The House resumed from May 26 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, yesterday I was speaking to Bill , the nuclear liability and compensation bill, which is a bill that has been in the House before. We studied essentially the same bill in the previous Parliament and now it is back before us.
I was saying yesterday that one of the concerns I have about the situation with this is the role of the minister in reviewing the liability limit every five years. The idea that this needs to be reviewed is valid, but my concern stems from the lack of a coherent nuclear energy policy from the government. It raises the question of how it will deal with the liability issue when it cannot competently manage this file.
We have not seen competent management. If we look at the history of what has occurred over the past year and a half, there was the closure of Chalk River and the decision of the government to try to scapegoat the nuclear regulator and blame Linda Keen for the problems which, as we can see now, clearly were not simply problems with the regulator, but there was a fundamental problem at Chalk River, which I am sure we are going to hear more about in the coming days.
There are concerns, indeed, about the future of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited and the lack of leadership from the government in that regard. We are all anxious to see the direction in which the government wants to go.
Recently, we have seen media reports where a professor from the University of Calgary actually asked if AECL was about to follow the path of the Avro Arrow and be sold away from Canada, with the loss of many scientists and so forth. The professor detailed the history of neglect for the nuclear sector under the Conservative government over the past three years.
The fact is that internationally over 200 nuclear plants are planned, involving billions of dollars and thousands of jobs. It is an industry in which Canada has been a true leader internationally. We all know the lack of value that this neo-conservative government puts on science. It seems to me at times that it really does not believe in empirical evidence but only in anecdotal evidence. The Conservatives do not believe in science, so to speak.
In fact, one of my colleagues suggested the other day that Barney the Dinosaur should be the official Conservative Party mascot. The Conservatives probably would not like that. They would want him to wear blue instead of purple, I suppose, because purple is too close to red, but I digress.
There is a serious lack of clarity by the Conservatives when it comes to the question of AECL's privatization. They will not tell us if it is on the garage sale list with the CN Tower, for example. The budget documents this year muddied the waters further in their reference to some obscure partnership in stating that the minister is reviewing AECL's structure involving private sector participation in the commercial operations of the corporation. We do not know what that means.
It is distressing to know that since last August there has been on the minister's desk a report from the National Bank done on the future of AECL, which has not been publicly released, even though the government has had since last August to review it. Of course, the minister has had since November, when she was appointed, to review it. It has still not been made public. We still have no idea where the government is going with AECL. One wonders why the government has sat on the report since August. It raises the question of what the government is hiding in this regard.
Is the government going to accept a recommendation to privatize more than 51% of AECL's design service departments, for example, or what is it going to do? Would the minister sell AECL to France or would it go to Canadian interests? What is it going to do? What is the value of AECL during a period of recession?
That is the problem with the government's theory of having a garage sale and selling major government assets worth billions and billions of dollars at a time when their prices obviously are reduced by the recession. We all see how the prices of things are down across the country, perhaps not enough things in some cases for families, but the fact of the matter is for items like government owned buildings and major items like that these days, clearly the dollars one can get for those sales are dramatically reduced. It makes it a terrible and unwise time to unload those kinds of things in a garage sale.
AECL is another example, and there are a lot of questions about AECL's future and no answers.
There is also the issue of the government's lack of support for AECL's bid to build nuclear plants in Ontario. Ontario is going the route of building more nuclear plants. It is making a choice about who the builder is going to be, and AECL is one of the bidders.
Many industry observers see this question of where the government stands as critical to the future success of AECL. They consider the question of whether it wins its bid as critical as well. The government appears to have abandoned AECL on this front.
Unlike the Conservative government, Canadians understand the value of a Canadian nuclear industry. A recent survey of attitude toward nuclear power found that 75% of Canadians are “not comfortable with the presence of non-Canadian nuclear plant manufacturers and plant operators in Canada”. The study also found that the contribution to the local economy and the use of Canadian technology were rated most important for nuclear projects by Canadians. We can see why. Imagine how many jobs this involves in Canada, how many scientists and our top minds are engaged in the work of AECL.
As that professor from Calgary noted in a recent media story, when the Diefenbaker government killed the Avro Arrow project in 1959, the result was the demise of a unique Canadian high-tech invention, an innovative process where Canadian minds were very much engaged. It forced thousands of world-class scientists and engineers to leave our country. This is the same kind of issue, where the Conservative government is talking about the possibility of giving AECL away, or not supporting it and allowing it to fail.
Hopefully, we are not about to witness a repeat of the Avro Arrow. With the Conservative government's neglect and incompetence in this sector, Canadians are understandably worried.
It is not surprising that there are serious questions being raised about the future of CANDU reactors and the fate of the thousands of dedicated scientists and engineers who work for AECL and about what the government intends to do about the production and supply of medical isotopes. It is hard to tell. There seems to be no clarity or no plan from the government.
When there was a shutdown of the NRU in Chalk River in December 2006, we would have thought the government would have started then to produce a plan to replace Chalk River, to come up with some other way to produce medical isotopes. There is no apparent evidence of efforts being made by the government to produce a plan and to move forward with solving that problem.
What was the government's answer? It blamed Linda Keen. She was the scapegoat. The government took no responsibility. It is like we see so often in question period. Whatever questions we ask, it seems the government wants to go back more than three years ago when the Liberals were in power and blame the Liberals for everything. The Conservatives do not take any responsibility for the fact that they are now government.
We would think they were still in opposition. They have not really made the transition. They have not adjusted to the fact that they are government. The Conservatives have been in government for three years. It is time to be responsible. It is time to take responsibility for the job they have to do. Their duty to Canadians is to take action and take responsibility on a matter like dealing with medical isotopes, which is so important to Canadians.
There have been at least three radioactive leaks at the Chalk River site in the past few months, and now we have the indefinite shutdown of the laboratory there. The fact that the government still does not have a plan to ensure the security of our isotope supply is shocking. Canadians were exposed to the situation in 2007, so it is no wonder, after all this period of not seeing any action, they do not trust the Conservative government.
The Conservative government's answer in 2007 was not to find a long-term solution to secure the supply of medical isotopes. Instead, it was to fire the nuclear safety regulator for doing her job. It is even more clear now that she was doing her job. And the government did it in the middle of the night, not even in broad daylight, which was amazing.
A few weeks ago, Canadian Medical Association representatives were on the Hill and I spoke with a few of them, including a nuclear medicine doctor from Halifax, Dr. Andrew Ross, who is an outstanding physician and researcher. He told me that the nuclear medical community was very worried at that time about the isotope supply. That was before this shutdown and before the current crisis. He said that one major incident with a closure would create a crisis.
We had a situation already where the reactor in the Netherlands, which is a major producer of isotopes, was shut down over a long period. I gather it is now back up, but Canada was supplying over half of the world's isotope needs and the closure of Chalk River was going to cause a crisis regardless. Therefore, that has been a very big concern for the CMA—
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill , 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 , 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 . 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 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 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 does include some sensible provisions. We all hope that nothing will ever happen, but Bill 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 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 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 . 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 has to do with the health of the people and how to respond to a potential accident. That is the minimum.
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 , then it was called Bill in the last Parliament, and now it is Bill 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.
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.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague for .
I rise with deep regret to speak to Bill , 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 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 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.
Madam Speaker, it is very difficult for Canadians to imagine. We have seen accidents in other parts of the world and so far we have been spared those horrific events.
We know there are leaks and we know there have been leaks at AECL into the Ottawa River. We know there have been leaks at the Bruce Nuclear Power Plant into many centres that take their drinking water from Lake Huron. However, we have not seen the kind of devastation that was suffered at Three Mile Island or Chernobyl.
In terms of Chernobyl, generations have been affected by the fallout from that accident. The people who provided emergency assistance when Chernobyl exploded are long dead and gone. Their lives were shortened. They were afflicted with miserable radiation sickness and, even worse, cancers and death as a result of the fallout.
I cannot imagine what could possibly happen in densely populated areas like Toronto, Oshawa, Whitby or Pickering if we experienced a nuclear accident. If Darlington were to fail in some catastrophic way, we simply would not have the facilities to manage. Hundreds of thousands of people would need immediate help and our hospitals would be overwhelmed. The reality is that our systems are overburdened because federal and provincial governments have not seen fit to keep up with the needs of the medical community and hospitals. Hospitals and emergency services would be overwhelmed. Homes would be lost.
We know that in other kinds of disasters, such as floods, fires and hurricanes, the loss of homes is catastrophic to the people who live in those communities. Imagine hundreds of square miles where homes become uninhabitable, schools can no longer be utilized and there simply are not the kinds of services to support a huge population. While it may seem extreme, this is what we need to be prepared for.
Nobody who lived in Chernobyl believed that the nuclear plant would blow sky high until that catastrophic event, which left a community bereft, created illness and destroyed the future of not just the first generation but the second, third and fourth generations. We have no idea how many generations will suffer as a result of that accident.
We need to be prepared and $650 million does not do it and $10 billion does not do it. It is something we need to be cognizant of. We cannot allow taxpayers, the people of this nation, to be put on the hook to allow private sector nuclear facilities to pop up in order for the nuclear industry to prosper exponentially in terms of profits. We need to stand firm.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and join my NDP colleagues in speaking against Bill , the nuclear liability and compensation act. In fact, we are the only party in this House that refuses to give the government a blank cheque on this inadequate reform to the limits of nuclear liability.
Simply put, I oppose this bill because it does not keep pace with the rest of the world's measures to provide safe use of nuclear energy. Nonetheless, there is no doubt about the need for modernizing the act. The liability limits were initially set in the early 1970s by the Liberals, but the limits were inadequate even then and certainly by today's standards are even worse.
To its credit, this bill does propose to increase the maximum liability for operators of nuclear installations for damage resulting from a nuclear accident from $75 million to $650 million per nuclear installation, but this limit remains shamefully low when we consider the consequences of a nuclear accident.
This bill seems designed to protect corporations rather than citizens. The total liability is way too low and will not be able to cover a medium-sized accident, never mind a catastrophic one. It has been estimated that a nuclear accident would cause billions of dollars in damage in personal injuries, death and contamination of the surrounding areas. According to the director of environmental governance for the Pembina Institute, a major accident at the Darlington, Ontario nuclear plant east of Toronto, and very near to my own riding of Hamilton Mountain, could cause damages in the range of an estimated $1 trillion.
Six hundred and fifty million dollars does not even come close to being adequate and taxpayers will be on the hook for the difference. Does the government and its friends in the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois really believe that $650 million would be sufficient to clean up and rebuild after such a disaster? Apparently so.
The U.S., on the other hand, has a cap of $10 billion. Germany, which has experienced the fallout of the Chernobyl meltdown, has an unlimited amount. Many other countries are also moving in that direction toward an unlimited amount of liability. Does the government really believe that Canadian lives, properties and communities are worth less than those of our U.S. and European counterparts? Again, judging by this legislation, one would think so.
Even relatively minor nuclear accidents can have huge costs. In the 1960s, a minor issue in a reactor in Michigan cost an estimated $132 million and that was over 40 years ago, but the government, propped up again by its partners in the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois, believes this bill goes far enough.
One of my big concerns is that this bill really is not about protecting Canadians but is all about the Conservative government laying the groundwork to sell Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. Privatization should never be acceptable and particularly not during tough economic times when the value is at its lowest and the Conservatives are contemplating a fire sale.
Perhaps more than anything else, this bill and the debate around it highlight the outrageous costs and potentially devastating risks of nuclear energy, particularly when we compare it to greener, more sustainable alternatives.
For example, the Three Mile Island incident outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1979, which my colleagues have already talked about, was a relatively minor nuclear accident, but it cost an estimated $975 million for the cleanup and investigation. To put the absolute enormity of these costs into context, for the cost of cleaning up Three Mile Island, 1,147,058 100-watt solar panels could have been bought and assembled.
The total subsidies for Canada's state-owned nuclear company, AECL, from 1952 to 2000, were approximately $16 billion. This is money that could be spent investigating safer methods of energy. But the enormous costs do not just apply when things go bad. The planned construction costs for the third Fermi plant in Michigan will cost an estimated $10 billion U.S. and take approximately six years to complete. The price of wind power, on the other hand, is dropping fast and can even be had for as low as 16¢ per kilowatt hour right now. Imagine the cost savings to taxpayers and the lower electricity bills for seniors and hard-working families if we could shift to cheaper, safer and more sustainable power. On top of the financial expenses, nuclear energy in general is extremely unsafe, both to the environment and to human life.
There can be no doubt that Canada needs a greener approach in terms of power. Statistics show that Canada ranked 11th in 2008 in a poll measuring wind power capacity. If Canada expects to be seen as a leader in the world, we need to compete in the field of clean renewable energy.
This pressing need is why we in the NDP launched a task force on the economic recovery which I have been proud to co-chair with my colleague, the member for , who has done incredible work on environmental issues over the years.
As we confront the current economic crisis, we must be looking toward the future. We must ensure that the economy of the 21st century is green, sustainable and affordable for ordinary Canadians.
In my hometown of Hamilton, community organizations, environmentalists and ordinary citizens are coming together to imagine and realize that kind of green future. Green Venture, for example, has been doing home energy evaluation since 1997.
Environment Hamilton recently received a Trillium Foundation grant in support of its work on a green economic recovery for Hamilton. Environment Hamilton understands that fighting climate change and creating green jobs go hand in hand. I want to congratulate Lynda Lukasik, who is the executive director of Environment Hamilton, her staff and the board at Environment Hamilton for securing this important multi-year grant for advancing the future of our city.
Environment Hamilton has also launched an innovative project aimed at helping Hamilton area faith groups to conserve energy both at home and in their places of worship.
I recognize that nuclear energy provides jobs for a large number of Canadians and has been a part of our economy since 1949. The industry cannot and will not disappear overnight, but the real issue is that Bill just does not do enough to bring safety to a naturally unsafe and volatile substance. The compensation process would remain cumbersome and force victims of nuclear accidents to go through the courts. We know how costly and inaccessible the courts are as a remedy for this kind of situation.
Furthermore, the bill does not cover any accidents outside of the plant setting. Oil and mining companies and medical facilities use radioactive materials that can be dangerous, but they are not liable for any accidents related to their use or disposal.
It is as clear as it is unfortunate that only the NDP is serious about protecting the interests of ordinary Canadians while the other parties take a rather cavalier attitude to nuclear safety.
I can only hope that this debate will give the government, members of the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois pause. We need to protect families and communities from the devastating potential of nuclear disasters and this bill simply does not do that.