IAEA publishes e-book of essays by experts on nuclear law  

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The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has recently e-published its first book by global thought leaders on nuclear law, providing free access to a compilation of essays on this crucial subject. 

An IAEA release last month said the e-book titled “Nuclear Law: The Global Debate”, with articles by leading scholars, policymakers and scientists in the field, echoes the tagline of the IAEA’s upcoming First International Conference on Nuclear Law slated to take place in Vienna during April 25-29, 2022. 

The release said nuclear law underpins the entire sector, enabling the safe, secure and peaceful uses of nuclear technology for the benefit of humanity, while the international legal instruments, standards and norms provide the framework for those operating a nuclear power plant, transporting radioactive material, or researchers experimenting in a laboratory to develop COVID-19 testing kits. 

The IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi writes in the introductory chapter that in view of the challenges that continue to confront humanity, including food security, health care and management of water resources, together with the need for a cleaner and safer environment, “legal frameworks enable the use of nuclear technology to address these critical issues.”   

“Just as IAEA inspections make sure nuclear material is not misused to make weapons, or its scientists support Member States in using nuclear science and technology in medicine, agriculture, and the fight against plastic pollution and zoonotic diseases like COVID-19, nuclear law and those who shape it provide the indispensable normative framework to sustain the whole effort”. he said. 

“There are three important tasks within the legal arena that I have set myself as Director General: to work actively towards making the legal and normative framework we have today as robust as possible; to help States adhere to the laws, standards and norms that keep us all safe and allow us to enjoy the many benefits of nuclear technology; and to make it possible for all those who, together with the IAEA, shape the international nuclear legal instruments of tomorrow to be as proactive as possible”, he added. 

As depositary of the international legal instruments on safety, security, safeguards and civil liability for nuclear damage, the IAEA is at the heart of the nuclear legal framework and plays a multi-faceted role in the development and implementation of nuclear law.  

“Nuclear law will continue to provide a foundation for harnessing the power of nuclear technology. To ensure that the nuclear frameworks evolve and remain fit for purpose, the IAEA will convene its first ever conference on nuclear law in April, where hardcover copies of the book will be distributed to participants”, the Vienna-based agency said.  

“Nuclear Law: The Global Debate” presents a comprehensive global perspective on the current and emerging issues in nuclear law, grouped around its four pillars: nuclear safety, security, safeguards and civil liability for nuclear damage.  The authors trace the origins of legal instruments and practices in the areas of nuclear safety and emergency response, as well as the IAEA’s mandate in nuclear verification.  

On the issue of small modular reactors (SMRs), for instance, one contributor highlights legal issues surrounding deployment of floating nuclear power plants (FNPPs) and analyses the applicability of international physical protection obligations to advanced reactor technologies. Some of the topics covered in the volume include the successes and challenges of establishing regulatory bodies, national nuclear security regimes, as well as various national nuclear power programmes.  

Other authors consider how liability could be established in a court of law in cases of radiation exposure and how to strengthen the global nuclear liability regime. Looking to the future, some experts explore the role of nuclear law in enabling peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology, including in economic development, climate change mitigation, and the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 

Russia has developed significant expertise in the area of small reactors, considering that of the 70 SMR projects worldwide, 17 have been developed by Russian companies, including the world’s first floating nuclear plant – Akademik Lomonosov – operated by the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom.  

“Given the accumulated global experience in operating PWRs (pressurised water reactors), as well as the experience of operating icebreaker reactor plants in the Arctic, we can say that from a technical and safety point of view, the Russian SMRs are ready for wide commercialisation”, writes nuclear expert Andrey Popov.  

“The lack of international experience in the implementation of transportable SMR projects makes it impossible to create a detailed legal and regulatory framework, which is now in place for conventional high-power NPPs (nuclear power plants). Rosatom, with all of its experience in nuclear power, is ready to further work on updating international codes to ensure the stable implementation of SMR projects”, he says.  

In the chapter on “Nuclear Safeguards and Post-Fukushima Developments”, Steven Mcintosh discusses the Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC) for Nuclear Damage which mandates the adoption of the enhancements developed under the auspices of the IAEA and contains features to promote appropriate compensation, including an international fund, to supplement the amount of compensation available for nuclear damage. 

The CSC, which entered into force on April 15, 2015, “has fared only slightly better: prior to March 2011 (the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan), only four States had ratified the convention; since then, another seven have, including nuclear power states Canada, India, Japan and the United Arab Emirates. The CSC now covers around 40 percent of the world’s operable power reactors”, Mcintosh says. 

India’s civil nuclear liability law was enacted in 2010. The Indian government has set up a Rs 1,500-crore (over $200 million) nuclear insurance pool that was put in place in June 2015. The pool is administered by the state-run General Insurance Corporation and other insurance companies. It provides insurance coverage to operators and suppliers for any nuclear liability towards the third party under the country’s Civil Liability of Nuclear Damage Act, 2010.