Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to speak to Bill C-20, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident.
I live near a nuclear plant, so I understand how important it is to review the existing legislation because it does not meet current international requirements respecting liability in the case of a nuclear incident. Given the Conservative government's enthusiasm for nuclear energy—which, contrary to what it believes, is not clean energy—we must update this legislation, which is over 30 years old.
Ontario and Alberta are about to embark on this dangerous adventure with federal support, so we owe it to ourselves to clarify what nuclear plant operators are liable for, define the financial terms of that liability, and create an administrative process that will ensure that citizens affected by a nuclear incident are spared delays due to a high number of financial compensation claims.
The primary purpose of Bill C-20 is to set up a liability regime in the event of a nuclear incident. Though the bill is far-reaching and complex, like the sector it governs, it does three things. First, it defines the liability of facility operators. Second, it defines the financial terms and limits of that liability. Third, it creates a process or administrative tribunal to hear claims in case of a major incident.
This bill is flawed, and I will explain why. Nevertheless, we must study it rationally. It does improve the existing act, and if we do nothing, the financial liability of a nuclear plant operator will not increase above the amount set 33 years ago in 1976. Bill C-20 redefines nuclear damage. The new definition is clearer and more complete, and it is more in line with the international standard.
The bill clarifies the liability of nuclear facility operators. It clearly defines what kind of damage is compensable and what kind is not. One of the most important clauses is clause 9, which provides that the operator's liability is absolute and applies automatically the moment radiation is emitted because proof of fault is not required.
Clause 9 reads as follows:
(1) The liability of an operator for damage caused by a nuclear incident is absolute.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), no proof of tort or of fault within the meaning of the Civil Code of Québec is required.
In short, this means that if there is a nuclear incident, regardless of the cause, with the exception, of course, of an act of war, civil war, insurrection and, now, terrorist activities, the operator is responsible and must compensate those affected.
Sections 13 to 30 of this bill list all of the compensable damages, such as bodily injury or damage to property; economic losses, or revenue losses; loss of use of property; and the costs associated with taking preventive measures and precautions, if the measures were ordered by an authority acting under federal or provincial legislation relating to environmental protection.
The financial limitations of this bill are very important. The government considers nuclear energy to be a clean energy. We disagree. The government would not be obligated to regulate and define the legal and financial liabilities of nuclear plant operators to such a degree if this were truly the case. We believe that nuclear energy is a dirty energy. That is why this bill provides for a liability framework in case of a nuclear incident.
That is why Bill C-20 establishes a compensation and civil liability regime to address damages resulting from radiation in the unlikely event of a radioactive release from a Canadian nuclear installation.
I used the word unlikely, but an incident is still possible, since it is covered by legislation. I am not sure that, in the case of biomass boilers, a truly clean energy, and a renewable one, I would add, we would need a bill like Bill C-20 to regulate operations.
To my way of thinking, this shows that nuclear energy is not clean.
There is a real and constant level of danger associated with nuclear energy. I live very close to a nuclear power plant, and I know that there are emergency measures in place for that plant. The local people know the evacuation procedures. We have iodine capsules, which means that there is a very real danger.
Really clean energies such as wind power, geothermal energy and hydroelectricity do not threaten people's health and safety as nuclear energy does.
In our opinion, the government should focus on these emerging alternative energies instead of putting all its eggs in the nuclear basket. That is why we will support this bill, which creates a real framework for nuclear practice, provides for compensation and protects people.
As I said, the current legislation is more than 30 years old, which means that people living close and not so close to nuclear facilities are “protected” by legislation that has not been reviewed in three decades. That is incredible.
The Bloc Québécois is in favour of strict control over the nuclear industry. A number of provisions of the current legislation no longer meet today's criteria. I am thinking particularly of the amounts of compensation and civil liability.
If a nuclear incident were to take place in a facility today, the limit on damages would be $75 million.
This is ridiculously low. To date, the liability of operators of nuclear facilities has been limited to $75 million.
With this bill, the limit on the operator's liability would increase from $75 million to $650 million.
The main clause in the bill is clause 21(1), which stipulates that the liability of an operator for damage resulting from a nuclear incident is $650 million.
Yet this amount can be increased by regulation, which is an important plus. Given how much time it has taken to get back to this bill, which was introduced during previous sessions, it is important to be able to use regulations.
Members may ask, why is the limit $650 million?
In my opinion, we have to be practical. This limit reflects a balance between risk, insurance and international rules. It was not determined randomly, and obviously we have to look at what is done around the world. There are limits to insurance and to what operators can pay, because no insurer will want to assume a risk that is higher than what we see in other countries. We therefore cannot impose unlimited financial liability, because operators may not be able to find an insurer willing to insure such a risk.
This amount therefore seems to be a compromise between the theory, whereby the financial responsibility of the nuclear power plant operator is absolute or unlimited, and practice, which prevents operators from insuring themselves for such an amount.
Bill C-20 establishes the specific liabilities of nuclear power plant operators and raises the amount of insurance those operators must have.
In fact, the new limit will increase operators' insurance premiums sixfold. Mandatory financial guarantees will be gradually imposed, and regulations will set out the period during which a nuclear installation can be reinsured by the government.
Thus, it provides $400 million in reinsurance at the time of proclamation, to be gradually reduced to $0 over the next four years. As we can see, this is to prevent too much pressure from being put on nuclear power plant operators.
Since the amount of $650 million, which for now, is much better than the status quo at only $75 million, is up for debate, the amount of liability held by operators will be examined by the minister at least every five years.
We say, “at least every five years”, but it is important that the limit be reviewed every year to really assess the risks and make international comparisons.
The 1976 Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act provided for an adjustment over the years, but nothing has been done in that regard for 33 years. As we can see, it is easy to forget our responsibilities. It is up to this House to ensure that the government reviews those amounts and revises them every year.
Clearly, something needs to be done. In that regard, in his 2005 report, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development specifically addressed the issue of insurance for nuclear installation operators after two petitions were presented. One petition reads:
...the $75 million coverage required under the NLA is woefully inadequate by international standards. Officials from Natural Resources Canada [said] that today, $250 million would be an equivalent amount [equivalent to the amount set out in the legislation when it was passed in 1976], accounting for inflation, while the international standard is approximately $650 million Canadian.
The statement by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development is clear. Insurance coverage for nuclear installations is not up to international standards. We must intervene. Canadian insurance requirements have not changed or been adjusted for inflation since the law came into effect almost 30 years ago. In Canada, the liability of operators of nuclear facilities is lower than that in 12 other industrialized countries with nuclear installations. These countries have in place a combination of operator insurance, a public fund and an industry reserve, which far exceeds the amount of insurance required of Canadian operators.
We support this bill because it will substantially increase the maximum financial liability to $650 million. This is important, and so are the administrative process and the tribunal to deal with claims in the event of a major incident. The bill establishes a special tribunal to hear claims when the Governor in Council deems it is in the public interest to do so.
The law thus provides an administrative process for dealing with claims in the event of a major incident. It clarifies the role and the scope of a claims tribunal. This process would be used instead of the courts and would allow claims to be handled more efficiently and equitably. It is not difficult to imagine that the high volume of claims by victims would tie up the courts and result in delays that would be far too long for the victims. It is imperative that the victims of a nuclear incident not be subjected to a cumbersome legal process that would quickly become bogged down by too many claims. This bill would allow victims to be dealt with more quickly and, we hope, more equitably.
In closing, Bill C-20 is necessary given that, in the next few years, the Conservative government will support an increase in nuclear power plants. We completely disagree with this government's enthusiasm for nuclear energy, which is not a clean energy, contrary to what the Human Resources minister believes.
At present, there is no satisfactory way to manage nuclear waste. Furthermore, we now have many options in terms of clean, renewable energies, such as hydroelectricity, geothermal energy, wind energy and forest biomass. But this government does not believe in these energy sources of the future, and would rather leave future generations—our children and grandchildren—with the environmental burden left by the nuclear industry.
Given the high level of danger of these nuclear plants, the Bloc Québécois recommends strict and efficient monitoring at all stages of the process: extraction, transportation, heat and electricity production, and so on.
That is why we are in favour of this bill, which not only updates the responsibilities of nuclear plant operators, but also significantly increases the financial limit of this responsibility from $75 million to $650 million, a limit that the federal government has not reviewed since 1976.
This bill will also ensure fairer and more efficient treatment for people who could be affected and who would be submitting compensation claims.