Mr. Speaker, I rise to support Bill C-5 in its unamended form, particularly in light of the discussion which I have been privileged to hear today in the House.
I want to pick up on the points that were raised by my colleague from Mississauga—Erindale, which had to do with a number of fundamental questions about the future of nuclear energy in this country which underlie this bill. I also want to echo what my colleague from Western Arctic said, that as we think about that future, we have to think about not only the interests of the nuclear industry, but also the interests of the whole population of Canada.
First, at the deepest level, this bill raises a number of very profound questions about the future of nuclear power in Canada, about the future of AECL itself, about the future of the nuclear regulator, about the future of Canada's own Candu reactor, the future of evolving nuclear technologies around the world, competitive technologies to the Candu reactor and, indeed, the future of nuclear power around the world.
It is evident that the great change which has occurred in the debate about nuclear power has been driven by climate change. This has radically altered the terms of debate. It has radically altered the way in which we think about these issues.
I can say that as a long-time environmentalist, I have been one of those who, over the years, has had reservations about the nuclear industry. I have moved from that position to one of being agnostic, but today, as I weigh the odds, the chances and the dangers, I now find myself on the side of a nuclear future for Canada. I believe that inevitably, nuclear power will be an increasingly important component of our national energy portfolio in the years to come.
Even if we funded and built no new nuclear plants in this country, Canada would have been having a nuclear future for a long time anyway. If we consider the very lights in this chamber, two out of every five lights in this chamber and in Ontario are powered by nuclear power. Forty per cent of all the power currently generated comes from nuclear generators.
Their importance becomes all the more compelling, because we know what the future of coal fired energy plants is in this province. That is to say they will be eliminated, which puts an even greater burden on nuclear power certainly in this part of the world for the future. There is no existing alternative source of energy on the scope and scale of nuclear power which can replace coal fired generating plants.
Second, the climate change argument puts us in a world in which we have to balance off risks. That is what we are here for. We are here to make choices. To govern is to choose.
On the one hand, a world in which carbon dioxide continues to increase exponentially along with other greenhouse gases puts us into a perilous future when we would reach an increase in world temperature of plus 2°C. This would take us to a place we have not been in many generations and millions of years, versus the well-known risks of nuclear power, which have been nuclear accidents, terrorist threats or how we dispose of nuclear waste. These are not trivial matters, but we have to choose. We have to decide what is the greatest peril and can we manage the risks on the other side.
Bill C-5 itself and the debate about its amendments is about risk management, about somewhere between zero liability and limitless liability. The committee came down and decided on $650 million, increasing it from $75 million. That is about risk management.
The problem with climate change is that this is not a manageable risk if we continue not to do anything about it. That is the challenge, that we are in a potentially runaway situation. Nuclear power must be part of the answer to that.
The third point I would like to make is that around the world we do see a renaissance of nuclear power. There are currently operating in the world 439 nuclear power reactors. They have been operating for a collective number of 10,000 reactor years of experience. There are now 200 new nuclear power plants being planned around the world. During the entire nuclear power period there have been only two accidents: Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Only one of those, Chernobyl, had fatalities associated with it, and there is no denying that was a major, major accident.
However, what we do forget as we think about risk is what happens as a result of the emissions from coal and power plants every year from mining. The number of deaths every year associated with coal mining so that we can actually power coal fired generating plants far exceeds the number of deaths associated with the Chernobyl disaster, and yet we never balance out those risks. That is what our job is as legislators, to balance choices, to balance risks and try and do the best we can for the future.
The fourth point I want to make is about nuclear waste itself. It is a problem which ultimately is technologically controllable. The exciting part, if I may say so, about nuclear waste is that it represents a potential future source of energy which we have not found a way of exploiting yet. There will be a new generation of reactors which will be able to extract from our existing nuclear waste energy almost on an indefinite, time unlimited basis. It is true we do not know exactly what that road ahead looks like of using nuclear waste for new power, but we also know that if we do not get on with change what our future looks like in a world of plus 2°C climate change. That we have a much stronger sense of. Again we have to choose; we have to balance.
My fifth point is that we have in AECL, a world leader, a company which has led the nuclear revolution not only in power but in medical isotopes and other areas. It deals with an evolving technology which has a tremendous future. Someone somewhere in the world, some industrial group is going to be developing the next generation of nuclear plants and the question is why should Canada, pioneers in this area, leaders for half a century, not be that somebody? Why should we leave it to France or to General Electric if we are going to be having a nuclear future in any event?
This brings me to the sixth point which is national interest. We have had interesting debate recently on a Canadian owned company, MDA, which developed RADARSAT and the Canadarm, as to what our national interest is in high tech companies. The government has said, and I credit it with this, that for things like space technology, this is in the national interest. I would argue that AECL is in the same vein. It is in our national interest to give this technology the resources and the support to take us to the next level and to take that technology to the world to see it not only in terms of contributing to the climate change debate but to wealth creation.
Finally, by passing Bill C-5, clearly we are anticipating a long life ahead for nuclear power in Canada, otherwise we would not have this bill. This might as well be a future where Canada is a leader. As the member for York Centre used to put it in his former life as a hockey player with the Montreal Canadiens as they got ready to play a game but they were feeling a little discouraged, “Well, since we have to play the game anyway, we might as well win it”. I think the same is true of nuclear power.