Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver announced today that the Harper government will continue protecting the nuclear industry from liability in the event of a Fukushima type accident. Meanwhile, the international community is increasingly making reactor operators and suppliers responsible for their actions. Why not Canada?  Probably because the Harper government only asked the opinion of the nuclear lobby.

Minister Oliver began a backroom consultation with reactor operators and suppliers on how to revise Canada’s Nuclear Liability Act following the Fukushima disaster last year.     

Passed in the 1970s,  the Nuclear Liability Act was designed to promote the expansion of nuclear power by transferring the risk of reactor operation from the nuclear industry to the Canadian tax-payer.   The nuclear industry profits, but in the event of an accident we pay.

Since that time, many governments have acknowledged that shielding an industry with the potential for causing catastrophic harm from the risks it creates isn’t a good idea.

India, for example, passed a new nuclear liability law in 2010 that allows reactor suppliers to be sued if their negligence contributed to an accident.   This isn’t a radical idea.  It’s how governments treat most other industries.

I view today's annoucenemnt as an attempt by the Harper government to pre-empt a public debate on whether it is still acceptable to protect the nuclear industry post Fukushima.

The government has clearly made a choice to ask industry, but not Canadians, on how the new nuclear liability act should be designed. 

In April, Greenpeace and the Canadian Environmental Law Association asked the Minister Oliver to hold a public consultation on how to modernize Canada’s Nuclear Liability Act.  

We did this after Greenpeace acquired the government’s secret consultation document with industry.

We also asked the government to be transparent and release all of its correspondence with the nuclear lobby regarding revising the NLA.

The government hasn’t responded, but I take it from today’s announcement that consultation with anybody but industry lobbyists isn’t acceptable for this government.  (See the government's handling of the Tar Sands for more examples.)

 But we should have such a public debate.

Is it really in the public interest to protect reactor operators and suppliers? 

The Fukushima disaster tells us ‘no’.  A key lesson from the Fukushima disaster is that shielding reactor suppliers from liability encourages risky behavior that puts people at risk.

There is mounting evidence that the companies that supplied and services the Fukushima reactors ignored reactor flaws that compounded radiation releases. 

But because of Japan’s nuclear liability law – just like Canada’s - the victims of Fukushima can’t take these rich multinational corporations, such as GE and Toshiba, to court.   Even if these companies are negligent they can’t be held accountable. That’s wrong.

Today’s announcement is clearly a win for Canada’s nuclear industry, which gets to foist the cost of its biggest fear – the potential for a major nuclear accident - onto Canadians.

At a time when other countries are removing liability protection for reactor operators and suppliers, one wonders why Canada can’t do the same.

I'd say it has to do with priorities.

Some governments write legislation to protect their citizens.

The Harper goverment writes legislation to protect its friends in industry.