Hyer on the Hill – A New Balance on Nuclear

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THUNDER BAY – This March, a very thoughtful Letter to the Editor from Betty Brill appeared in the Nipigon Gazette (“Say it Ain’t So, Joe” Nipigon Gazette, March 2010). She detailed her experiences analysing nuclear waste disposal, storage, and treatment options, as part of public consultation for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO).  She has asked her elected representatives for years, without concrete answers: “Can the federal or provincial government override the Nuclear Free Zone designation of communities if they are in the path of transporting used nuclear fuel?” (for example, Thunder Bay is a Nuclear Free Zone).

If I may offer an answer, legal researchers looked into the issue at my request, and the answer, unfortunately, is “Yes”. Municipalities are legal creatures of provincial legislation.  Provinces therefore have the constitutional power to change municipal by-laws; if they want to transport nuclear waste through any community, they only have to pass legislation to do so.

The federal Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act (1992), and broad residual powers of anything “in the national interest” means the feds could do something similar.

Issues surrounding more nuclear power plants, putting limits on the liability owed to the public regarding nuclear accidents, and the storage and disposal of nuclear waste will affect taxpayers across Canada, including Northwestern Ontario citizens.

This week the government introduced Bill C-15, legislation that would cap the total liability of nuclear plant operators for an accident at a ridiculous $650 million – a miniscule fraction of the likely true cost of a nuclear disaster. That would mean likely a few dollars of compensation for the loss of a home (not to mention potential deaths or decades of birth defects).

Taxpayers have long subsidized the development and operation of Canada’s nuclear facilities, including a whopping $19 billion to Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. alone. If passed, Bill C-15 will amount to another massive handout; taxpayers will be picking up the tab for anything over the cap if an accident happens. So far, only New Democrats are the only ones opposing C-15.

Why is the federal government doing this? Because no insurance company in the world will insure private property against a nuclear leak or catastrophe. The fact that they won’t should give us a hint at the enormous risks and costs involved. Today, nuclear is the only industry that requires a federal law to protect it from financial responsibility.

In the Northwest, we don’t have nuclear reactors nearby. Unfortunately we might have to live with their legacy anyway. NWMO is expected to make an announcement soon on a process to deal with Southern Ontario’s accumulated nuclear waste. Some people worry (and others hope) that Northwestern Ontario might become the ultimate target for a disposal site.

They have good reason to. About thirty years ago, Atikokan was considering nuclear waste disposal and test drilling was done there. Last year, Ignace was exploring possibilities of hosting nuclear waste. Recently, the issue of a Nuclear Fuel Waste Site has come up at Nipigon Town Council too.

It is supposedly up to each community to decide if hosting Canada’s 36,000 tons of nuclear waste is for them. However, because of potential accidents along the way, each community along radioactive waste transport routes could be affected. They should have a say too. Indeed, this is such a huge decision… assuming the responsibility for Southern Ontario’s nuclear wastes from which we have received virtually no electrical power… that politicians worth their salt should fight to be sure that ALL of our citizens and towns in Northwestern Ontario should have equal say in whether we take those wastes.

Bruce Hyer, MP

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