Limit on nuclear liability law challenged

Limit on nuclear liability law challenged

Christie McLaren
The Globe and Mail
August 7, 1985

13 groups launch action

If a nuclear disaster similar to Chernobyl happened in Canada, the nuclear industry would pay only a fraction of the cost of the damage to people, homes and property because it is protected by a federal law, documents filed in the Supreme Court of Ontario say.

In sworn affidavits filed with the court yesterday, the anti-nuclear group Energy Probe and 12 other plaintiffs launched a constitutional challenge to the federal Nuclear Liability Act, which ensures that the nuclear industry pays no more than $75-million if there is an accident at a Canadian-built Candu nuclear reactor.

A major accident “would cause human health and property damage far in excess of $75-million,” said Ralph Torrie, an energy researcher and policy analyst.

Mr. Torrie – an expert adviser to the Ontario Nuclear Safety Review, a Government-appointed committee studying the safety of Ontario Hydro’s nuclear reactors – said that Candu reactors are not immune to catastrophic accidents for several reasons.

In addition to the large amounts of radioactive material and stored-up energy in Candu reactors, Mr. Torrie cited other factors that point to the possibility of major accidents: the poor performance record of some safety features; the aging of reactor parts; and the fact that the federal Atomic Energy Control Board does not require older plants to be fitted with the most up-to-date safety features.

The possibility of an accident “exists in all large thermal power reactors,” he said, “and the Candu is no exception.”

Currently, 22 Candu nuclear reactors are operating or under construction in three Canadian provinces – Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. Ontario Hydro’s 16 reactors at the Pickering and Bruce power stations represent one of the largest geographical concentrations of nuclear power in the world.

The Nuclear Liability Act – passed by Parliament in 1970 and proclaimed into law in 1976 – says, in effect, that companies supplying parts to Canadian nuclear reactors are free from liability claims if the parts fail and cause an accident.

If there is an accident, the law ensures that reactor operators such as Ontario Hydro and the New Brunswick Electric Power Commission would be legally liable for no more than a maximum of $75-million.

In the United States, the liability limit was raised last week to $7-billion – more than 100 times higher than Canada’s limit. This is the maximum amount that all victims, combined, of a single accident at a U.S. nuclear power plant could collect.

Quoting from a 1978 report by the Ontario Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning, Mr. Torrie said a catastrophic accident at a Candu reactor would release a cloud of radioactivity that would be carried downwind, producing “both prompt and latent cancers” and threaten the public with contaminated food and water.

According to the royal commission, he said, the risk of a reactor accident in Canada was 100 times higher than official industry estimates.

In addition to cancer, Dr. Harry Griffiths, chief of radiology at Toronto General Hospital, said in an affidavit that radiation can lead to genetic mutation and birth defects.

“Exposure to even minute quantities of ionizing radiation” from a nuclear accident “creates a risk of cancer for the person exposed and a risk of genetic mutation for descendants of that person, and a teratogenic risk (a risk to normal development) of children exposed in utero,” Dr. Griffiths said.

Norm Rubin, director of nuclear research at Energy Probe, said in another affidavit that the April, 1986, accident at the Chernobyl reactor in the Soviet Union released clouds of radioactivity that drifted around the world, killed at least 31 people, and, according to Soviet estimates, caused more than $3-billion (U.S.) in economic costs in that country.

In addition, the Swedish Government will pay an estimated $200-million in damages to reindeer herders in Lapland whose animals were contaminated and deemed unfit for human consumption by the radiation, 1,500 kilometres from Chernobyl.

If a catastrophic reactor accident happened at Ontario Hydro’s Pickering Generating Station near Metro Toronto, Mr. Rubin suggested, the radiation could “encompass virtually all of Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces.”

He said Canadians cannot fully protect themselves financially because insurance companies routinely refuse to insure people against nuclear incidents in many of their policies.

He said the Nuclear Liability Act is “incompatible with the claims of the (nuclear) industry” and the federal Government that a serious reactor accident in Canada is improbable or impossible.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to raise the nuclear industry’s liability to $7-billion from $705-million in case of an accident.

Spokesmen for the Canadian nuclear industry have argued that the federal law protects Canadians.

Ian Wilson, a vice-president of the Canadian Nuclear Association, said last spring that the law makes nuclear operators absolutely liable, so damages in the event of a reactor accident can be claimed without proving negligence in court.

If damages exceed $75-million, Mr. Wilson said, the federal Government has the power to pay for the rest of the costs. He added that it may be appropriate to raise the $75-million limit.

No date has been set for the court case, which has been absorbed with preliminary motions on various legal procedural matters.

On Aug. 27, lawyers for the provincial Crown corporations, Ontario Hydro and New Brunswick Power, will argue that Energy Probe and the other plaintiffs do not have legal standing to challenge the Nuclear Liability Act.

13 groups launch action

If a nuclear disaster similar to Chernobyl happened in Canada, the nuclear industry would pay only a fraction of the cost of the damage to people, homes and property because it is protected by a federal law, documents filed in the Supreme Court of Ontario say.

In sworn affidavits filed with the court yesterday, the anti-nuclear group Energy Probe and 12 other plaintiffs launched a constitutional challenge to the federal Nuclear Liability Act, which ensures that the nuclear industry pays no more than $75-million if there is an accident at a Canadian-built Candu nuclear reactor.

A major accident “would cause human health and property damage far in excess of $75-million,” said Ralph Torrie, an energy researcher and policy analyst.

Mr. Torrie – an expert adviser to the Ontario Nuclear Safety Review, a Government-appointed committee studying the safety of Ontario Hydro’s nuclear reactors – said that Candu reactors are not immune to catastrophic accidents for several reasons.

In addition to the large amounts of radioactive material and stored-up energy in Candu reactors, Mr. Torrie cited other factors that point to the possibility of major accidents: the poor performance record of some safety features; the aging of reactor parts; and the fact that the federal Atomic Energy Control Board does not require older plants to be fitted with the most up-to-date safety features.

The possibility of an accident “exists in all large thermal power reactors,” he said, “and the Candu is no exception.”

Currently, 22 Candu nuclear reactors are operating or under construction in three Canadian provinces – Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. Ontario Hydro’s 16 reactors at the Pickering and Bruce power stations represent one of the largest geographical concentrations of nuclear power in the world.

The Nuclear Liability Act – passed by Parliament in 1970 and proclaimed into law in 1976 – says, in effect, that companies supplying parts to Canadian nuclear reactors are free from liability claims if the parts fail and cause an accident.

If there is an accident, the law ensures that reactor operators such as Ontario Hydro and the New Brunswick Electric Power Commission would be legally liable for no more than a maximum of $75-million.

In the United States, the liability limit was raised last week to $7-billion – more than 100 times higher than Canada’s limit. This is the maximum amount that all victims, combined, of a single accident at a U.S. nuclear power plant could collect.

Quoting from a 1978 report by the Ontario Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning, Mr. Torrie said a catastrophic accident at a Candu reactor would release a cloud of radioactivity that would be carried downwind, producing “both prompt and latent cancers” and threaten the public with contaminated food and water.

According to the royal commission, he said, the risk of a reactor accident in Canada was 100 times higher than official industry estimates.

In addition to cancer, Dr. Harry Griffiths, chief of radiology at Toronto General Hospital, said in an affidavit that radiation can lead to genetic mutation and birth defects.

“Exposure to even minute quantities of ionizing radiation” from a nuclear accident “creates a risk of cancer for the person exposed and a risk of genetic mutation for descendants of that person, and a teratogenic risk (a risk to normal development) of children exposed in utero,” Dr. Griffiths said.

Norm Rubin, director of nuclear research at Energy Probe, said in another affidavit that the April, 1986, accident at the Chernobyl reactor in the Soviet Union released clouds of radioactivity that drifted around the world, killed at least 31 people, and, according to Soviet estimates, caused more than $3-billion (U.S.) in economic costs in that country.

In addition, the Swedish Government will pay an estimated $200-million in damages to reindeer herders in Lapland whose animals were contaminated and deemed unfit for human consumption by the radiation, 1,500 kilometres from Chernobyl.

If a catastrophic reactor accident happened at Ontario Hydro’s Pickering Generating Station near Metro Toronto, Mr. Rubin suggested, the radiation could “encompass virtually all of Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces.”

He said Canadians cannot fully protect themselves financially because insurance companies routinely refuse to insure people against nuclear incidents in many of their policies.

He said the Nuclear Liability Act is “incompatible with the claims of the (nuclear) industry” and the federal Government that a serious reactor accident in Canada is improbable or impossible.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to raise the nuclear industry’s liability to $7-billion from $705-million in case of an accident.

Spokesmen for the Canadian nuclear industry have argued that the federal law protects Canadians.

Ian Wilson, a vice-president of the Canadian Nuclear Association, said last spring that the law makes nuclear operators absolutely liable, so damages in the event of a reactor accident can be claimed without proving negligence in court.

If damages exceed $75-million, Mr. Wilson said, the federal Government has the power to pay for the rest of the costs. He added that it may be appropriate to raise the $75-million limit.

No date has been set for the court case, which has been absorbed with preliminary motions on various legal procedural matters.

On Aug. 27, lawyers for the provincial Crown corporations, Ontario Hydro and New Brunswick Power, will argue that Energy Probe and the other plaintiffs do not have legal standing to challenge the Nuclear Liability Act.

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