Mr. Speaker, I only have 10 minutes on debate, but I could speak for 20 or 30 minutes on this subject.
As I mentioned in some of my questions to my colleagues, this bill was put forward by the government to amend the Nuclear Liability Act. Unfortunately the bill as put forward was not acceptable to the NDP. We felt it needed to be amended quite substantially, so we proposed many amendments at committee. Unfortunately, they were not supported by my colleagues at committee.
We are quite concerned because we feel the bill is being put forward in this fashion in an effort to aid the government to use nuclear energy in this country basically as a carbon offset. This is the biggest offset plan that anybody could have imagined.
Unfortunately, seeing nuclear energy as a clean source of energy is also misguided. The production of nuclear energy causes waste and that waste has to be dealt with. We have never been able to find an acceptable solution for dealing with the waste. It is still there. It will last for millions of years. It is highly toxic and dangerous. At any point in time an incident could result.
With all these things in mind, we felt it was incumbent upon us at committee and in the House to put forward our recommendations and amendments to try to make the bill better so that we could support it.
We also agree that as it stands now, nuclear liability in this country is far too low at $75 million. That is not nearly enough to cover any kind of disaster in any community. It needs to be increased, but to increase it to the minimum international standard is also not the right way to go. That is why we put forward amendments to increase it to an unlimited liability on the part of the nuclear operator. We feel very strongly that Canadians, including Quebeckers, should not be put on the hook by having their tax dollars used to pay the potential billions of dollars that would be needed to cover the cost of a nuclear incident in this country.
We do have some facilities near our borders. If a nuclear incident were to occur near our borders, what would be the impact from other countries? What would we be on the hook for there?
This is a serious issue and we take it very seriously. We are not here to try to hold up the bill just to play games. We are very concerned about this issue. We want to make the bill better and something we could support.
Right now there is an issue with AECL, the company that operates under the government. The taxpayers basically own this company. If there were to be an accident or an incident, the taxpayers would be on the hook for that company. We would never want to see that.
Earlier today my colleague from Winnipeg referenced a book, Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer, by Helen Caldicott. I found some interesting passages in this book, which I want to share with the House and with Canadians. It talks about accidental, and unfortunately, terrorist induced nuclear meltdowns, and says:
Nuclear power plants are vulnerable to many events that could lead to meltdowns, including human and mechanical errors; impacts from climate change, global warming, and earthquakes; and, we now know, terrorist attacks.
I would like to read a couple of excerpts to give people a sense of what could happen and why it is important that we have unlimited liability on our facilities so that Canadian taxpayers are not on the hook.
We know also that in this country the reactors are aging. The NRU reactor at Chalk River is around 50 years old. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is looking at having to allow that unit to operate longer. It is only supposed to operate until 2011 but we are looking now to 2016. It is going to continue to operate because there is no replacement for that.
The aging nuclear facilities in this country will have more and more problems as time goes by. Metal fatigue, rust and all kinds of things can happen as things age. We have to ensure that we have the safety and protection of Canadian people in mind when we are talking about nuclear liability.
In her book, Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer, which is an American publication, Dr. Caldicott says that even though today's reactors were designed for a 40 year life span, the NRC, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, acceding to industry pressure, is currently approving 20 year extensions to the original 40 year licences for nuclear power plants.
That is a concern. Although that refers to the U.S., the same kinds of things are happening in Canada. I am concerned about these aging facilities, that we do not have replacement power. They do not have to be nuclear facilities. They could be cleaner energy alternatives such as solar and wind. We could look at doing an east-west grid across this country.
We could have alternatives to nuclear power. We would not have to worry about pressure being put on our Nuclear Safety Commission to prolong the licences for these facilities if we had alternatives to that energy source. It is quite a concern. If the aging facilities called on the Nuclear Safety Commission to extend their licences for longer periods, we would have to start worrying about the near misses that might happen in continuing the use of those aging facilities.
Another thing that Dr. Caldicott talks about is global warming. Who would have thought that global warming would have impacted nuclear facilities. She says in her book that there are many facilities that are built on coastlines which could possibly be impacted by tsunamis or earthquakes in places around the world such as India. They could be impacted by global warming.
She talks about terrorist attacks, which we are quite concerned about as well. According to this book, the necessary steps have not been taken to increase security around nuclear facilities in case of a terrorist attack. We have seen increased security measures at airports and other border security measures, but we have not had an increase in security around nuclear facilities.
We need to make sure that the steps are in place to protect Canadians in the event of a nuclear accident. We must make sure that the liability on the part of the operator is a lot higher than $650 million, because we know that if there were an accident, the liability costs would be in the billions of dollars.