science.

We hear scientists talk about half life. What they are really saying is we do not know yet, in spite of the nuclear industry being six or seven decades old, how long the contamination will last. We get estimates of 1,000 to 10,000 years, but any nuclear scientists of any substantial credential will say that they just do not know, that those are minimum ranges of how long the contamination will last.

Again, think about the nuclear plants at Bruce and Lake Huron. I know that area fairly well. I have family there and I have spent summer vacations in that area of Kincardine, Port Elgin, and South Hampton. Think about what $650 million would do and more importantly what it will not do. It will not deal with anywhere near the property damage and losses that would be consequential from a spill. It will not do any appreciable good for all those claims we are going to have from people who will no longer be able to work and will suffer cancer, early deaths, et cetera. What about all the medical treatment they are going to require? In a situation like this we look at literally the potential for the collapse of our health care system. I know that sounds dramatic, but it is the reality of a substantial spill. That $650 million just does not cut it.

It does not provide protection for individuals, for businesses, for communities, for the province, or for the country. So why are we doing this? We are doing it to try to facilitate the expansion of the nuclear industry and we are doing it to make it possible to privatize the nuclear industry.

If the bill were to go through, and it probably will because it has the support of the government and the opposition parties, other than the NDP, it would actually expand the risk levels. So the $650 million again becomes more of a joke because it would make it possible, which it is not right now, but it would make it possible to expand the nuclear industry.

There is no question that we need legislation in this area, but the legislation should be that there is unlimited liability on the part of the nuclear industry for the consequences flowing from a spill, a rupture.

If we dumped garbage on our neighbours' property, our laws say to us and society says to us that we must pay to clean that up. We do not turn to the government and say it should clean it up. We do not turn to the neighbours where we dumped it and say that it is on their property now and they can clean it up. If one of their children falls and cuts their foot or their hand on the glass that we have dumped on their property, we are responsible because it is our actions that have caused that. That is the tradition in our law, going back to the common law system and the parliamentary system in England for hundreds and hundreds of years.

This legislation says to this sector of the economy that it can get away with that. If it dumps its waste through its negligence on the neighbours' property, whether it is the whole of Lake Ontario and Lake Huron or the neighbours who live downwind in Toronto and Oshawa, it will have not have to pay them beyond this amount. We know the amount is ridiculously low.

In effect, with this legislation, we are giving a permit for the industry to expand and in effect, we are saying to the nuclear industry, we will impose some limited liability on it, but it does not need to worry about it too much because beyond that it is safe. Then the governments, individuals, corporations and businesses will have to pick up the rest of the tab. We know the rest of the tab is many billions of dollars. That is the reality of what we are dealing with.

I want to refer back again to the work that we did in committee with the waste management organization. The risk level continues to rise because we continue to increase the sheer volume of waste that we have from our current plants and of course we will continue to do so if we build any new ones. From all the work that we did in that committee and the reports that really precipitated the work of that committee, there is no safe storage mechanism in the world for nuclear waste.

The Americans have not figured it out in the U.S., which would arguably be the most advanced country in terms of the work that it has been done on nuclear waste and how to deal with it. They have not figured out how to deal with it safely and securely with full protection for society. They have not been able to do it.

It is not simply the length of time that the material remains contaminated by radiation. It is the actual nature of the contaminated material itself. We have no way of dealing with it. We know we can reduce it somewhat in volume, the nuclear rods in particular. We have developed some technology to reduce that part of it by reusing it. There is very limited reduction, but there is a little bit.

Whatever we have been able to do in that regard has been more than offset by just the sheer volume that is being created as the nuclear plants continue to function and provide us with energy.

The risk is going up, literally on a daily basis as the plants continue to operate and continue to produce radioactive material. In this legislation, we would be limiting the liability, so we can only expect that the risk will continue to rise, in particular, if new plants are built.

I was about to say 50 years from now, but let me say for sure that in 100 years or 200 years from now, those societies will look back at what we did here since the early fifties and wonder if we were crazy.

My answer to them would be no, we were just reckless. We were reckless to go down this road in the first place. We were reckless because we see this as a panacea, a solution, in the sense of increasing the use of nuclear technology for energy production. We were reckless because we know we have alternatives that, arguably, even now, and probably for a few years, are less expensive than the nuclear alternatives. We know that if we pumped more money into research and development of alternative fuel sources that we could be even more quickly dealing with this issue.

This is not an answer at all to the problem with which we are confronted, whether it is energy production or it is a--

Nuclear Liability and compensation ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It is with regret that I must interrupt the hon. member, who had 20 minutes but has taken 22 minutes. We will have questions and comments and I am sure he will have a chance, under this period, to say what he did not have a chance to say.

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Vancouver East.

Nuclear Liability and compensation ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, when the member for Windsor—Tecumseh speaks in the House with his knowledge and depth of understanding on this and many other issues, I think we all listen very carefully.

I would like to raise with him a question that concerns us very much in our caucus. He pointed very well to the long term nature and impact of nuclear accidents, incidents, storage, spills and all the rest of it, which concerns us in terms of the length of time that we are debating and what the bill before us applies to in terms of liability, but we are also very concerned about where the nuclear industry is going in Canada.

We have the issue of the status quo and what we now know exists in our country, but there are also moves afoot by the government and possibly other governments in terms of supplying energy to the United States, which is a huge problem. We need to take into account, as we debate the bill, that we may see an expansion of the nuclear industry in Canada.

We need to ask a question. Will the bill be adequate? We know that the current bill that is being amended was clearly inadequate. Everybody agrees that a significant change was needed in terms of the liability but the serious question is whether the changes that are being brought forward in Bill C-5 would begin to address even the status quo.

With the increase or expansion in the nuclear industry and capacity in Canada, we may, unfortunately, see an increased risk in terms of accidents, spills and situations that are dangerous, and then this bill becomes very critical.

Could the member comment in terms of what he might see as we move toward the future and the dangers the bill has because it is so limited?

Nuclear Liability and compensation ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, crucial to the debate is how our risk assessment is conducted by the nuclear industry, both for existing plants as well as new ones. It is not just the potential for new plants, which is a reality I think we will be confronting, it also involves existing plants because parts of a number of them are not functioning now and a lot of proposals on the political agenda are for them to be reactivated at very substantial cost. We are talking hundreds of millions of dollars at a minimum and usually several billions of dollars to get a reactor back online once it has been shut down and then the restoration has to be done.

The way the financing industry works, if we need to go to the private sector to borrow money, one of the things it looks at is what happens if it does not work and it has a mortgage or security against the property. In law in Ontario and in all of the common law provinces, when one places that kind of security on a property and there is default, the lender assumes ownership responsibility. As part of that ownership responsibility, the lender must face the consequences of the cleanup.

Therefore, a big financial institution could tell, let us say, the people at Bruce Nuclear that it is prepared to lend them $2 billion but that there is no way that it will accept responsibility for billions more dollars if there is a contamination. The institution could ask for a limitation on the liability because it wants the security of knowing it will not have to pay an additional $650 million if a disaster or any kind of substantial consequential leak from a rupture occurs. The lenders are really pushing for this.

People may wonder why a company would not just go to an insurance company and buy insurance. I will point out that there is fixed liability in the United States but it is $10 billion. The nuclear industry has been able to get insurance. We hear from the nuclear industry, which the government has bought into, that Canada could not get that kind of insurance, that the limits could not be set that high. I do not understand that.

Canada's insurance industry is as active and vibrant as it is in the United States. Given that we compete with the Americans with regard to producing energy, it seems to me that we should at least be playing on the same level playing field as they are. It is always the term we hear, mostly from Conservative economists, that we want to be on a level playing field but this is one of the times we would not be. It is to the detriment of Canadian society that we are not prepared to follow those rules even though they are demanded of us in so many other areas.

Therefore, even if we were to fix it at $10 billion, it would be a substantial improvement over this bill by a long shot.

The other thing it does is it forces the financier to look closely at the safety measures implemented by the operator. There is another check and balance, if I can put it that way, by that methodology and the greater the liability the closer that scrutiny is.

Nuclear Liability and compensation ActGovernment Orders

Noon

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to speak to Bill C-5 regarding nuclear liability.

What is the cost of cleaning up a nuclear accident? We had a nuclear accident in the 1940s in New Mexico and a series of nuclear accidents in the 1950s in Russia, in Chalk River, Ontario and in Illinois. If I have time later, I will go through some of the examples.

However, the nuclear accidents that captured the public's attention the most were Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Windscale.

I pay a lot of attention to Chernobyl because we have seen a huge increase in the rate of thyroid cancer in children and families in Chernobyl. I know a lot about thyroid cancer because I have thyroid cancer and after studying the disease I noticed that one of the causes was exposure to nuclear reactors, nuclear waste or nuclear radiation.

Thyroid cancer is one of the fastest growing cancers in the world, aside from skin cancer, although both have a growth rate of about 5% per year.

What is the cost of helping survivors of this disease? Once the thyroid has been removed, people will need to take certain types of drugs for the rest of their life. The cost of the drugs, in a country where there may not be adequate health care or pharmacare, could be enormous. Therefore, it is absurd that the bill would limit the liability of a nuclear accident to only $650 million. It costs so much more, not only for each individual, but also to repair all the damage that is inflicted by a nuclear accident.

The liability for a nuclear accident in U.S. is $10 billion. The Canadian amount of $650 million is at the bottom of the heap according to the international standard. Yes, Canada is well known to be at the bottom of the heap with regard to the international standard, not only on nuclear liability but also with regard to nuclear waste. Nuclear waste lasts for thousands and thousands of years. It is a good comparison to look at something that lasts for that length of time versus something that is so much about our future, our children.

The children of Canada are our first concern because they are our future. Canada is not only at the bottom of the heap in terms of nuclear liability and the $650 million limit if this bill passes, but we are in fact putting our children, in terms of our investment in a national child care program, also at the bottom of the OECD heap.

In terms of liability, in Germany there is no limit. Not only Germany but a lot of European countries are moving more toward unlimited liability limits. As the world is going in one direction, Canada is going backwards as usual by saying that we are going to cap the liability at $650 million. Also, no private insurance would be made available.

That actually says to a lot of the cities and areas around nuclear plants that they are only worth $650 million. If there is a nuclear accident, it would cost billions of dollars in damage, personal injury and death, so who would pay? Let me answer that question in a minute, because this is the critical situation. If it is not the corporation that is paying, who is paying?

That is why the New Democrats, at the committee and at report stage, moved 35 amendments. We took the Liberal Party at its word. In the House of Commons in October of last year, the Liberal critic said:

--this is a very important bill and I will be recommending to my caucus and my leader that we support it and send it to committee. In committee we will be doing our job as official opposition listening to stakeholders and experts, and we will review the bill in detail.

However, as usual, the Liberals are missing in action. They try to say that they really are worried about the nuclear industry, but they are not sure whether they are saying yes to nuclear industry expansion. They were saying that maybe the liability was too low, maybe they would amend this, and maybe they would study it.

After all of that discussion, what did they do? They did not bring in any amendments whatsoever. We are not surprised, are we? The Bloc did bring in a few amendments, which were nothing that would fundamentally alter the bill, but it did not matter, because the amendments from the Bloc and the New Democratic Party were defeated. Why? Because the Liberals did not support any of them, even though they said publicly that they were extremely concerned about nuclear safety.

As members may recall, when there was a shutdown at AECL, the Liberals were saying that safety is really important. They said that we must invest in safety. As for the history of AECL, for example, there was hardly any investment in the last 15 years. What the Conservative Party is doing right now, after firing Ms. Keen because she said that perhaps it was not very safe, is to sell AECL and privatize it.

I notice that the Conservatives have not met an issue that they do not want to privatize. They are privatizing the airline industry safety measures in Bill C-7, which we are debating. It is about privatizing airline safety so that the airlines would police themselves. The Conservatives are saying not to worry, to let them do their own thing.

On immigration, it is the same thing. They are saying to privatize it, to give the contracts to the visa office and let those private companies deal with it.

It is the same thing here in Bill C-5. If there is a problem, the government is saying, we will let the taxpayers pay for it. But $650 million is not enough. It will take many billions of dollars. Who is going to carry the costs of cleanups?

Who is going to carry the cost of cleaning up of the Great Lakes if Pickering has some trouble? Who is going to clean up the environment? Who is going to deal with the people who develop ill health? It will be the taxpayers, not the industry. The government does not worry about taxpayers. It will let the industry do its own thing. In fact, this legislation is a big yes to the nuclear industry.

I note that the Conservatives want to sign on to the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership and turn Canada into a nuclear waste dump for those who do not have space for nuclear waste. Canada is a big country. Maybe they can put some of it here, because after all, if there are any problems, the liability would be capped at only $650 million. Do not worry about it, that is the attitude, and do come to Canada, even though we know there is no long term nuclear waste storage solution in the world.

For example, let us look at cleanups. There are huge and expensive cleanups. Port Hope is stuck with a huge number of problems that it has to clean up. The Northwest Territories is another example.

Nuclear waste remains deadly even after thousands and thousands of years. The bill in front of us is saying that the government will not have to worry about this waste, that taxpayers can handle it. That is extremely unfortunate. Why? Because many of the municipalities in southern Ontario are saying no to this kind of reckless behaviour.

Let me give the House an example. Twenty years ago, Guelph had a record of being one of the best cities in terms of dealing with waste management. Now, with the new mayor, the entire city is focusing on how to have zero waste. Guelph wants a big reduction in the amount of waste.

Last weekend, a conference was held in Niagara Falls. It was put together by the Ontario Zero Waste Coalition. The coalition is looking at a situation in which companies that have waste take on the responsibility for that waste. For example, Interface is a big carpet company. If someone buys a new carpet from Interface, it takes the old one back.

We are seeing a trend toward this, which is that people and companies must take care of their products, whether it is the waste or the packaging. That is the direction the world is taking. We should do the same thing with nuclear waste.

If there is a nuclear installation, we want make sure that its waste is taken care of and that if there is an accident, the liability limit is unlimited, or at least to a standard that is extremely high, in the billions of dollars, for example, not this measly $650 million in Bill C-5.

That is why I am astounded that the Liberals and the Bloc will not do everything they can to block this bill. This bill really limits the civil liability and compensation for damage in the case of a nuclear accident. We know there has been a series of accidents in the past. I have a long list of them. How can it be possible that on the last day of this sitting of the House of Commons we get no debate but only complete silence from both the official opposition and the Bloc?

Are they not worried about their residents, their voters, discovering that in the last few sitting days of the House of Commons before the summer break we allowed a bill of this nature to pass? How can we possibly do that?

Do we think that people in southern Ontario, where there are big nuclear plants, are not worried that if there are even more nuclear reactors being built the company liability would be only $650 million? What is the worth of a city? Let us look at Guelph. What is the worth of the Great Lakes? What is the worth of Aurora, right beside Guelph? I went to the University of Guelph for a short period of time. There is the city and the zoo and a great number of places. In Pickering, it is the same thing.

How can we say that if there is an accident it would cost $650 million and we could repair everything that is damaged? Just for the lake itself, cleaning up the water would cost $650 million, never mind the health damages and contamination of all the buildings in the area.

Let me tell members about some of the nuclear leaks. I will start with recent ones. In Tennessee in March 2006, 35 litres of a highly enriched uranium solution leaked during a transfer into a lab at the Nuclear Fuel Services plant in Erwin. What happened? The incident caused a seven month shutdown and required a public hearing on the licensing of the plant.

A company wanting to build a new plant and seeing a liability of only $650 million perhaps might think that it could skip a few safety standards. Maybe it would not do everything that it should to ensure that it has the safest nuclear facility because, after all, the liability is only $650 million.

Further, by the way, the bill also says that a person would have to take action within three years of becoming aware of damage, with an absolute limitation of 10 years after an incident. In the case of bodily injury, the limit is 30 years.

However, we know, and I know personally, that cancers and genetic mutations, et cetera, will not appear for at least 20 years following exposure. That is why in Chernobyl for the first 10 to 15 years it was not very obvious. It was only 20 to 30 years later that we began to see the huge rates of thyroid cancer, other cancers and genetic mutations in the future generations, with the children suffering.

By that time, according to this bill, it would be too late. No one could sue or do anything because of the time limit.

The bill also restricts liability to Canadian incidents except when there is an agreement in place with another country and the operators are Canadian. What happens if the operators are not Canadian? They could be German, Chinese or American. Does it mean that the operators would not be liable? That is outrageous. How can we possibly allow this bill to pass?

I have at least 14 pages of nuclear accidents since 1945. There are hundreds of them, and each of them has had serious implications. Let me list another one. In 2005, in Illinois--

Nuclear Liability and compensation ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order. I will have to move on to questions and comments.

The hon. member for Mississauga—Erindale.

Nuclear Liability and compensation ActGovernment Orders

June 19th, 2008 / 12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, frankly I am quite disturbed by what I heard from the member. The member consistently throughout her speech misled Canadians, fabricated allegations and fearmongered. If she keeps that up it is going to ruin her chances of winning the provincial leadership of the NDP. She needs to stick to the facts and act as a responsible member of Parliament.

She said that nobody from the Liberal Party debated this bill. She said that nobody from the Bloc debated this bill. She said that nobody asked serious questions or acted responsibly. She knows that she was not at committee. She knows that this bill transcended partisan politics. Committee members worked together, listened to witnesses, experts, nuclear scientists. Yes, there is a legitimate debate about at what amount the liability limit should be capped and other issues. There are legitimate questions and legitimate debates, but the member is misleading Canadians, misleading her constituents. She is trying to stall this bill. Why? What will happen if she stalls this bill? The liability will remain at $75 million. How is that good for Canadians?

Host communities of nuclear power plants said that they support this bill and are waiting for its approval. What is she doing? Why is she stalling? Why is she being an obstacle to the communities that are hosting nuclear plants?

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12:25 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I noticed in the old days when we were debating other accident prone projects, such as Adams Mine, the home area, for one reason or another, would make a decision as to what it supported and did not support.

What I have said is clear. I said that the Liberal Party did not put forward one amendment, not one at committee. It is true. I also said that all amendments, whether they were Bloc amendments or NDP amendments, were defeated. Why? Because the Liberals and the Conservatives voted together to strike all of them down. That is what I said.

I was asked why would I stand against this bill. Had the Liberal member heard me earlier on, he would have heard that I have a particular interest in nuclear reactors. Why? Because the fastest growing rate of cancer is thyroid cancer. The number of people who have thyroid cancer is dramatically higher in places like Windsor and Sarnia, places that are close to huge amounts of pollution and degradation of the environment.

That is why I am personally interested. I know that nuclear reactors and nuclear waste cause thyroid cancer. That has been proven. That is why I am very interested in this bill. That is why in the last two days of this sitting we should not allow this bill to pass.

Nuclear Liability and compensation ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, first of all it is unfortunate that the member for Mississauga—Erindale did not even bother to listen to the response from the member for Trinity—Spadina, given that he asked the questions.

I listened to the whole speech by the member for Trinity—Spadina. I want to thank her for sharing very personal information about her own life and the fact that she is a survivor of a thyroid cancer. I know that the member for Trinity--Spadina did an incredible amount of research and that is why she is very knowledgeable of the relationship between thyroid cancer particularly and the nuclear industry. As she has pointed out, thyroid cancer is one of the fastest growing cancers. I do not think it is always easy to share one's own personal experience, particularly when it comes to one's health and family. I want to thank her for being very open about that because I think the more awareness there is about thyroid cancer and other cancers and their direct relation to environmental concerns, the better. There are genetic links as well, but in terms of the environment, there is such a strong relationship.

The member pointed out that the Liberals had really done nothing to address this bill. I would like to draw to her attention that the member for Mississauga—Erindale said last year:

This is a very important bill and I will be recommending to my caucus and my leader that we support it and send it to committee. In committee we will be doing our job as the official opposition listening to stakeholders and experts, and we will review the bill in detail.

I am not sure that happened and so here we are. The NDP put forward 35 amendments in committee. We did not see any substantive changes from the Liberals to improve this bill which is seriously flawed.

Maybe the member for Trinity—Spadina would like to comment on that.

Nuclear Liability and compensation ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not understand how we can say that we are extremely concerned about the environment, that we will shift taxes, that we will do everything we can to protect the environment, that we will tax more, move things around and give corporations at least $1.7 billion here and there and yet say to Canadians that if there is a nuclear accident, they should not worry about it, but they will be picking up the tab. I have not seen any cleanup of any nuclear accident that cost less than $1 billion. Normally if it is a big accident the cleanup costs billions of dollars. How can we say we will limit it? How could any member of Parliament of any party possibly stand here and say that they are extremely concerned about our planet, are extremely concerned about the future of our water and our air quality, and that is why they will support this bill? I do not understand it.

I want to point to one incident. On April 26, 1986, in Ukraine which was then in the U.S.S.R., there was an explosion and complete meltdown. It started with a mishandled reactor safety test, which led to an uncontrolled power excursion causing a severe steam explosion, meltdown, and release of radioactive materials at a nuclear power plant approximately 100 kilometres north-northwest of Kiev. Fifty fatalities resulted from the accident in the immediate aftermath, most of them being cleanup personnel. The people who went in to clean up died. There were nine fatal cases of thyroid cancer. Members will notice that I have been talking about thyroid cancer. Five fatal cases of thyroid cancer in children in the Chernobyl area have been attributed to the accident. The explosion and the combustion of the graphite reactor core spread radioactive material over much of Europe, not just in Chernobyl, but much of Europe.

How many people were evacuated? A hundred thousand people were evacuated from the area immediately surrounding Chernobyl and an additional 300,000 from the areas of heavy fallout in Ukraine and Russia. There is an exclusion zone of 3,000 square kilometres encompassing the whole site, which has been deemed off limits for human habitation for an infinite period of time; not for one year, five years, or ten years, we are talking about forever.

We have seen studies by the government, by UN agencies and by environmentalists--

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12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order. Resuming debate. The hon. member for Vancouver East.

Nuclear Liability and compensation ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak in opposition to Bill C-5, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident.

As the House has heard from other members of the NDP today, we are very concerned about the bill. We are on the second to last day of Parliament and the bill has been around for a while. Extensive work has been done in the committee. The NDP brought forward 35 amendments to try to make some improvements to it because we felt it was so significantly flawed. Unfortunately, we did not have the support of other parties for those amendments, so here we are.

Yes, in truth, we in the NDP are trying to stop the bill. We do not think it should go through. I am certainly going to put forward my two cents' worth today.

I am from Vancouver East, British Columbia. People in B.C. have always lived in an environment with the potential of nuclear accidents because to the south of us there are nuclear facilities. There is the Hanford facility in Washington State, which has been the site of serious accidents in the past. I know people in communities in southern British Columbia live with much concern about their future and the future of their children because of the nuclear industry and what happens when there is an accident.

Nobody wants an accident to happen and we need to have the maximum number of precautions to ensure none do. However, the bill before us deals with the question after the fact. What happens if there is an accident and what is the liability?

First, members of the NDP agree 100% that the current legislation, which goes back to the 1970s, is terribly inadequate. It set a liability limit of $75 million, which in today's terms would be nickels and dimes in liability for the nuclear industry. The new bill sets the liability limit at $650 million.

Some may look at that and say that it is a big improvement and suggest that we should go for it. However, when we scratch the surface of the bill and start to examine it in terms of international law and context, the limits contained in the bill on a nuclear operator of $650 million is at the bottom of the international average. To me that immediately raises questions. Why would we place ourselves at the bottom of an international average? Also, why is this bill being put forward at this point?

We have heard concerns from communities, environmentalists and people who are opposed to and worried about the nuclear industry. They say that the bill has more to do with the Conservative government's plan to sell off Canada's nuclear industry and then set up an insurance scheme, and it knows the current act and scheme is completely inadequate, that takes the liability away from operators and puts it in the public purse.

By setting the cap at $650 million, we know there is a provision where a special tribunal could be set up by the Minister of Natural Resources and if further funds were required, they would come out of the public purse. This basically means that a nuclear operator would have to pay out a maximum of $650 million and the public would be on the hook for millions and possibly billions of dollars in the case of an accident.

Right off the top, the numbers do not work. If we are going to amend the act, and it should be amended, then let us do it properly. Let us ensure we set the liability at a level that is within the context of what happens in the international community.

We are also very concerned that Canada is signing on to the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership and that this could turn Canada into a nuclear waste dump. There could be all kinds of contamination as a result of that as well. Some of my colleagues today, the members for Trinity—Spadina, Western Arctic and Windsor—Tecumseh, have spoken about what we see as the long term impact and effects of this bill. Let it be said that the $650 million is very inadequate.

We worked very diligently in committee to seek amendments to the bill. We put forward over 35 amendments to try to improve the bill, the accountability, the discretion of the minister, the level of liability and so on. It is a surprise to me that those amendments failed and here we are today with the bill at third and final reading.

When we look at the history of the nuclear industry globally, but certainly in North America, a long record of incidents have taken place. My colleague from Trinity—Spadina referred to a list of nuclear accidents that we have been referencing.

When we read that list, which is 14 pages long, it is pretty scary to know these incidents have taken place with a fair amount of regularity over the decades, beginning August 21, 1945, at the beginning of the nuclear age.

It was in Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico, U.S.A., where a criticality accident with a plutonium metal assembly happened. Harry Daghlian was hand stacking tungsten carbide brakes around a plutonium metal assembly. The plutonium assembly compromised two hemispheres with a total mass of 6.2 kilograms, just short of bare critical mass. While moving a final brick, the experimenter noticed from neutron counters that the final brick would make the assembly supercritical. At this point, he accidentally dropped the brick onto the pile, providing sufficient neutron reflection to result in a supercritical power excursion. The experimenter quickly removed the final brick and disassembled the assembly. He sustained a dose of 510 rem and died 28 days later.

I do not know all the science behind it, but it seems to me it is important to reflect on these things because that happened in our modern day age. This is in the era of the beginning of the nuclear age in our world and we can see that these accidents have taken place, beginning in August 1945. Some of them are seared in our brains as we have watched images on television, particularly Chernobyl. I am reading from the list.

Even in Chalk River on May 24, 1958, there was fuel damage. Due to inadequate cooling, a damaged uranium fuel rod caught fire and was torn in two as it was being removed from the core at the reactor. The fire was extinguished, but not before radioactive combustion products contaminated the interior of the reactor building and, to a lesser degree, an area surrounding the lab site. Over 600 people were employed in the cleanup.

There was an incident at Hanford Works in Hanford, Washington on April 7, 1962. This is the one I am more familiar with, not that I was there but because Hanford is very close to Vancouver. It is something that peace and anti-nuclear movements in British Columbia have watched for a very long time because millions of litres of contaminants are stored in Hanford.

It is a vast area in Washington state. It is surrounded by security and fences. It is obviously not publicly accessible. There is an international boundary, the 49th parallel, but when it comes to a disaster, that boundary does not mean anything. These contaminants can get into the groundwater, wells, rivers and the air, so these are a very serious situations.

In April 1962 there was a criticality incident with plutonium solution. An accident at a plutonium processing plant resulted in a criticality incident. Plutonium solution was spilled on the floor of a solvent extraction hood. Improper operation of valves allowed a mixture of plutonium solutions in a tank that became supercritical, prompting criticality alarms to sound and the subsequent evacuation of the building.

Exact details of the accident could not be reconstructed. The excursion continued at lower power levels for 37.5 hours, during which a remotely controlled robot was used to check conditions and operate valves. Criticality was probably terminated by a precipitation of plutonium in the tank to a non-critical state. Three people had significant radiation exposures.

The list goes on and on.

Probably the most infamous one, and one that had global proportions, was on April 25, 1986, the complete meltdown at Chernobyl. This involved a mishandled reactor safety test, which led to an uncontrolled power excursion causing a severe steam explosion, meltdown and release of radioactive material at the Chernobyl nuclear plant approximately 100 kilometres northeast of Kiev. Approximately 50 fatalities resulted from the accident and in the immediate aftermath, most of those being the cleanup personnel. In addition, nine fatal cases of thyroid cancer in children were attributed to the accident.

The explosion and combustion of the graphite reactor core spread radioactive material over much of Europe. I am sure like many people, I remember the images of that accident and the fear the people felt. One hundred thousand people were evacuated from the areas immediately surrounding Chernobyl, in addition to 300,000 from the areas of heavy fallout in the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

An exclusion zone was created surrounding the site, encompassing approximately 1,000 miles, or 3,000 kilometres. It has been deemed off limits for human habitation for an indefinite period. I know there have been documentaries about what happened at Chernobyl by people who have gone back and filmed this vast area, which is now, in effect, a dead zone where human habitation cannot take place.

These are very serious matters and a bill like this gives us cause for reflection about the nuclear industry in Canada. The bill is setting the stage for expansion in Canada. In fact, I asked my colleague from Western Arctic earlier, because he is our energy critic and he is very knowledgeable on this issue, far more knowledgeable than me, what he thought about the bill in terms of what it meant for the future. He pointed out that Bill C-5 was really the tip of the iceberg.

We know nuclear energy is being looked at as a solution to greenhouse gas for producing energy sources. He informed the House of the situation at the Peace River nuclear plant being contemplated, with transmission capacity that could go to Montana. Again, we see a pattern of decision-making and privatization that is linking us with the enormous energy needs in the United States.

These issues are linked. What begins as a bill in terms of what appears to be a question of liability is linked to a much larger question as to where the government plans to take us in the nuclear industry and the kinds of expansion plans contemplated.

People in my riding are very concerned about that. People feel adequate safeguards are not in place today. We have had the whole debate in the House about what happened at Chalk River with the shutdown of the reactor and the crisis it created for medical isotopes. We saw the debacle that took place with the Conservative government when it fired the head of the organization. This is all part of a greater scheme of a privatization and a sell-off of these nuclear resources to put it in private hands.

On the one hand, we have to debate that. We have to examine that from a public policy perspective. On the other hand, we have a responsibility, as parliamentarians, to ensure the legal framework is put in place, whether we talk about public policy or private operations, and that the liability will be adequate.

I hope that I have provided information today to alert people to the fact that the bill really does not go far enough. It is something that will pass, we presume, unless we can hold it up and that is what we are going to try to do. I think, as we now move into new decades of nuclear expansion, it makes one wonder if we will be again back at the drawing board if we do have a significant incident in this country.

God forbid that that ever happens, but if it does happen, will the provisions in this bill have the capacity to deal with the claims that would result when people in a local community, businesses, livelihoods, people's health and children's health are impacted by such an accident?

It is interesting to note that in the U.S. the liability is $10 billion. That is actually shared among the plants. It is a joint effort. That is more than 10 times higher than what we are talking about in this country. Again, we have to question why has the limit been set at $650 million. It just seems to be woefully inadequate.

We would like to see the bill not move forward, not pass. We would like to see further consideration on this question of liability. We would like to see discussion and some really clear plans from the federal Conservative government as to exactly what its intentions are with the nuclear industry here in Canada.

While we would certainly agree that the current bill has to be changed because the liability is so low, we do not think this particular bill will do the job. It needs to be contained within a much broader policy debate about the nuclear industry. The paramount question in that debate and in any legislation that comes forward is the public interest.

It is not the interest of the nuclear industry. It is not the interests of the people who want to just suck up more and more energy and more and more capacity for energy, it is not the interests of U.S. multinational corporations who might be looking to Canada as a place where they want to do business. The primary concern is public health, the public interest, and the interests for future generations.

In that regard, the bill seems to be very short-sighted. I want to thank my colleagues, the member for Vancouver Island North and the member for Western Arctic, who have been our two primary critics. They worked really hard on this bill. They went through it, every clause. They figured out that it was very limited and it was something that we could not support. At committee, they went to bat and put in a number of amendments. It was very surprising that those amendments were defeated by the government and by the other parties.

I know the Bloc put a few amendments and we certainly appreciate that. However, at the end of the day, the bill has not been changed. So we move forward now with a bill that is very limited.

Therefore, we will be speaking on this and we will be pointing out these deficiencies. We want to draw people's attention to the fact that the bill is now at this very critical stage. We are going to certainly do what we can to make sure that it does not pass, not because we do not want to see a liability set but because we want to make sure that it is being done in a proper way. That it is going to be done in a way that protects people so that if there is an incident, an accident, that people will actually have the capability to make a claim and receive some sort of compensation. It will not be at the discretion of a tribunal that the minister sets up, but a due process and a fund will be created which will protect people. Surely, that is the most important thing that we are considering here today.

I urge my colleagues to consider those concerns that we have. I am very proud of the fact that we have taken the time to look at the bill and to come to the conclusions that we have based on what we believe to be in the public interest of Canadians, and that is why we will be opposing the bill.

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12:50 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for taking the time to address this issue and to ensure that she gets her point of view on the record.

I note that many of the other members of Parliament from the different parties have chosen not to speak on this issue. There has been this overwhelming silence in many cases from both the Liberals and the Conservatives about what this bill means. I say thanks very much to my colleague for putting forward her point of view.

When we talk about liability within the existing structure, as long as the Canadian government is the main owner of the nuclear facilities in Canada, in reality what that means is that there is almost unlimited liability for the nuclear industry because the government is backing it up. What we are doing with this bill is creating a situation where we are going to use the minimum international standard, so we can open up the opportunity for other companies to take on the responsibility for our plants or take them away from the government.

In the United States there are laws where if a company works in a country where the laws do not match the international standards, the American company may be judged by the American laws. That puts them in a situation where they would be judged under the liability of $10 billion.

By the government moving out of nuclear energy and turning it over to the private sector, we are actually limiting the liability that Canadians have. We are setting in many distinct rules which are going to make it very difficult.

Nuclear Liability and compensation ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

What does this have to do with the carbon tax?

Nuclear Liability and compensation ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I am getting sort of a short shrift from my Conservative colleagues here in the House on this issue. If I can once again get the--

Nuclear Liability and compensation ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I think the hon. member for Western Arctic still has a few questions to pose. Some members are talking about some other issues that may or may not come up later on in the day. We should stick to questions or comments based on Bill C-5. It looks as though the hon. member may have finished asking his question.

The hon. member for Vancouver East.

Nuclear Liability and compensation ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think the Minister of the Environment is too eager to get to question period. He cannot wait to go at it. We will get there in about an hour, but right now it is nuclear liability.

I would like to thank the member for Western Arctic because I think he has put his finger on it. What is presented in this bill is only the tip of the iceberg. It is a bill that is setting the stage for the privatization of the nuclear industry in Canada. It is setting the stage to limit the liability, so that it is easier for operations to happen.

If I could answer the member's question, I think that raises the most serious question as to whose interests is this bill in? For the NDP the primary interest is Canadians and the protection of the health and welfare of people in the local communities.

Yet, when we look at this bill and what its impacts could be in the future, if there were an accident and the fact that the liability is being limited to a paltry $650 million, which in nuclear terms is a nickel and a dime, then obviously we have a lot of worries about the bill. It seems to be pandering and catering to private interests to allow a desirable environment in which they can move. That is not necessarily good for Canadian interests. In fact, we would argue on the contrary, that it is very bad.

I think the member has identified one of the key concerns that we have about this bill, that it is only the very beginning of a much bigger debate that unfortunately we have not had. It is not for lack of trying to raise that debate. I know the member himself has been a very strong advocate for the need for a national energy debate, so that all of these questions can be related: the need for an east-west grid, the need to consider why it is we are moving so rapidly to build the capacity of the tar sands to supply American markets, how environmental concerns are being thrown out the window, and the fact that nuclear capacity and availability could be part of that scenario. We see that already as something put forward as a response to greenhouse gases.

There is a lot that meets the eye here. I thank the member for raising these concerns.