The international community's tantamount focus and concern must be ensuring peaceful and safe nuclear energy use. The approach is defined by a complex network of national and international measures. Although it was expected that the primary responsibility for the regulation of the nuclear energy use rests with national authorities, it has been equally recognized that other countries may be affected as well. Consequently, the regulation of nuclear energy, like many other human activities which could have potential transboundary impacts necessitates the endowment of the international community with residual responsibility--or in certain instances co-responsibility--to ensure among other things uniformity of standards, coordination, pooling of resources and services, as well as compliance [13].

Among international and regional organizations, the IAEA, in this respect, has served as a focal point [14]. Article 2 of the IAEA Statute provides that the Agency shall seek to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health, the prosperity throughout the world and to ensure so far as it is able, that assistance provided by it or at its request or under its supervision or control is not used in such a way as to further any military purpose.

The binding nature of the safety regulations reflected in the current international legal instruments varies. Thus, while the safety standards developed by Euratom are mandatory the activities related to safety regulation of the NEA/OECD, and the Arab Atomic Energy Agency (AAEA) are recommendatory [15]. The IAEA's safety standards are mandatory with regard to nuclear activities undertaken with the IAEA assistance, but where such assistance is not provided the standards are recommendatory.

A. General issues of radiation protection.

To fulfill its statutory function in developing safety standards (Article 3.A.6) the IAEA takes account of the work of relevant international scientific and technical bodies. International action in the field of nuclear safety and radiation protection began with the establishment of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), which has issued recommendations on radiation protection since its inception in 1928. In 1955 the United Nations General Assembly established the United Nations Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) to evaluate doses, effects, and risk from ionizing radiation on a worldwide scale. The work of these two bodies provides the basis for the nuclear safety standards elaborated by other international and regional organizations, such as the IAEA, the International Labor Office (ILO), WHO, Euratom, and the NEA/OECD [6].

A worldwide basis for harmonized and up-to-date standards is currently provided by the International Basis Safety Standards for Protection Against Ionizing Radiation and for the Safety of Radiation Sources (BSS). The BSS initially developed by the IAEA, ILO, WHO and NEA were recently reviewed and revised by those four organizations together with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) [15]. The revised standards were approved by the IAEA Board of Governors in September 1994.

More detailed standards have been also developed recently to deal with some particular aspects of radiation protection such as occupational protection, protection of the public and the environment, and intervention in case of a nuclear accident or radiological emergency [16].

B. Safety of nuclear installations.

The legal regulation of the nuclear installations safety is currently supported by the Nuclear Safety Standards (NUSS) developed by the experts of the IAEA Member countries [15]. The NUSS initially issued in 1978 and subsequently revised cover five major areas:

The formalized safety criteria in the form of Codes of Practice and Guides were designed to assist operators in meeting the basic requirements to the nuclear installations safety, such as:

Codes are supplemented by more than 60 Safety Guides that detail their implementation.

These nuclear safety recommendations have not yet been transformed into binding regulations, but they are widely used in the elaboration of national standards [6]. However, the application of NUSS is mandatory if assistance is provided by or through the IAEA.

In June 17, 1994 the international efforts in improving the global nuclear safety mechanism resulted in adoption of the International Convention on Nuclear Safety which was opened for signature at the IAEA General Conference. The Convention applies to land-based civil nuclear plants and obliges Contracting Parties to establish and maintain proper national and international legislative and regulatory frameworks to govern safety. Its main objectives are as follows [17]:

The Convention formulates basic requirements, including assessment and verification of safety, radiation protection and emergency preparedness.

Since 1994 twelve of the 61 signatory States [18] have become parties of the Convention that will enter into force after the 22nd ratification is deposited including those of at least 17 States, each having one or more nuclear installations with criticality in a reactor core [17].

C. Provisions of international emergency cooperation.

After the accident on the Three Mile Island nuclear reprocessing plant in 1979 in the United States the international community realized the necessity to create a framework for reporting and mutual assistance in case of nuclear accidents. Consequently, two documents that set guidelines for States were developed under the auspices of the IAEA.

Following the Chornobyl accident in 1986 two conventions, i.e. the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident and the Convention on Assistance in Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency were worked out and adopted within the IAEA framework.

The Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident was adopted on September 26, 1986 and entered into force on October 27, 1986 [16]. Seventy four countries have become Parties. The Convention established a notification system for all nuclear accidents holding potential transboundary consequences. It requires states to report the accident's time, location, radiation releases, and other data essential for assessing the situation [19]. Reporting is mandatory for any nuclear accident, involving civilian or military nuclear facilities or materials, with the only exception of the nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons testing. The five nuclear weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have all declared their intent also to report transboundary accidents arising from nuclear weapon activities [3].

The Convention on Assistance in the Case of Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency was adopted on February 28, 1986 and entered into force on February 26, 1987 [16]. Seventy countries became the Parties. The Convention set out an international framework to facilitate prompt assistance and support in the event of nuclear accidents or radiological emergencies holding potential transboundary consequences. The Convention requires States to notify the IAEA of their available experts, equipments, and other materials for providing assistance [20]. The IAEA serves as the focal point for such cooperation by channelling information, supporting efforts and providing its available services. Both conventions were ratified by all major nuclear countries [16].

Furthermore, there is a number of bilateral and regional arrangements aimed at supporting the system of international emergency cooperation [15]. Thus, the Nordic Emergency Assistance Agreement in Connection with Radiation Accidents was concluded in 1963 between the IAEA, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. The CEC also adopted on December 11, 1984 the Decision on Community Arrangements for the Early Exchange of Information in the Event of a Radiological Emergency.

D. Radioactive waste management.

In view of the potential hazard to man and the environment posed by radioactive waste, its management and disposal have become an important issue in considering the nuclear power option and in the case of nuclear materials. The IAEA developed a number of safety objectives and in several documents established criteria for radioactive waste management and disposal. The Radioactive Waste Safety Standards (RADWASS) program, established by the IAEA in 1991 aimed at preparing a harmonized approach to the safe management of radioactive waste at the international level [15, 16, 21].

In 1990, the Code of Practice on International Transboundary Movement of Radioactive Waste was adopted by the IAEA General Conference. The Code's purpose was to provide preventive measures in case of any uncontrolled international movement and disposal of this waste.

The current international system of radioactive wastes management and disposal is also supported by a number of multilateral agreements [22]. Among them the most important are the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 ( Article V) that prohibits the disposal of radioactive wastes in the Antarctic region; the London Convention (Article IV) of 1972, regulating the sea radioactive waste dumping; Amendments of 1994 to the London Convention prohibiting all types of radioactive waste dumping at sea. Article V of the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Land-Based Sources also obliges Member states to adopt appropriate measures on elimination of water pollution caused by radioactive substances [15].

Furthermore, the improvement and development of the regional regulation of radioactive waste management are currently under way. Thus, the OECD Multilateral Consultation and Surveillance Mechanism for Sea Dumping of Radioactive Waste (1977) commits the participating States to apply the guidelines and procedures adopted by the NEA. Other regional arrangements, such as the Convention on the Pollution of the Mediterranean Sea (1976), supplemented with Protocols of 1976 and 1980, the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Area (1974), the South Pacific Convention for the Protection of the Natural Resources and Environment of the South Pacific Region (1986) also address the radioactive waste management issues in respective geographical regions [15, 23].

E. Transport of radioactive materials.

The Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Materials for application to all means of national and international transport were initially developed by the IAEA in 1961 [15], and since then have been widely accepted and adopted as binding requirements for the transport of the radioactive materials by other respective international institutions.

The radioactive materials transport is also regulated by a number of international conventions. So, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) of 1979 addresses the transport of radioactive materials as a dangerous goods, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 in its Article 23 concerns the exercise by foreign nuclear-powered ships or ships carrying radioactive substances of the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea of States [6, 15, 23].

In the legal field of radioactive materials transport special attention is paid to the regulation of nuclear merchant ships performance. This regulation, initially provided by the Code of Safety for Nuclear Merchant Ships of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is currently under review. The new safety standards, which are developing by the IMO together with other concerned international organizations under the auspices of the IAEA, will take into account recent nuclear safety technology developments and should extend their application to all currently existing and projected civilian nuclear-powered ships.

As regards the marine transport of radioactive substances, a Joint Working Group of the IAEA, IMO, and United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) elaborated in 1993 a draft Code for the Safe Carriage of Irradiated Nuclear Fuel, Plutonium and High Level Radioactive Wastes in Flasks on Board Ships [15, 16]. This Code has already been approved by the IMO Assembly and by the policy-making organs of the IAEA.

F. Physical protection of nuclear materials.

A set of recommendations and a Convention, both developed under the auspices of the IAEA were designed to provide the legal basis for the effective physical protection of nuclear materials.

The recommendations were initially developed in 1972 and since then were subsequently revised in 1975, 1977, and 1989 [15, 16]. The latest revision takes into consideration the problem of unauthorized removal of nuclear materials and sabotage of nuclear facilities, reflects the appearance of the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials, and strengthen the recommendations on several points of standard practice.

The recommendations apply to radioactive materials in domestic use, transport and storage, as well as in international transport, and to nuclear facilities in a State. The application of these standards is mandatory in States receiving assistance from the IAEA. Compliance with the recommendations is also required in several bilateral agreements on nuclear cooperation.

The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials, which covers primarily the area of international transport of radioactive materials, was adopted on October 26, 1979 and entered into force on February 8, 1987 [16]. Under this Convention parties are to ensure that during international transport across their territory or on ships or aircrafts under their jurisdiction, nuclear materials for peaceful purposes are protected at an agreed-upon level [24]. They also undertake not to export or import radioactive materials or to allow their transit through their territory unless they have received assurances that these materials will be protected during international transport and agree to share information on missing nuclear materials to facilitate recovery operations. The Convention does not apply to nuclear materials used for military purposes [25].

Fifty three Parties of the Convention have undertaken to include robbery, embezzlement, or extortion in relation of radioactive materials, and acts without lawful authority involving radioactive materials, which cause or are likely to cause death or serious injury to any person or substantial damage to property as extraditable offenses in every future extradition treaty to be concluded between them.

According to the conclusion of the first Review Conference (1992), the Convention provides a sound basis for the physical protection of the transport of nuclear material, the recovery and return of any stolen material, and the application of sanctions against any person who may commit criminal acts involving nuclear material [6].

G. Civil liability for nuclear damage.

The mitigation of the consequences of the nuclear accident through timely and adequate compensation is an important component of the safe use of nuclear energy regime. At present, liability for nuclear damage is regulated by a number of following international agreements, which are quite limited in their scope and application:

  1. The Convention on Third Party Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy (Paris Convention) was adopted on July 29, 1960, and entered into force on April 1, 1968 within the framework of the OECD [16]. Fourteen countries of the Western Europe have become Parties of this Convention.

  2. The Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage was adopted on May 21, 1963, and entered into force on November 12, 1977 under the auspice of the IAEA [16]. The Convention was signed by twenty five countries.
    Both Conventions establish a special liability regime aimed at ensuring adequate compensation for damage that may arise from certain peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Basic principles of this regime are [26, 27]:
  3. To establish a system of mutual financial assistance among the OECD countries, the Paris Convention was supplemented by the Brussels Supplementary Convention This agreement was adopted on January 21, 1962 and entered into force on December 4, 1974 [16]. Under the Supplementary Convention compensation for nuclear damage is to be provided in three stages [28]:
  4. The Paris Convention and the Brussels Supplementary Convention were several times revised by Additional Protocols. The revision of 1963 brings the Paris and Brussels Conventions in conformity with the Vienna Convention, which is of worldwide application, and the revision of 1982 provides for compensation under both Conventions of up to 300 Special Drawing Rights of the International Monetary Fund [15, 16].

  5. To link the Paris and Vienna Conventions a Joint Protocol was adopted on September 21, 1988 by 23 Parties [15]. By its design this Protocol:
    The Joint Protocol will enter into force once it has been ratified or acceded to by at least five Parties to the Paris Convention and five Parties to the Vienna Convention.

Since 1990 negotiations devoted to the revision of the 1963 Vienna Convention have been in progress within the IAEA Standing Committee on Liability for Nuclear Damage. The Committee has recommended to the IAEA Board of Governors to convene in 1996 a diplomatic conference to adopt the changes in the Vienna legal regime and consider financial aspects of the international nuclear liability system.

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