The government wants to update the Nuclear Liability Act to increase the maximum to $650 million in damages from the current $75 million set in the 1970s, but the NDP's Nathan Cullen said it should be in the billions of dollars.
"The crux of it is how much you can sue for in the event of a nuclear accident," said the MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley.
Cullen said it's difficult to have confidence in an industry that has to be afforded this kind of protection in the first place, but completely another matter to lowball the cost of human life.
"Get somewhere in the ballpark... into the billions for sure," he said in an interview.
On March 24, the federal government reintroduced Bill C-20, which proposes to replace the Nuclear Liability Act with a specific civil liability regime for nuclear incidents.
The bill is before the Commons natural resources committee when Parliament resumes in September and the NDP is hoping to delay the bill so it falls off the table when there is another election.
Cullen said the liability limit is about $10 billion in the U.S. In most other countries there is no ceiling.
"It is a pretty unusual situation as far as we can tell that Canada would have this very low ceiling," he said.
Cullen and other critics suspect the reason behind the $650 million figures is to make Canada more attractive for companies wanting to build nuclear power plants.
The Conservative government has announced it wants to sell off the nuclear division of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., and Cullen said the reduced liability exposure makes Canada a more favourable place for companies wanting to build nuclear power plants.
Bill C-20 proposes that operators of nuclear installations be exclusively liable for any nuclear incident, including personal injury and property damage. However, an operator has to take $650 million insurance. If it cannot find a private insurer, Ottawa will provide reinsurance through a special account.