Nuclear power states bend international law

October 1, 1997

Nuclear power states bend international law

By Barry Healy

The wording of a protocol that sets new arrangements on liability and compensation for nuclear accidents was decided at an International Atomic Energy Agency meeting in Vienna on September 12 and opened for signing by member states at the IAEA conference beginning on September 29.

Efforts to improve liability and compensation rules for nuclear accidents began at the IAEA in 1990, after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster spread radioactivity across much of Europe.

One observer of the diplomatic process involved in creating the protocol, Simon Carroll from Greenpeace, was highly critical of the outcome.

"At the beginning of this work, the interests of potential victims were paramount", he said. "This perspective got lost over the years, as nuclear countries sought to protect their nuclear industries — no matter what the cost might be to the victims of the next Chernobyl."

Greenpeaces criticisms of the new protocol include: inadequate compensation; allowing countries to "pick and choose" what damage they compensate; and the fact that nuclear countries would be obliged to compensate only damage to health and property.

Polluting countries could choose to exclude damage to the environment and the costs of damage-minimising action taken by neighbouring countries.

Greenpeace is also critical of the requirement that non-nuclear countries make financial contributions if they wish to be part of the international regime. "Clearly, non-nuclear states create no risk of nuclear damage", said Carroll. "They should not have to pay to receive, at best, partial compensation for someone else's accident."

Also excluded are accidents at military nuclear installations.

This article was posted on the Green Left Weekly Home Page.
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