Nuclear safety

April 26, 2006



House Hansard: Session 38:2, April 26, 2006

Oral Questions

Mr. Howard Hampton (Kenora-Rainy River): My question is for the Acting Premier. We know that the McGuinty government’s real energy plan is to spend $40 billion on very expensive, unreliable and environmentally risky nuclear power plants. So today, on the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, I believe the McGuinty government owes the people of Ontario some straight answers on nuclear power and the potential risks. Will the McGuinty government make public today any emergency plans, briefing notes or studies in its possession that assess the impact of a potential nuclear disaster on human health, the environment and the economy?

Hon. Dwight Duncan (Minister of Finance, Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet): Perhaps the member doesn’t realize that nuclear safety is regulated by the federal government. That being said, the member will know that there are six levels of nuclear incident in the world, 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 – excuse me, there are five – and throughout its history, Ontario has never had more than a level 2.

The Chernobyl incident was a horrible example of what can go wrong when a system isn’t properly run, maintained or regulated. In the case of our province’s history, we have a history of well maintained and properly regulated nuclear assets. I’m sure the member opposite wouldn’t suggest for a moment that we are in danger of a Chernobyl type of situation. I’m sure the member would not want to be fearmongering, given our 40-year history. I would invite the member, as we begin the debate –

The Speaker (Hon. Michael A. Brown): Thank you. Supplementary.


The Speaker: Minister. It’s necessary to sit down when I stand up.


The Speaker: Stop the clock. Supplementary.

Mr. Hampton: One of the realities of life is that accidents happen. Before people buy a car, they check out the safety record or the safety rating of the car, because you want to know what happens in case of an accident. The McGuinty government wants to spend $40 billion on mega nuclear power plants. We believe the people of Ontario have a right to know what happens if there’s a nuclear accident, because, as I say, regrettably, accidents happen. Will the McGuinty government make public all information in its possession about what impact a nuclear accident would have on human health, the environment and the economy?

Hon. Mr. Duncan: The member opposite is presupposing that a decision has been made on new nuclear power, and he knows full well that, in spite of his intention to fearmonger, that decision has not been made. The member would also understand there are environmental assessment processes which would consider these questions. The member would also understand that before a nuclear decision could even be contemplated, the federal nuclear regulating agency has a whole series of processes available to it that are designed in fact to assess these very issues. That’s why it will take somewhere between seven and 10 years, if Ontario were to make the decision to do new nuclear or indeed even to refurbish on existing sites. Those processes are in place. The history is there.

The member is right that accidents do happen. There’s no question about that. But I say to the member, the history is solid. The processes are there in place to assess. To suggest that these decisions have been made or that there’s no opportunity to discuss them in a full and meaningful way, with factual information –

The Speaker: Thank you, Minister. Final supplementary.

Mr. Hampton: It seems that either the McGuinty government hasn’t done its homework on this issue or you don’t want this information in the hands of the public. Either way, the people of Ontario deserve better before you embark on a $40-billion nuclear mega project scheme.

Energy Probe’s Tom Adams says Ontario has had “two near misses at the Pickering nuclear power plant that should have deterred any government from considering nuclear power any further.” So I ask my question again: Will the McGuinty government make public all information in its possession regarding the impact of a nuclear accident on human health, the environment and the economy?

Hon. Mr. Duncan: That information is well known, well understood and well publicized, I think, by the vast majority of Ontarians. Maybe the member opposite sees some benefit in this type of questioning.

Let me say this: I don’t put a lot of faith in Mr. Adams’s views on nuclear power.

Hon. James J. Bradley (Minister of Tourism, minister responsible for seniors, Government House Leader): He’s been opposed to everything.

Hon. Mr. Duncan: He’s been opposed to everything. That’s right. Unlike you, we don’t want to triple the price of electricity in this province. That’s what your plan’s about. That’s what you’re saying.

There has been no decision made on new nuclear or the redevelopment of existing nuclear. There is a public debate that has begun. We look forward to that, working through the environmental assessment processes, working with the federal regulator, working, by the way, with the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, which also tracks this. That information is well available to members and to all people of this province. The debate is open, it’s clear, it’s tough. We’re going to come to terms with it. The member opposite may deal in fiction all he wants, but I can assure you this government will do –

The Speaker: Thank you. New question.

Mr. Hampton: To the Acting Premier: The MPP for Pickering-Ajax-Uxbridge understands nuclear power’s grave risks. Earlier this month, he told this Legislature about his experience as mayor of Pickering, of getting warning calls about big problems at the Pickering nuclear plants. He said that experience has led him to support a new emergency management act, because he believes “something of that magnitude will require … a Premier or the cabinet to be able to declare an emergency in a large area.” Your own member, the former mayor of Pickering, is concerned about the risks of nuclear power.

I simply ask: If he’s concerned, will you table all reports, any studies, any information, any emergency plans to deal with a potential nuclear accident?


Hon. Mr. Duncan: The member referred to is my parliamentary assistant, who I know is a great supporter of nuclear power, and yes, he is a great supporter of proper accountability in emergency situations. That’s why he supported the emergency measures bill that we brought in and that you, sir, voted against.

I remind the member opposite that in fact these discussions were held. Many of the protocols are available in public already, not only through the government of Ontario but, more importantly, through the nuclear regulator that files annual reports, not only in Ottawa but also with the United Nations. I would invite the member to start looking for those things. They’re quite available, they’re quite public, and I’m not going to do your work for you.

What I am going to do is ensure that we have a rational discussion about this, that we ensure, if a decision is made for new nuclear refurbishment, that we have the proper measures in place. We brought forward legislation. You voted against it. Our legislation was the right step, and we’re going to continue to ensure the health and safety –

The Speaker: Thank you. Supplementary?

Mr. Hampton: What’s puzzling here is that the McGuinty government has the $40-billion nuclear megaproject scheme, but when I ask you where the plans are to deal with a potential nuclear accident, you say that’s somebody else’s responsibility.

Even your community safety minister has concerns about risks of nuclear power. This is what he said: “When an emergency happens – it doesn’t matter whether it’s the avian flu, another pandemic of some sort … a nuclear accident … we have to respond immediately.” So if you have a scheme for $40 billion of nuclear power plants, I’m simply asking you today, where are the studies, where are the plans, where are the assessments of what would happen in the case of a nuclear accident?

Hon. Mr. Duncan: First of all, the member is presupposing that a decision has been taken. I don’t know where he gets the $40-billion figure.

Hon. Michael Bryant (Attorney General): They make it up.

Hon. Mr. Duncan: He does. He makes it up. He just makes it up. There’s no validity, no balance. There’s nobody outside of that member’s research office who will confirm that number.

There’s no doubt that this government does worry about nuclear safety. We are one of the largest operators of nuclear reactors in the world, and that’s why we rely on the federal nuclear regulatory agency. That’s why we rely on the United Nations. That’s why we’re at the forefront. If you look at our safety record, you’ll find it’s one of the best in the world, that we’ve never even gotten close to a level 3 incident, in spite of what Mr. Adams and others may want to argue.

There has been, and there will continue to be as decisions are made, full public participation, environmental assessment, federal and international regulatory oversight. I’m satisfied that the system is proper –

The Speaker: Thank you. Final supplementary?

Mr. Hampton: The risk of nuclear power plants is one issue, and we see here that you don’t want to provide an answer. The other question is the storage of all of the very toxic nuclear waste that those nuclear plants would generate. When we ask you where you are going to store the nuclear waste, your response is, “Well, that’s someone else’s responsibility too.” That’s like dumping your garbage in a public park and then saying it’s somebody else’s job to pick it up.

You are the one with the $40-billion nuclear power scheme. You should have a plan, you should have the assessments, you should have the reports on what happens in the case of a nuclear accident. You should have a storage plan. Where is it? If you’re a responsible government, where are the plans to deal with nuclear accidents and the storage of nuclear waste? And please don’t say it’s someone else’s responsibility.

Hon. Mr. Duncan: Surely the member opposite is not suggesting that the operator of nuclear plants should be the one regulating the nuclear plants. That’s exactly what he’s saying. That’s why the federal government regulates not only the operation but the disposal of nuclear waste.

The nuclear waste we have today is stored on-site, a policy that his government followed through on for five years. The federal government, quite properly, the federal regulator – and it should be regulated federally because we’re the operator. That’s a safety precaution. You don’t want, as you had in Chernobyl, the operator acting as the regulator. That was part of the problem at Chernobyl. You probably don’t read below the headlines, but if you read what happened, that’s precisely why we have the motto we have in Canada.

So I reject his idea that the operator should be the regulator. I reject his notion that the provincial government should not be subject to scrutiny, not only by a federal regulator but by an international regulator. That’s why we’ll protect the safety of Ontarians, far more than –

The Speaker: Thank you. New question.

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