February 14, 1997 (35th Parliament, 2nd Session)


Warren Allmand


Hon. Warren Allmand (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Lib.)

moved that Bill C-249, an act to amend the Nuclear Liability Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, this bill would amend the Nuclear Liability Act. Members may ask: What is the Nuclear Liability Act? The Nuclear Liability Act was passed in 1970 but was only proclaimed in 1976. Its purpose was to make operators of nuclear installations absolutely liable for damages, but at the same time it limited their liability for a particular incident to $75 million.
When I say that it made them absolutely liable, I mean that it provided that victims of a nuclear accident would not have to prove negligence against the operators of a nuclear facility; they merely had to show that the damages to their person or to their property were caused by a breakdown or by an accident at the nuclear installation. Once they did that, the defendant was absolutely liable. However as I said, the liability was limited to a total of $75 million for all claimants on any one particular incident.
The Nuclear Liability Act also protects manufacturers of nuclear facilities and manufacturers of components for nuclear facilities, such as General Electric, Westinghouse and others. It protects them from any liability whatsoever. It does the same thing for the suppliers of fuel for nuclear installations. In other words, all damage claims by victims of a nuclear power accident must be channelled to the operators who are in turn limited to $75 million.
The act also provides that where the damage exceeds $75 million, the Government of Canada may decide to pay additional amounts, but that is not obligatory.
It should be noted that all operators must be licensed under the Atomic Energy Control Act by the Atomic Energy Control Board. Of course the purpose of that is to screen out unreliable operators.
Bill C-249 which is before the House today would do two things. First, it would increase the liability limit for operators from $75 million to $500 million per damage incident. Second, it would oblige the government to pay damages when they went above $500 million, subject to certain conditions.
Why is this necessary? Why am I putting forward this bill? It is necessary because the liability limit of $75 million is totally out of date and inadequate.
There are presently 23 nuclear installations in Canada situated in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.
If we were simply to adjust the $75 million maximum to compensate for inflation, the adjusted maximum calculated for 1989 would be $279 million. As members know, it is now 1997 so with further inflation adjustment the maximum would be close to $500 million.
Experience has now shown us that the original maximum was woefully too low. The 1986 Chernobyl breakdown resulted in $300 billion of damages in Ukraine and Belarus. As a result of that accident 250,000 people had to be evacuated from their farms, villages and communities.
Briefs to the Ontario Hydro hearings in 1990 demonstrated that a severe accident at the Darlington, Ontario installation would result in damages of $1 trillion. In 1990 the Business Journal stated that Ontario Hydro was not adequately insured for damage from accidents of this kind.
It should be pointed out that Toronto is closer to Pickering than Kiev was to Chernobyl yet Kiev incurred approximately $100 billion in damages in 1986. That is probably why the city of Toronto with Energy Probe and Rosalie Bertell went to court in 1986 to have the Nuclear Liability Act declared unconstitutional.
Unfortunately in 1996 after 10 years of legal wrangling they were obliged to drop their action. The principal opponents in that action were Ontario Hydro and New Brunswick Power.
Some say that these changes are not necessary because Canadian installations are extremely safe. It may be correct that the Canadian safety record is a good one, and I congratulate the operators for that, but no one will argue that our system is fail safe. Not only do we have the examples of Chernobyl in 1986 and Three Mile Island in the United States in 1979, but in 1995 in this country there were 786 unusual incidents recorded for Canadian installations and 391 were formally reported to the Atomic Energy Control Board.
In 1983 there was a serious accident at the Pickering 2 installation less than 20 miles from Toronto. The two reactors were shut down for four years. A pressure tube had burst without warning in the in the very core of the reactor system. The replacement cost was $700 million.
Ontario's nuclear facilities are not built to withstand the magnitude of earthquakes now anticipated in this region. An earthquake is considered the most likely cause of a severe accident to a nuclear power facility.
The bill is also necessary because individuals in Canada cannot get personal or household insurance which will cover them for damages resulting from a nuclear facility accident. No insurance company will cover this risk for individuals. The insured has no coverage for radioactive contamination. I was shocked to learn that but that is the case. None of us can get an insurance policy which will cover us against these kinds of damages.
Consequently the only recourse for individual damage claims from victims is the operators under this law. At present the operators are only liable up to $75 million. One can imagine what this would give to the citizens of greater Toronto if there was a Chernobyl type breakdown at Pickering or Darlington. One million people would get about $75 each.
In the United States under the 1957 Price Anderson Act recent amendments require liability coverage of $160 million per reactor. Plus, in event of claims beyond that, a fund has been established which provides total coverage of up to $7 billion. Sweden has recently increased its liability in similar circumstances from $81 million to $130 million per reactor, and Japan from $80 million to $240 million.
If you were affected by a nuclear accident, Mr. Speaker, because the winds deposited radioactive fallout over your home, business, farm or workplace making them uninhabitable for tens or perhaps hundreds of years, think of what this would mean to you, quite apart from the knowledge that you and your loved ones might contract cancer or your offspring suffer genetic damage.
Financially your means of livelihood could be wiped out and your property destroyed. You and your family could be ruined and there is no way to protect yourselves because insurance companies also fear a meltdown. Every insurance policy in Canada excludes coverage for nuclear accidents. No other industry has the freedom to destroy the health or property of innocent third parties who can neither insure themselves beforehand nor sue for compensation afterwards.
In conclusion let me summarize. The Nuclear Liability Act in its present form is not adequate to compensate victims of a nuclear facility accident. Accidents have taken place before and can take place again. The law needs to be updated and revised. The act requires other amendments as well but I am not dealing with those today. For example, in the act there is a limitation that all claims must be made within 10 years. Now they realize that such claims for such damage only come to light much later than 10 years, such as damage to offspring or cancer and so on. There have been recommendations that claims be allowed up to 30 years but I am not dealing with that. I am not dealing with that today; I am simply saying that the act requires other amendments.
I urge hon. members to send the bill to committee where witnesses could be heard and if necessary have the bill amended. I am extremely flexible on the details of the bill. If the evidence suggests that the liability should be higher than $500 million then change it. That is no problem. If the committee can find a better way of protecting citizens when the damage goes beyond $500 million I am all in favour of improvements.
On the other hand I cannot accept that this matter be ignored. Nuclear energy is too dangerous a substance. There is no perfect way to control it or its waste product. I would prefer that we stop using nuclear energy, but if that cannot or will not be done then at least let us make sure that any victims get fair and just compensation.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Nuclear Liability Act
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