If a meltdown occurred at one of Canada's nuclear power plants, the operator would be liable for the damage and compensation, but only to a point. Actually, a very low point.
The federal government has not updated the civil liabilities for nuclear accidents since 1976, when the financial responsibility was set at $75 million, which wouldn't be enough to cover a moderate Manitoba flood today.
The government tried to increase the liability to $650 million in 2009, which was considered adequate at the time, but the plan never passed before the 2011 election. Now, there are suggestions the figure needs to be raised even higher.
Greenpeace, however, is suggesting the operators should face unlimited liability, meaning their insurance companies -- if they could even acquire such insurance -- could theoretically be on the hook for billions of dollars in the event of an unimaginable catastrophe. The NDP says the right number is in the billions of dollars.
Unlike other countries, however, where many nuclear plants are privately held, Canada's five main nuclear power plants in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick are all provincially owned or operated as Crown corporations.
They should be responsible for a worst-case mishap, but it would be unreasonable and unnecessary to demand unlimited liability. Among other things, it would be difficult to finance new plants under such a draconian requirement.
Under current legislation, Ottawa would be responsible for damages beyond the liability cap, which must be raised to reflect the prime responsibility of operators, but not beyond a point that would discourage new development in a field that, despite a bad press and unwarranted stereotypes, has been proven to be largely safe, clean and reliable.