02/19/2013 12:02 EST | Updated 04/20/2013 05:12 EDT

Greenpeace calls on Ottawa to eliminate liability cap for nuclear operators

TORONTO - Greenpeace Canada is calling on the government to do away with the cap on how much nuclear operators would have to pay in the event of an accident.

The Nuclear Liability Act states that nuclear operators must have insurance for up to $75 million.

Shawn-Patrick Stensil with Greenpeace Canada says that would not be nearly enough to compensate people who would be affected within 20 kilometres of nuclear stations such as those in Pickering, Ont., and Darlington, Ont.

The federal government has tried before to raise the cap, but the last effort to increase the cap to $650 million died on the order paper when the 2011 federal election was called.

But Stensil says Ottawa should remove the cap entirely and amend the act so that suppliers, not just operators, could be held liable if faulty equipment causes an accident.

Greenpeace has released a report on worldwide nuclear liability to coincide with the second anniversary of Japan's Fukushima disaster.

The report says that the victims of Fukushima have not received enough compensation to rebuild their lives and points to nuclear liability laws as a source of the problem.

"What we're learning from Japan is, like other industries, everyone in the nuclear industry should be held accountable if responsible for an accident," Stensil said. "That's one of the best incentives you have for safety."

The minister of natural resources said in an emailed statement that "NDP filibustering" is why previous attempts to increase the cap did not pass Parliament. The statement from Joe Oliver did not answer a question about whether the government was preparing to bring in another bill to try to raise the cap.

"Our government is committed to periodically assessing financial liability to make certain that Canada's polluter-pay system remains among the strongest in the world, and that is exactly what we will do," Oliver said.

Discussions in Canada about how to modernize nuclear liability here are only taking place between the government and the nuclear industry, Stensil said.

"This current law protects the nuclear industry," he said. "They have a vested interest in keeping the law the way it is. We need to have a broader discussion about how that law is modernized and that should involve the people that would be impacted in the event of an accident."

The industry was behind the government's last effort to raise the cap, said John Stewart, the acting director of policy at the Canadian Nuclear Association.

"Industry supports and has for a long time supported a new liability limit," he said. "We're very supportive of this getting done."

Eliminating a cap all together, however, would likely make it very difficult to finance large energy projects, Stewart said.