As the production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes developed in the 1950s, a specific legal framework for third party nuclear liability was established to ensure adequate compensation for damage to persons and property resulting from a nuclear accident, but also to encourage the industry to develop nuclear technology and assume responsibility without being exposed to an uncertain and potentially ruinous liability burden.
Significant attention has been understandably placed at the international and national levels on fostering strong programmes to achieve high levels of safety, security and safeguards. Notwithstanding efforts to achieve high levels of safety, the possibility remains that accidents may occur within a nuclear installation (i.e. not only nuclear power plants but also any installation in which there are nuclear fuel, nuclear substances, radioactive products or waste) or during the transportation of nuclear substances to or from a nuclear installation. As the experience shows from the accidents that occurred at Three Mile Island (United States) in 1979, Chernobyl (former USSR) in 1986, and Fukushima Daiichi (Japan) in 2011, severe accidents can have varying and potentially far-reaching consequences affecting both people and property.
The development of the nuclear liability regimes stemmed in part from the viewpoint that ordinary rules of tort law, while appropriate for conventional risks, could hamper rather than help victims of nuclear damage in obtaining adequate compensation in a timely manner.
The international nuclear liability instruments that have been adopted are:
The main principles common to these conventions, which have also been reflected in most national nuclear liability laws worldwide, are as follows:
The international nuclear liability conventions also incorporate principles specifically designed to address the complexities posed by the potential transboundary damage and cross-border compensation claims:
As required under its Statute, the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) contributes to the promotion of a system for third party liability and insurance with respect to nuclear damage. To achieve this goal, the NEA contributes to the modernisation of the international nuclear liability regimes and encourages the strengthening of treaty relations between interested countries to address liability and compensation for nuclear damage.
A significant focus of the NEA Nuclear Law Committee (NLC) is to encourage provisions for equitable compensation of damage in the event of a nuclear incident. In particular, the Committee is mandated to deal with issues relating to civil liability for damage caused by a nuclear incident and financial security mechanisms designed to ensure that funds will be available to compensate such damage. It addresses these issues in the context of member countries’ nuclear legislation as well as the nuclear liability international instruments. The NLC will also strive to eliminate or minimise any legal impediments to the safe use of nuclear energy.
The NLC established in 2016 the Working Party on Nuclear Liability and Transport, and the Working Party on Deep Geological Repositories and Nuclear Liability.
The Brussels Supplementary Convention establishes a scheme to provide compensation supplementary to that required by the Paris Convention. The BSC is open only to contracting parties to the Paris Convention.
The Convention on the Establishment of a Security Control in the Field of Nuclear Energy ("Security Control Convention") and the Protocol on the Tribunal established by the Security Control Convention ("Protocol on the Tribunal") were adopted on 20 December 1957. The Convention came into force on 22 July 1959 and the first judges were appointed on 1 January 1960. The implementation of the security control system (designed to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons) has been suspended since the 1970s in order to avoid duplication with similar systems established by Euratom and the International Atomic Energy Agency. For the time being, the jurisdiction of the Tribunal has been limited to resolving differences concerning the interpretation or application of the above-mentioned Paris and Brussels Conventions.
The Paris Convention establishes a nuclear liability and compensation regime to compensate victims of a nuclear accident. The PC is open to OECD member countries as of right and non-member countries with the consent of all the contracting parties to the Paris Convention.