The federal government has re-introduced legislation to replace the Nuclear Liability Act. Bill C-20, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, was given first reading in the House of Commons on March 24, 2009.

The proposed legislation is substantially the same as its two predecessors: Bill C-5 and Bill C-63, each of which died on the order paper. Bill C-5 was nearing the end of third reading debate when Parliament was prorogued for the federal election in October, 2008.

Bill C-20 re-establishes that exclusive liability for personal injury and property damage caused by a nuclear incident in Canada lies with the nuclear operator. This liability is absolute; that is, except in limited circumstances, the liability is not subject to standard legal tests of operator culpability or the possibility of contributory negligence of contractors, suppliers and other third parties.

The most important change introduced by this legislation is the proposed increase in the operator's maximum liability from $75 million to $650 million. Any injury or damage in excess of this threshold remains the responsibility of the federal government.

Bill C-20 will bring Canadian legislation within generally accepted principles of international nuclear liability regimes and should facilitate Canada's ratification of an international nuclear liability convention, a development that would go a long way to resolving thorny cross-border liability and jurisdictional issues.

At the time of its demise, Bill C-5 appeared to have the support of a majority of the Members of Parliament. With Ontario's ongoing nuclear refurbishment and new build program and the increased interest in nuclear power in New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Alberta, most domestic and international nuclear stakeholders alike are hoping that Bill C-20 will enjoy the same level of support in this Parliament and will receive expeditious review and passage.