Academic journal article Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

International Nuclear Law: An Introduction

Academic journal article Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

International Nuclear Law: An Introduction

Article excerpt


The papers in this Symposium were prepared for an important conference on "Updating International Nuclear Law" held in Salzburg, Austria in October 2005. The Austrians living in Salzburg and Upper Austria have long been distressed by the risks created by the Temelin Nuclear Power Plant, situated in the Czech Republic some 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of the Austrian-Czech border. That plant was started by the Soviet Union, but had been only partially completed when the Cold War ended. Under U.S. pressure, the Czech government agreed to contract with Westinghouse to complete the plant, creating a hybrid plant utilizing some Soviet and some Westinghouse technology. It is thus a unique plant, creating unknown risks.

The Austrians have felt particularly beleaguered by their new nuclear neighbor, because they had previously abandoned their own nuclear industry. In 1978, the Austrian population voted in a national referendum that its recently-completed nuclear power plant at Zwentendorf should not go into operation, and in that same year its legislature adopted the Atomic Energy Prohibition Act. Austrians worked closely with anti-nuclear Germans in 1989 to prevent a nuclear waste reprocessing plant from opening in Wackersdorf in Germany's southern region of Bavaria. In 1992, Salzburg hosted the World Uranium Hearing to document the health, environmental, social, and peace-destabilizing effects of nuclear energy, and the 2005 conference on Updating International Nuclear Law was a continuation of that effort. The Austrian people have pursued legal challenges to the Temelin plant in Austrian, Czech, and other European courts, and, although they have won procedural victories, these efforts have been unable to stop the completion and operation of the Temelin plant. Frustrated that the law seemed unresponsive to the genuine fears created by having to live next to an unproved nuclear plant, the Salzburg activists suggested convening international environmental law experts to address the inadequacies in the international law principles governing nuclear activities.

The papers in this Symposium have emerged from that effort, and they provide a clear explanation of the gaps in the treaty law and customary international law principles governing nuclear power. Earlier versions of these papers were published in a volume entitled UPDATING INTERNATIONAL NUCLEAR LAW, edited by Heinz Stockinger, Jon M. Van Dyke, Michael Geistlinger, Sarah K. Fussek, and Peter Machart. That volume also contains numerous other essays examining the scientific risks created by nuclear power and explaining the avenues that the residents of Upper Austria have pursued in their efforts to block the operation of the Temelin plant. Selected for this Symposium are the central legal papers, which explain the inadequacies of the present legal regime and offer suggestions for new principles that could provide protections for the range of transboundary injuries that could occur.


In this symposium the authors address four general themes: 1) international environmental norms applicable to nuclear activities; 2) liability and compensation for harm caused by nuclear activities, with special reference to the nuclear liability conventions; 3) human rights and the environment and the peaceful use of nuclear energy; and 4) specific case studies--the Austrian law on third-party liability for nuclear damage, the regulatory and institutional framework for nuclear activities in the Slovak Republic, and the claims of the Enewetak People related to US nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958.

Professors Jon Van Dyke and Ved Nanda and the late Professor Alexandre Kiss address the first topic. Van Dyke provides a comprehensive survey of international environmental norms related to transboundary environmental disputes in "Liability and Compensation for Harm Caused by Nuclear Activities. …

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