ARCHIVED - Nuclear Liability : Remarks at the 2013 Canadian Nuclear Society Annual Conference

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Remarks by
The Honourable Joe Oliver
Minister of Natural Resources

On “Nuclear Liability”

Delivered at
the 2013 Canadian Nuclear Society Annual Conference “Nuclear: The Next Generation”

June 10, 2013
Marriott Downtown Eaton Centre, 525 Bay Street, Toronto, Ontario

Thank you very much, Robert [Robert Walker, President and CEO, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited]. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a pleasure to be here at the 34th annual conference of the Canadian Nuclear Society. The Society represents scientists and engineers who are at the heart of the innovation and commitment to excellence that defines the Canadian nuclear industry.

Nuclear power is a key part of our energy mix and a major reason Canada’s electricity supply is among the cleanest in the world. Here in Ontario, more than half of all the province’s electricity is provided by safe, clean, reliable nuclear power. Overall, Canada’s nuclear industry is an important contributor to the national economy. It generates close to $5 billion a year in revenues and supplies direct employment for more than 17,000 Canadians.  

These facts underscore our Government’s commitment to support a strong and safe nuclear industry in Canada. We have demonstrated this commitment with a comprehensive, coordinated approach: identifying and addressing key issues from restructuring AECL to signing agreements advancing nuclear trade arrangements with China and India. We continue to make safety, security, health and environmental responsibility our top priority. We support a strong and independent regulator, ensuring that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has the leadership and financial resources it needs to deliver the critical mandate.  

We’ve taken action on our responsibility to manage radioactive waste through our Nuclear Legacy Liabilities Program. This program was launched in 2006, and we have committed funding of $959 million to date to clean up AECL’s legacy wastes.

We’ve taken significant steps to structure Atomic Energy of Canada Limited to better position the industry for success and limit the financial exposure of Canadian taxpayers.

In October 2011, we conducted and concluded the sale of AECL’s CANDU Reactor Division to SNC Lavalin, a Canadian-headquartered international company. And today the new company, CANDU Energy, is pursuing many opportunities in Canada and abroad and stands to benefit from the global growth of nuclear power generation.

At the Canadian Nuclear Association Conference in February, I announced a process to restructure AECL’s nuclear laboratories by moving to a government-owned, contractor-operated model for its management, which will bring the benefits of private sector rigour and efficiency. As a first major step in the process, the Government of Canada will be inviting potential partners to an Industry Day, June 20, in Ottawa. This will serve to launch the formal procurement process for a private sector company to manage and operate the nuclear laboratories.

As part of the restructuring process, I’ve indicated that the goals are to align funding and resources so AECL can fulfil our Government’s waste and decommissioning responsibilities, provide nuclear expertise to support federal roles and responsibilities and offer services to users of the laboratories on commercial terms. Our Government will also be looking at an industry-driven nuclear innovation agenda based on a cost-shared approach. However, we will not make decisions without thorough consultation and consideration of the business cases and their value to Canadians.

Modern, effective nuclear liability legislation is an essential element to ensure sustainable growth of Canada’s nuclear sector. It provides protection to Canadians and stability to the industry. In the highly unlikely event of a nuclear accident that results in civil damage, Canadians must be compensated equitably and quickly. The operators of nuclear facilities also need to know their obligations so they can undertake appropriate financial planning.

In Canada, the fundamental principle of our environmental liability regime is the polluter pays. Canada’s existing nuclear liability legislation, however, is 40 years old. Times and standards have changed significantly. The current law limits civil liability for the operator of a nuclear facility to $75 million. This is no longer acceptable.

As part of our commitment to a strong, responsible stewardship of the nuclear industry, I am announcing our Government’s intention to bring forward legislation that will increase the liability for nuclear operators to $1 billion. This is well above the $650 million of previous bills and in line with most other major nuclear power–producing countries. For example, the United Kingdom, France, Spain and other European nations are moving to an operator limit of $900 million.

In developing this legislation, our government considered input from a broad range of stakeholders, including non-governmental agencies, the governments of nuclear power–generating provinces and the nuclear industry, including operators and insurers. We also examined the liability regimes in other nuclear producing countries.

The new bill will contain the key strengths of existing legislation. Most importantly, it will continue to require that the liability of the operator be absolute and exclusive. This means there is no need to prove fault and no one else can be held liable. Injuries related to a nuclear incident may not become apparent for many years. But the current regime limits the period in which claims for compensation can be made to 10 years. We intend to increase the period to 30 years.

In developing this legislation, it is a priority that all claims for compensation be dealt with quickly and fairly. A serious incident could tax the resources of the court system and delay for years compensation for those who are eligible. We will take steps in the new bill to ensure the Government has the authority to establish a tribunal to replace the courts if it is in the public interest to do so. This should allow a speedy conclusion to claims against a nuclear operator in the event of an accident or controlled release.

Over and above these elements, I’m announcing today that it is our intention to address potential trans-boundary impacts of a nuclear incident by joining the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage. Our eventual participation in this convention will bolster the domestic regime by bringing additional funding for compensation provided by member countries by up to $450 million. In Canada, this would bring the total potential compensation up to $1.45 billion.

Membership will also clarify the treatment of claims by clearly outlining who is responsible, which courts would have jurisdiction and what law would be applicable.     And since our closest neighbour, the United States, is already a member of the Convention, our membership would enable us to establish bilateral civil liability treaty relations.

The Convention is not yet in force because more countries need to sign on. So when Canada becomes a member, signatories will be one step closer to making the Convention a reality.  

The changes I am announcing today will ensure that Canadians will be compensated for claims on an equitable and expeditious basis in the extremely unlikely event of a nuclear accident with off-site consequences. These measures will raise the absolute liability limit for nuclear operators to $1 billion and provide access to additional funds through our membership in the Convention. Together, these measures will bring Canada’s nuclear liability legislation and protection for Canadians to a level that exceeds most international standards.

At the same time, we must remember that Canada has an outstanding nuclear safety record. There has never been a claim under Canada’s Nuclear Liability Act. We have strong, independent and thorough regulation enforced by an independent regulator. And, as I’ve mentioned in the past, I’ve appointed Dr. Michael Binder to another five years as President of the CNSC [Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission] because our Government believes in his leadership and the direction he has provided.

In closing, I’d like to point out that the CANDU power reactors that operate in this country have proven the safety and reliability of their design through decades of service. And let me acknowledge that the outstanding safety and performance record of CANDU technology is based in no small part on the expertise, vision and experience represented in this gathering. The likelihood of a serious incident in this country is exceedingly small. Assuming that remains the case will always be our government’s top priority.  

Thank you and best wishes for a most successful conference.