Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-20, because the Bloc Québécois believes that this legislation is absolutely necessary. The previous maximum compensation of $75 million in the event of an incident had been established quite some time ago, in 1976, and needed to be increased.
But before I go any further, I would like to respond to the member for Halifax West, who said earlier that he did not understand my question, because he thought I did not know who had jurisdiction over nuclear power plant construction. That was not my question. What I was asking was whether the Liberal Party wanted to develop the nuclear industry. When you invest $800 million in nuclear research and development, you are promoting it. The federal government is not saying it is going to build nuclear facilities, but it is promoting them.
Once again, the Liberals have no clear policy, and the member could not give a clear answer to my question, which is why he changed the subject. It is always the same thing with the Liberals at present: they do not know where they are going.
I will come back to the initial topic. Bill C-20 seeks to establish a liability regime applicable in the event of a nuclear incident. The bill clearly says “in the event of a nuclear incident”. It makes operators of nuclear installations absolutely and exclusively liable for damages up to a maximum of $650 million. It is hard to imagine that the company that owns a nuclear facility will be solely liable. In fact, even a minor nuclear incident will cost more than $650 million. Damages will easily run to billions of dollars. Who will pay for that? The provinces and the federal government.
Bill C-20 is a reincarnation of Bill C-5. We had studied that bill in committee and had had the opportunity to ask insurance companies whether they were ready for such legislation. Naturally, insurance companies are generally rather cautious, and they were not necessarily willing to pay much more than $650 million. They might have gone as far as $1 billion if we had forced them, but I had and still have the feeling that they cannot go any farther.
So we cannot compare the Canadian system to the American system as some people do, since we do not have many plants. American plants pool their money. It is not a $10 billion pool, but it varies from $9 billion to $11 billion. This pool also varies based on those giving guarantees. We agree that this would certainly be much closer to what a nuclear accident would cost.
The Bloc Québécois believes that this would still be an improvement over the previous legislation that provided for only $75 million in compensation, even though it is proving to be difficult to obtain insurance above the amount set out in Bill C-20. However, we realize that governments will be required to pay out the rest of the amount.
We are very concerned about a nuclear accident. There are several incidents each year at every nuclear plant. We call them incidents because they are contained. One of the most dangerous activities is changing the bundles of uranium-235 and uranium-239. They are changed by robots when all of their energy has been used up. When they are moved, there can be radiation in the room, and also outside the room where the reactors are located.
There is always some danger. We are well aware of that.
Last year, between November 5 and November 9, such an incident took place at Gentilly-2 in Quebec. I am not mentioning this just because it is Gentilly, since these kinds of accidents happen all over the place, for example in Burlington.
We are well aware that there can be problems with aging plants. The CANDU system is not internationally recognized as a safe system. It was possible to sell it abroad, but that was more under the Liberals, because it was practically a gift. The reactors were delivered and no payments were ever requested. So it was not because of the quality of the CANDU.
Earlier, the hon. member for Halifax West said that the government was not taking responsibility regarding the production of isotopes. That is true, and he is correct in saying so. Last year, we were forced to pass special legislation to get the plant running again, without any assurance that it would last. It was 55 years old last year, and this year it is 56. It is clear that this plant is past its prime.
However, the MAPLE, which was developed with taxpayer money over 15 years, is still not functional. We have even stopped hearing that this project would be completed. One of the reasons was that the engineers who might have done so have left, because the work was not moving along quickly enough and they could not see an end to the project. All of the top minds left the country under the Liberals and moved elsewhere. Our nuclear scientists and engineers are no longer here. That is one reason why the MAPLE was stalled, and why the government decided to scrap it after spending billions of dollars on its development.
Quebeckers have a hard time with this, since they contribute by paying taxes. Only 6% of all of Canada's nuclear energy is produced in Quebec, while Quebeckers pay 23% of all nuclear research and nuclear-plant promotion. Furthermore, this energy is not necessary. It can make people rich, but it is not necessary. We prefer green energies. In Quebec, we focus particularly on hydroelectricity.
All of Canada could also develop power plants run by deep geothermal energy, a sector that is completely ignored in this country, even though 24 countries have developed it. By drilling two to five kilometres underground, we can extract heat to generate decentralized electricity. This would be much better than a Canadian network that Quebec would not go along with, since it interferes with our jurisdictions. We will never accept it.
So, we are in favour of Bill C-20 in principle. As I said earlier, it is certainly not enough, but it must be said that nuclear power costs the government a lot of money. Even if the companies pay for the insurance, the government still establishes systems so that, for example, field hospitals can be set up quickly. The RCMP spends a lot of money to make checks and prevent terrorist attacks from taking place at nuclear plants. Security of nuclear plants costs the government money, and this money comes from taxpayers. So this is not a necessary energy source, nor is it a green one, that we could support.
Furthermore, the issue of nuclear waste has never been settled. This is a matter of great importance. To date, nuclear plants in Canada have produced over 2 million irradiated fuel bundles and they do not know what to do with them. That number will double if our existing reactors operate until the end of their predicted life spans.
So we are talking about 4 million bundles that need to be put somewhere. At the moment, consultations are under way all across Canada to find out where to put these things for the next 1,000 years. There has been research to see if this uranium might not be used to produce a depleted but still usable uranium. They came to realize, after fortunes were spent on it in France and after the Americans bought the rights to carry out this research, which incidentally they too gave up on about a year or a year and half ago, that there is no future to reusing uranium in this way.
So a place has to be found to put the bundles. They can be reused—this is possible—to make nuclear weapons. We know just how dangerous that is.
As long as nowhere is found for storage, stable storage if possible, of these bundles, we will not be able to develop nuclear energy and we will not be able to keep on thinking that it is a green energy and not a hazard to human health. It is a hazard to health because nuclear waste is a hazardous substance. What is more, the mining of uranium is dangerous as well.
I have consulted experts, and pure uranium could be used in nuclear facilities. I know that the present government wants to promote its use for extracting the oil from oil sands. Heat is needed to produce electricity and to extract as much oil as possible from oil sands. Then those nuclear plants will have to have a location for secure storage of their waste.
It is not just a matter of individuals deciding to accept or not to accept nuclear waste being stored in some location, but there is a whole context, a whole province, a whole part of a country, that has to agree to it. When this hazardous waste is being transported by truck or train, accidents or thefts can occur, as well as terrorism or sabotage, and they can occur just about anywhere. So it is not the responsibility of a small community, but the responsibility of a very large area.
In terms of such incidents, Bill C-20 does include some sensible provisions. We all hope that nothing will ever happen, but Bill C-20 is the very least the government can do. However, we are concerned that increasing insurance will cause a change of course resulting in the promotion of nuclear energy and CANDU reactors, which are not very safe as far as thermal and nuclear plants go, not to mention completely unnecessary.
As I said earlier, we can produce electricity using green energy. I went on at length about geothermal energy because, according to a study done in the United States, it can meet the needs of the entire United States and render coal-fired and nuclear plants obsolete. By 2050, geothermal energy alone can meet Americans' energy needs. There will be nine billion people on the planet in 2050.
We will need a lot of energy. Nuclear energy will not be able to supply that demand, and the prospect of plants melting down will always be a sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. Bill C-20 would never have been drafted if nuclear power were not dangerous. We are stuck in a vicious circle. We have this bill because nuclear energy is dangerous, but if we were not doing dangerous things, we would not need bills like Bill C-20 to protect people in case of an incident. Once again, I agree that $650 million is not going to protect us.
Suppose an incident were to occur at Chalk River. The fallout would go beyond Chalk River to Ottawa and Quebec. So $650 million would not be nearly enough to compensate people, rebuild houses, and clean up and decontaminate areas. It would certainly cost much more than that.
So the government must think instead of investing more, and that is what we are calling on the government to do. We want the government to put money towards developing green energies, instead of investing in research limited almost exclusively to nuclear plants and the sequestration of the CO2 gases produced by the oil sands. As I mentioned earlier, there is geothermal energy, but also solar energy. We know that great strides have been made in terms of generating electricity with solar energy. Spain has some examples of it working very well. We know that wind energy is already going well. So the government could spend more money and do more to develop the hydroelectricity we are capable of generating.
There is also biomass energy. Right now, we do not know what to do with our forestry workers. Biomass energy was used especially for heating, but it can also be used to generate electricity. Digesters can also be used on farms. Instead of letting animal excrement create methane and make greenhouse gases even worse, we could use digesters. The government should help farmers create electricity with these systems. They are on the market. It is just a matter of cost-effectiveness.
If we looked at the overall cost of nuclear energy per kilowatt-hour, we obviously would not even think about developing it. If we look at just the cost of production and not how much it will cost to dismantle the plants that will still be there even when they are not in use, even 40 years after they have stopped producing. Those areas will be radioactive. We will have a hard time closing those plants.
In any case, the cost of insurance will be included in the price per kilowatt-hour. That is what I wanted to mention as well. Even if we had requested much higher insurance, ultimately, the customer would always be the one to pay, because the price per kilowatt-hour would increase.
So I agree with a bill like Bill C-20. It is a minimum, but at least we are in favour of that minimum. However, we need to invest in green energies, and we need to do it now. The price per kilowatt-hour will be much lower and the risk of danger greatly reduced since it will be much easier to provide security. A wind turbine or a geothermal power plant is not at risk of being blown up. No terrorists are interested in doing that. But someone could be interested in blowing up a nuclear power plant if there was ever a conflict somewhere.
So, a green energy that is not dangerous is not the same thing as a green energy that is dangerous. Bill C-20 has to do with the health of the people and how to respond to a potential accident. That is the minimum.