Backgrounder: Liability of Nuclear Operators
OTTAWA (January 30, 2014) – The Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act introduced today in Parliament would replace Canada’s Nuclear Liability Act, a 1976 law that provides for compensation for injury or property damage caused by an accident at a Canadian nuclear facility. These facilities include nuclear power plants, nuclear research reactors, fuel-processing plants and facilities for the storage and management of radioactive materials and used nuclear fuel.
The current law requires nuclear facility operators—such as Ontario Power Generation, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, Bruce Power, Cameco, and GE Hitachi—to obtain liability insurance for damages up to a maximum of $75 million. The law assigns the operator absolute liability for damage. In other words, a person who claims damage does not need to prove in court that the nuclear operator was at fault. The claimant needs simply to prove that damage has occurred.
If damages from an accident exceed $75 million, the law requires the federal government to appoint an independent tribunal to handle claims. This body would receive claims, assess damages and recommend the amount of compensation to be paid. Parliament would need to approve any federal payments. The law does not set a limit on the federal payment amount.
The legislation introduced today represents the government’s fifth attempt to rewrite the Nuclear Liability Act. Four previous attempts failed, as the government either prorogued Parliament or called elections.
The new liability amount of $1 billion brings Canada in line with international standards. The new legislation will also implement the provisions of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage and allow Canada to become a party to the Convention.
The international convention, already signed by the United States and 15 other countries, enables a consistent international approach to managing nuclear liability. More countries with nuclear electric power generation capability will need to ratify the agreement before it takes effect.
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