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House of Commons Hansard #62 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was young.

Topics

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, Bill C-20 is about limiting liability in the case of a nuclear accident. It is something that needs modernization, but I have a curiosity about one of the points the member raised. The Liberal Party has concerns about whether this is the right amount of liability to apply to the nuclear industry. For Canadians to follow this, a cap is placed on the amount of compensation that can be paid out to individuals or communities in the event of an accident.

He has expressed concerns about whether the limit of $650 million is the right limit. We have seen a number of nuclear accidents happen over the years. I am not talking about Chernobyl, but relatively small ones have gone through $1 billion or more in compensation with a start. The Americans have a $10 billion pool. The Japanese and Europeans have unlimited liability in their nuclear facilities in terms of compensation. Canada is putting in $650 million in liability.

If the member is concerned about the level of liability that is placed in the bill, is he aware, from all of the advice that we have received, that it cannot be amended at the committee stage? If the Liberal Party votes for the bill at second reading and puts it to committee, it is also endorses and votes for the liability level set out in the bill. He must be comfortable with that liability level. This is something I hope my colleague will be clear about with us today.

If he is comfortable with that, then great. That is his choice and his party's decision. However, he cannot raise concerns about it not being enough money and then say we might fix it later. This cannot be fixed later. It either is this amount or it is not.

I would like a clarification on what my colleague has expressed as a concern so far.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, I trust my hon. colleague for Skeena—Bulkley Valley has read the bill. He makes me wonder whether he has, because if he has, he knows that the current limit is one of only $75 million. The bill proposes to increase it to $650 million. That is nearly tenfold. It is a dramatic increase in the liability limit and I am surprised he does not make any acknowledgement of that fact.

If the bill passes second reading and goes to committee, we will have the opportunity at committee to hear witnesses and experts on the question of the liability level. I think he is familiar with the parliamentary process. He knows there are votes at committee. There are votes at report stage and third reading. Then the Senate deals with the bill. There are many opportunities, as the bill goes forward, to make decisions in regard to what makes sense and what does not and whether it makes sense to go forward or ask the government to start over again.

My impression is that the bill is a good level. However, I am certainly interested to hear what witnesses have to say at committee.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Madam Speaker, I have a quick question for the member for Halifax West.

He is our critic for natural resources and he does a good job. I know he spoke about competitiveness, so I want to hear his comment on how he regards the limited liability affecting competitiveness. We see the job that the AECL does and the fact that we have been reliant on only one facility. I would not have a problem with it being competitive.

How would the limited liability affect competitiveness? In the end, if we have third parties opening up these nuclear sites, the government would probably be responsible for liability. Would it affect competitiveness? Would it be more open or would it be restrictive?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, this is related to the question of competitiveness. If we set a limit so high that an operator of a nuclear facility is unable to obtain insurance, then it is unable to operate. We are certainly not going to see the kinds of new nuclear plants that the Government of Ontario wishes to build, for instance. I think even the Government of Saskatchewan has indicated an interest.

Even NDP governments in some places these days have expressed an interest in having nuclear plants. They have made the decision, in their own judgment, that the concern about climate change is at the top of the environmental agenda these days and that is the major problem we face in the world environmentally. Relative to other kinds of sources of energy, they have decided they prefer nuclear energy.

However, if we are to have nuclear production in our country, it is important we ensure that AECL or other operators can exist, operate them and manage to have the insurance they require. A moment ago, we heard about the U.S. system, which is a very different one. When the U.S. has a much larger industry, much larger companies and many more reactors than we have in Canada, it can manage to have a different kind of system.

It seems to me that the system proposed here, with a vast increase in the limit, is one that suits Canada better. However, as I said, I look forward to hearing witnesses before the committee.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, I hear that the member is concerned that the Americans are looking to perhaps purchase the atomic energy plant at Chalk River, the nuclear plant. They are certainly interested in purchasing significant sections of Canada's nuclear industry, but under the existing liability act, because $75 million is way below the international standards, they are held liable, using the American standard, to $10 billion.

If the bill were to pass with only $650 million as the liability, it would enable these American companies to pick up sections of the Canadian nuclear industry because they then would not have to face the $10 billion liability possibility.

How does passing the bill keep and secure our nuclear industry? Would it not say to the American industry, “Come on in and--”

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order. I will have to give the hon. member a few seconds to respond, so 35 seconds for a response.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

That is very short, Madam Speaker. The member indicated that I had said something about being concerned about Americans buying these plants. I do not remember saying the word “Americans” at all during my speech or making any reference to them. I am concerned about the fact that the government is looking at selling assets, whether it be its buildings, whether it be AECL and others, at fire sale prices. In this situation, we should be very concerned about that. However, in terms of the comparison between the U.S. system and ours, again, the U.S. system is very different and we should hear witnesses about ours.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

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.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, after listening to members of the Bloc, I do not sense that they are overly supportive of the nuclear industry or the development of more nuclear plants in the country. I, therefore, would question why they would be interested in supporting the bill when the responsible position to take would be to vote against it.

In Manitoba, we have a lot of hydroelectric power but we have only developed half of our potential. If we were to develop the rest of our potential and be able to transport it to the east-west power grid across the country, we could potentially close down all the coal-fired plants in Ontario. Instead, what we have developing here is nuclear plants being considered in Ontario and, evidently, in Saskatchewan and Alberta, which is clearly the wrong way to go for all the reasons that the member just illustrated, such as the storage of the material which is very expensive and has a risk for many years.

Huge deposits of nuclear material have been put in the oceans by the Russians and other powers over the years and we may never know what the long-term effects of that will be. It, obviously, cannot be good because over time those barrels will rust and the materials will be leaked into the oceans. I do not think we want to be promoting more of something that has not worked very well in the past.

I would ask the member to reconsider where he is going with this because I kind of like what he had to say and he was on the right track in his speech, but he has not really explained to me why he supports the bill.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for this question, which allows me to make some clarifications.

We are fundamentally in favour of safety. We are fundamentally in favour of companies having a minimum liability in case of an accident. The companies already exist. There are 18 nuclear facilities in Canada, so the danger does exist. However, we do not want to create any more facilities. We hope to see an end to the production of nuclear energy. However, we cannot close the facilities that already exist. There is no way we will be able to stop them as long as they seem to have some usefulness.

We want to provide people with a little protection. If an accident happens near Hamilton, $650 million will not make any difference. However, the company will have a minimum liability. It is in that sense that we are saying yes to this bill and no to nuclear energy development.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on his speech. I know he is a great environmentalist and green advocate.

The purpose of this bill is to make businesses more responsible. However, a few years ago, the government made some changes to legislation that allow private companies to manage nuclear facilities. One might wonder why private companies are being given such responsibilities and allowed to manage industries that involve a great deal of risk and potential harm. By their very nature, these companies have very limited liability. In the event of a problem, they can simply close up shop and disappear. The problems would then fall to the community and the government.

I wonder if my colleague believes that this is enough, or if we should not monitor this industry and the remaining facilities. Unfortunately, when private companies' resources run out, they simply disappear. Does my colleague believe that the compensation that private companies are being asked to provide will be sufficient in the event of a problem?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Madam Speaker, I very much appreciate the excellent question posed by my colleague from Sherbrooke.

No, that amount is not sufficient. We realize that. We are simply saying that the amount is better than the $75 million proposed earlier. The fact that some plants have been privatized is certainly a huge problem.

However, we must not forget, and I would like to remind my colleague from Sherbrooke, that in Canada we have an organization called the AECL. This commission inspects nuclear power plants and issues operating permits. It is a group of independent and very competent persons. They are so independent that, last year, the Minister of Natural Resources fired the president because she was not telling him what he wanted to hear. This group was independent. It may be less so now. I do not know. However, I think it is absolutely necessary. It is an integral part of the cost of producing nuclear power. We must have organizations that conduct inspections and ensure that the plants are in good working order. Just imagine if the 18 plants we have now grew to 50. That would result in huge expenses just for inspections.

For that reason I believe that this energy is not viable. It is not a green energy and we are diverting inordinate amounts of money that never produce even one kilowatt hour.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I am really interested in this debate as I know are most of my constituents in Hamilton Mountain.

It seems to me that what this issue is about is protecting Canadians in the case of a nuclear accident and tragedy. I wonder if the member could speak a bit about where the number $650 million of liability comes from. Why does he believe that number is adequate? I think all of the evidence from the experts speaks to the contrary.

We know, for example, that when the Pembina Institute did a study on what the cost would be of a potential major accident at the Darlington nuclear plant, which is not all that far away from my riding of Hamilton Mountain, it estimated the cost to be $1 trillion. Bill C-20 does not even provide for liability of $1 billion. We are talking about $650 million. The reality is, as the member will know, that taxpayers will be on the hook for the difference, and that difference is far from insignificant.

We are talking in the House about the deplorable state of the deficit now, which is 50% higher today than it was estimated to be just four months ago, but those numbers pale in comparison when we are talking about a potential $1 trillion liability as a result of just one nuclear accident.

I wonder if the member could just explain to the House why he believes that $650 million is adequate.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Madam Speaker, I never said that $650 million was enough. On the contrary, it will never be enough. However, it is one way of ensuring that the private businesses that own the plants take at least some responsibility.

It is always the citizens who pay. It might be said that governments pay on behalf of citizens, but it is always the citizens who end up paying. Had we required $10 billion in insurance, the premiums would have been so high that they would have been included in the price of the kilowatt hour and people would have paid in any event. The companies do not contribute. It must be understood that they never contribute. The cost is covered by the price of the kilowatt hour or, if there were an accident, after the fact. We will pay one way or another for an energy source that is not safe, that is dangerous and that could cause accidents.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, I am speaking against Bill C-20, the nuclear liability and compensation bill.

We do need a new nuclear liability and compensation act, and we have needed it for at least 20 years. As a liability limit, $650 million is nowhere near enough. The Auditor General has said that we need a new act as have various organizations. However, to set the limit at $650 million is nowhere near enough.

The United States has a compensation--

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. I regret to interrupt the hon. member.

At this point I must, pursuant to Standing Order 38, inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for St. Paul's, Health; the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, Arts and Culture.

The hon. member for Trinity—Spadina may resume.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2009 / 4:35 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, as I was saying, the United States has a compensation limit of $10 billion. If we look at other countries that have had quite a few nuclear accidents, whether it be Germany or Japan, we will notice that they do not have an upper limit at all, that if there is an accident, the company must pay all the costs of cleaning it up.

This bill used to be called Bill C-63, then it was called Bill C-5 in the last Parliament, and now it is Bill C-20 and the number remains the same. New Democrats said back then that we do not support $650 million as the existing compensation limit because it is way too low. We said it then. We say it now. Why are we seeing this number again?

I believe one of the reasons we are seeing this bill reintroduced today is because American nuclear companies are really interested in purchasing significant sections of Canada's nuclear industry.

Under the current legislation, they would subjected to the American rules as Canadian law does not meet the international baseline. We know the international minimum, according to the two international agreements, the Paris and Vienna conventions, requires a bare minimum of $600 million. Because of that, under American law, the parent company of a subsidiary can be sued for compensation due to the actions of, say, a Canadian subsidiary of an American company if the law governing that subsidiary is below the international standards, as it is now. If this bill were passed, then the American corporations could pick up any number of nuclear companies.

What concerns me most is what is happening at Chalk River. We have a reactor shutdown. We have at least 30,000 patients per week who need the precious medical isotopes the reactor produces and we know that these isotopes will run out in a week. We also know that the reactor has had a heavy water spill and we also know that it will be shut down at least until mid-June, and maybe even longer.

Now, people who have cancer or who need heart scans cannot get the scans done. People who have thyroid cancer, as I have had, after the thyroid has been removed, need to ingest a medical iodine isotope, pill I-131, which I remember taking. It would then destroy the cancer cells in the thyroid area as the thyroid attracts these nuclear iodines made by the isotopes. If people do not get it treated, if they do not take that iodine pill, which is called a seed, then the thyroid cancer cells could spread.

I am glad that when I was diagnosed with that cancer, I was able to have it removed and then, at that time, able to have access to this iodine I-131 pill. I cannot imagine what will happen to these thyroid cancer patients who need this treatment, and then to have them hear that we are going to be running out of these isotopes in a week. What is going to happen to them?

Instead of focusing on a plan B, instead of looking at whether to build a new reactor that is supposed to be on line, we are discussing this bill that certainly does not really make sense because the liability of $10 billion is 1,540% higher than the limit proposed by this bill.

Is it because our reactor is that much safer than what the Americans have? Is it because Canadian taxpayers have far more money, that if there were a big accident, certainly the Canadian government could do the cleanup? I just heard that we have at least a $50 billion deficit. Where are we going to find the money to do the cleanup if the company is not liable?

Is the imminent sale of AECL to an American company that has the government so eager to make the Canadian nuclear legislation more American-friendly? That perhaps is one of the reasons. We are quite concerned because right now in tough economic times, the value is the lowest, which means that AECL can easily be picked up if there are interested buyers once this bill has passed.

We believe that this is bad legislation. We do not think that it can be amended, especially the dollar amount of $650 million, through the committee. I have already heard that such an amendment would be ruled out of order when it is referred to committee, which means that we are stuck with this dollar amount of $650 million. In the speeches I have heard today, whether from the Liberals or the Bloc, there is concern that $650 million is too low. This bill cannot be passed at second reading because it is just not good enough.

If we think of forecasting costs of possible accidents, a major accident at the Ontario Darlington nuclear plant, God forbid, east of Toronto, which is not far from where I am, could cause damages estimated in the range of $1 trillion, not $1 billion but $1 trillion. No wonder the Japanese and the Germans do not have an upper limit.

There are statistics of the costs of past accidents. On October 5, 1966, the Enrico Power Plant, Unit 1, outside Detroit, Michigan, not far from our border, suffered a minor issue in its reactor. The public and the environment did not experience any tragedy. The minor repairs of the entire accident, which were not entirely fixed until 1970, were $132 million in 1970 dollars. This amount would be covered, but that was a 1970s figure and it was for minor damage.

If we look at Three Mile Island, which I think everyone is familiar with, in 1979 in Harrisburg, again there was a minor nuclear incident. It caused one to two cases of cancer per year and the cleanup and investigation of the incident cost an estimated $975 million U.S. That is over the Canadian limit already and again we are talking about seventies and eighties dollars.

It is troubling that we have such a low limit of $650 million. We know that nuclear energy is extremely unsafe if it is exposed. I remember when I had to take a radioactive iodine pill, I was in a secure room. No one could come anywhere near me for at least three days. The food was put in through a secure passageway. It was extremely radioactive. No one would want to sit beside me when I was taking that pill.

If we look at the world's foremost expert on nuclear liability, Norbert Pelzer, he is saying that the upper limit should be unlimited and that even the $10 billion in the United States is insufficient to cover a huge nuclear incident. Our amount is not even enough for a minor issue, never mind a major problem.

The other part of the bill that is problematic is the compensation process is cumbersome. It should be like an insurance claim. Instead, right now victims of nuclear accidents have to go through court. Going through the legal system is extremely costly and not everyone has access to it.

The other problem is the bill does not cover any accidents outside the plant setting. For example, if oil and mining companies use radioactive materials and a mistake is made, such as a spill or something takes place, this insurance would not cover that at all and the victims would be left high and dry.

When we calculate the cost of cleaning up Three Mile Island, if that dollar amount did not come from the nuclear industry itself but directly from taxpayers, we could have built 1.15 million hundred watt solar panels. We should think of the possibility of the green jobs we would be missing if the taxpayers have to pick up the tab if there are any accidents. We certainly need to have more green jobs.

Canada ranked 11th in last year's poll, measuring wind power and in the last budget, the government cut off the grants for wind energy, which will make it even worse. The bill is really not helpful.

I want to point out various accidents. For example, East Germany had an accident in 1975. On May 4, 1986, again in Germany, there was fuel damage. What happened was attempts by an operator to dislodge a fuel pebble damaged its cladding, releasing radiation, detectable up to two kilometres from the reactor.

In June 1999 Japan had a control rod malfunction. The operators, attempting to insert one control rod during an inspection, neglected the procedure and instead withdrew three, causing a 15 minute uncontrolled sustained reaction at the number one reactor of the Shika Nuclear Power Plant. The electric company that owned the reactor did not report this incident and falsified records, covering it up until March, 2007.

Also in September 1999, a few months later in Japan, workers did something wrong, which exceeded the critical mass, and, as a result, three workers were exposed to radiation doses in excess of allowable limits. Two of these workers died and 116 other workers received lesser doses, but still have a great many problems. In March 2006 Tennessee had a big problem.

These countries that have had problems have set either no upper limit or a limit in the billions. In Canada setting the limit at $650 million is really not at all useful. That is why the New Democrats will not support the bill.

We would hope the government would take it back, consider the upper limit, either make it similar to the U.S. or, even better, do not set an upper limit. That would be a new nuclear liability and compensation act, which is overdue, and it would certainly get the support of New Democrats.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Madam Speaker, I listened to my hon. friend's remarks.

First, does she realize that the compensation as set out in the bill is for victims and not to repair everything that may possibly happen in a nuclear accident?

Second, does she not realize that it is not only commercial nuclear reactors with which we have to be concerned? There are smaller accidents as well.

Saskatoon, for example, has a nuclear reactor, which is experimental and is used for research. We have to be concerned about those, and there are many others across the country.

Third, does the hon. member realizes that if we do not pass the bill, the limits will remain lower than they are? I can understand the hon. member wanting the limits to be higher, but if the legislation is defeated, the limits would stay low instead of rise to give more compensation.

Could the hon. member comment on those three points?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, of course $75 million is nowhere near to being adequate. Neither is $650 million. Right now if American companies purchase a Canadian company, then the $10 billion U.S. figure kicks in, not the $75 million.

Yes, I know there are 30,000 men and women working in 150 companies in Canada. I also know AECL, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., is a publicly owned entity, and I am glad it is. We should not privatize it. What I am concerned about is the bill would open the door for privatization of AECL and/or other industries that could be picked up by the Americans.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I want to note that we have a list of nuclear accidents, totalling some 81 over the years. These have caused untold damage to the surroundings.

We have no such record when it comes to hydro development. I do not think we can find any serious accidents in hydro development in Quebec, Manitoba or anywhere else in the country that have caused deaths and the disruption that nuclear accidents cause.

Wind development is catching on big time around the world and it is being developed in Canada. There are no serious ramifications similar to what we have determined with nuclear accidents.

In terms of the liability issue, are we making an assumption that Canadian reactors are going to be built out in the middle of nowhere? Whether a plant is developed in Japan, Germany or in the United States near an urban area or in Canada, why would we have a $650 million liability in Canada, $10 billion in the United States and unlimited in Japan and Germany? It makes no sense.

The bottom line is the taxpayers are going to end up footing the bill for this at the end of the day. If the accident is big enough, the company will declare bankruptcy and turn the whole mess over to the taxpayer. That is what we will end up with.

Clearly we should not be developing any further nuclear plants. We should keep the ones we have going as best we can and raise the limits for them. However, we should not develop new ones when we have such good opportunities to get into wind and hydro development.

We were told years ago that DDT was safe, then we banned it. We were told that asbestos was safe, then we banned it. Now we know that nuclear power is not really very safe. Why do we continue to ignore these warnings and want to develop more?

I was very disappointed when I heard from the member from Saskatchewan say that his government was considering new nuclear plants. There will be an election in Saskatchewan in a couple of years and I think we would like to fight an election on that issue, and see how it resolves itself. Therefore, I do not think the Saskatchewan government should go ahead and build many plants because it will get them half built and then they will be shut down.

There are many other areas we should be looking at, and I think the member is on the right track when she talks about wind development and hydro electric development. We should be proceeding with that and not developing more nuclear power.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, in this economic downturn, green jobs are the way to go.

We need an alternative energy plan for renewable energy whether it is solar or wind. That is the way to go. We should be investing in the technologies for batteries and panels, for example, so we can harness solar energy and put panels on as many building as possible.

We have a huge country with a great land mass, so we could be the superpower of wind energy. We could even manufacture those wind blades or different types of wind turbines in Canada. That would produce jobs and energy. It is certainly a win-win situation. We would burn less and we would pay less.

However, there are existing nuclear plants. Some of them have to be fixed and some have to be rebuilt. Privatizing the existing ones or having a fire sale is not going to do the job. At the end of the day, taxpayers will be paying for it. Inevitably and unfortunately there could either be human error or the plants may be too old, they might leak and there would be consequences.

Nuclear waste or spillage is extremely dangerous and harmful to people, plant life and the environment. It is very costly to clean up. Nuclear waste stays forever, so it has to be contained. Once it has leaked out, it is very difficult to clean up. That area is going to be very costly, and $650 million for liability is just not enough.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I would like to follow up on the member's comments. Would she agree that an amendment could be introduced, if this bill were to pass second reading and go to committee, to increase the liability to an unlimited amount, which is the case in Germany and Japan? Even though we do not particularly like the bill and do not like further nuclear development, at least we would get some sort of structure in force that would be consistent with the highest standard, that being Germany and Japan, as opposed to some low standard here of $650 million, which hardly seems adequate given the situation in the world right now?

Does the member think that will have any real negative effect in the sense the companies may or may not be able to get liability insurance in an insurance market that keeps going up and down in a very inconsistent way?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, the New Democrats will support any bill that would increase the liability limits to $10 billion or that would have unlimited liability, just like in Japan and Germany. We would give it very speedy passage. It is long overdue. The existing Nuclear Liability Act does not work because the limit is so low. We need it renewed because it has not been changed since the mid-1970s. However, this is not the way to go.

Once it passes second reading, it cannot be amended at the committee because it is a substantial change. The government should either withdraw the bill and bring in a new bill with different limits or there should be an amendment to change the numbers.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague for Hamilton Mountain.

I rise with deep regret to speak to Bill C-20, the nuclear liability and compensation act, because I believe all members of good conscience should oppose this bill. It leaves Canadians and our communities woefully under-compensated in the event of a nuclear accident.

Communities, like Kincardine near the Bruce nuclear facility; Whitby, Oshawa and Toronto adjacent to Darlington; Bécancour near Gentilly in Quebec; and Point Lepreau in New Brunswick, are all in jeopardy if a major accident were to occur. We know that a major accident at the Darlington nuclear plant would cause damages in the range of $1 trillion. Clearly, $650 million or even $10 billion are insufficient in terms of liability coverage.

Interestingly enough, there are no nuclear facilities in British Columbia. Madam Speaker, I am sure you are well aware of that and perhaps a little bit grateful. This could be because of the mess at Hanford in Washington state. It has cost taxpayers billions because of the expensive remediation that has been going on there for years with no end in sight. Today, Hanford is the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States and the focus of the largest environmental cleanup in U.S. history. It is hugely expensive. It is certainly more than $650 million. It is in the range of several billion dollars or perhaps a trillion dollars.

Hence, we have the $10 billion liability demanded in the United States, which is far less than the unlimited liability required in Japan and China, because, quite simply, the cost to a community and the people who live there is without limit in the case of a nuclear accident.

As we all know, this bill is being reintroduced by the government despite its many deficiencies. In the last Parliament, New Democrats were the only opponents to this bill, and with good reason. No private insurer will cover an individual for compensation from damage caused by a nuclear accident.

While Bill C-20 updates legislation from the 1970s, as has been pointed out, it only increases compensation levels to the absolute minimum international standard. The existing compensation limit of $75 million and the new limit of $650 million is simply not acceptable. What on earth is the government doing? Why is it so prepared to ignore the reality of this situation?

American nuclear companies are interested in purchasing significant sections of Canada's nuclear industry. Under the current legislation, they would be subjected to American rules because Canadian laws do not even meet the international base line. Under American law, the parent company of the subsidiary can be sued for compensation due to the actions of its foreign subsidiary if the law governing that subsidiary is below international standards.

These American corporations are reluctant to invest in the Canadian industry, that is until Bill C-20 is passed. Sadly, the government does not seem to understand the irresponsible nature of this legislation. However, the nuclear industry has the attention of the Canadian public and this issue has strong political resonance with all Canadians. They are, quite simply, concerned about nuclear safety.

The NDP is the only party that is taking the health of Canadians seriously, so seriously that we have been asking the difficult questions, such as why is the liability limit $10 billion in the United States and only the proposed $650 million in Canada? There is no reason for that. It is not rational. The American limit is a whopping 1,540% higher than the limit that is proposed by this bill.

I have another question. Is the imminent sale of AECL to an American company making the government eager to make Canadian nuclear legislation more American-friendly?

Those are important questions but so far we have heard no acceptable answers.

It is more than clear that only New Democrats are serious about protecting the interests of ordinary Canadians while the government takes a cavalier attitude toward nuclear safety.

The Conservatives certainly seem to be laying the groundwork to sell AECL during tough economic times when the value is so very low. We, as Canadians, need to be profoundly concerned about the possibility of the privatization of nuclear facilities. These facilities must be properly managed, and there is no question about that, and that is in the public interest. I, for one, would feel far more comfortable if they remained in public hands. I do not see much evidence that the government has the public interest at the centre of its many questionable policies.

Quite simply, the Conservatives are failing to protect Canadians in the event of a nuclear spill. This level of compensation, the $650 million, would mean only a handful of dollars for the loss of a home, a business or the loss of a life. It is far below that which is required by the international community. For Canadians, and particularly those who live near nuclear power plants or other nuclear installations, this is unacceptable. Their government has sold them out to vested interests.

New Democrats will not be supporting this limited level of liability, nor will we be supporting the bill. It does not even begin to touch on the real cost of a nuclear accident, and that is a betrayal. It is a betrayal of Canadians and of our communities. It is simply not the kind of behaviour that I believe many Canadians expect of our government and should demand of their government.

This is nothing less than a corporate subsidy to the nuclear industry to make it possible for it to move in, take over and privatize the industry that Canadians built. We on this side of the House simply will not bow to that kind of corporate subsidy. We will not allow the government to get away with that without a great deal of discussion and raising our voices on this side of the House.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I would ask my colleague to maybe expand on the notion of what would happen in a community. I think we can all imagine. Those of us who are of a certain age can certainly recall Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and other accidents that have happened. The devastation and damage is immediate from the explosions.

My colleague talked about further implications for communities and I would ask her to maybe expand on that. What sort of things are we talking about in a community, not just the hours after a disaster but in the days and weeks after and the ability of citizens to survive and continue their life as they know it in their own homes and in their own neighbourhoods?