Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
Northwestern Ontario residents who could one day have a massive disposal site for used nuclear fuel bundles close to home should have a say in how much they could potentially sue nuclear industries for in the event of an accident, nuke safety advocates say.
The federal government is reviewing the little-known Nuclear Liability Act, which for the past 40 years has capped the amount that a nuclear supplier or vendor might have to pay out at $75 million. Critics say the figure is ridiculously out of date.
Greenpeace and the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) are petitioning the government to expand the review of the act so that ongoing consultation includes public input — especially in the wake of the nuclear accident at Japan’s Fukushima plant two years ago.
“It’s unacceptable that the Harper government wants to continue protecting the nuclear industry without consulting Canadians,” Greenpeace nuclear analyst Shawn-Patrick Stensil said in a news release.
In a statement Wednesday, Natural Resources Canada Minister Joe Oliver said a bill proposing to bring the act up to date will be fully aired before it’s put to a vote in the House of Commons.
“I have been clear that proposals will once again be brought forward to update these (liability) limits in the near future,” Oliver said.
“Once a new bill is introduced, (MPs) will have the opportunity to call witnesses before (a) committee to provide comment and debate the legislation line-by-line,” he said.
In a separate initiative, Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization is trying to find an underground site for enough spent nuclear fuel bundles to fill six hockey rinks up to the boards.
Intended to be ready to receive the fire-log shaped bundles by 2035, the facility would cost $24 billion to build, according to the latest NWMO estimate.
Ear Falls, Ignace, Nipigon, Schreiber, Manitouwadge, Hornepayne, White River and Wawa have all expressed an interest in hosting the facility, expected to create 800 high-paying jobs over 40 years.
CELA executive director Theresa McClenaghan said she believes the Liability Act would apply to an accident at a nuclear waste disposal site, because it applies to anyone who has been exposed to fallout from a nuclear accident.
“If there’s any exposure, through transporting it or placing it somewhere, then the law would apply,” she said Wednesday.
The act, also known as the nuclear shield law, would have its liability cap raised to $650 million under a current proposal.
But McClenaghan said Canada should follow the lead of other countries and have no cap at all.
“Hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens lost their homes and have gone without proper compensation while the large corporations responsible for the (March 2011) disaster have walked away,” she said.
The Canadian law was supposed to be updated a few years ago, but bills designed to do that died due to elections, or when the Commons was prorogued.