Responding to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident
On 11 March 2011, Japan endured one of the worst combined natural disasters in its history when a massive earthquake struck its eastern coast and was followed by a tsunami which led to the loss of thousands of lives. These combined natural disasters were also at the origin of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident due to the prolonged loss of electric power supply and ultimate heat sink required for cooling. While the accident itself was not responsible for any casualties, it has affected the lives of tens of thousands of displaced Japanese citizens, resulted in very large economic costs and caused considerable environmental damage in the surrounding area.
Progress towards a global nuclear liability regime
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident brought a renewed focus to the discussion of international nuclear liability regimes, and one that is not merely about the theoretical problems involved in the administration of a liability system to compensate damages resulting from a nuclear accident. Although the international conventions on third party nuclear liability are among the oldest international legal instruments bearing on the civilian use of nuclear power, progress towards broader adherence to the nuclear liability conventions has been uneven. This is particularly evident when compared with instruments such as the 1994 Convention on Nuclear Safety, which enjoys broad adherence among states involved in the generation of nuclear energy. While it may be true that nuclear generating states typically have liability legislation consistent with the principles of international regimes, greater harmonisation of law and practice, as well as better management of potential transboundary damages through greater participation in the international regimes, remains an important goal.
State of the art in radiological protection science
Scientific understanding of radiological protection issues continues to improve, and a number of new research developments have prompted renewed work at the NEA on the subject. This includes more in-depth examinations and an update of the NEA Committee on Radiation Protection and Public Health (CRPPH) publications on Developments in Radiation Health Science and their Impact on Radiation Protection (NEA, 1998) and Scientific Issues and Emerging Challenges for Radiation Protection (NEA, 2007). At the time, the 1998 report summarised what the most advanced science could reveal about radiological risks and addressed, in particular, risks at levels of exposure that people and workers experience routinely, below 100 mSv a year. It also presented the most up-to-date results in radiation biology, cell biology, radiation epidemiology, disease causality, and genetic effects, and concluded that much is known about radiological protection science but much remains unknown. This article looks at some of these issues, discusses advances in the state of the art of radiological protection science since the 1998 and 2007 publications, and reviews some future challenges and the way forward.