I am studying a UN simulation and would appreciate some help. In the exercise, a ship at sea has sunk with spent nuclear fuel on board. The ship sank within the 200 mile economic zone off the coast of the Seychelles, was flying a Japanese flag, but was carrying spent fuel from several European countries on board. The shipping company that owns the boat has its de facto offices in Myanmar. With such varying interests and stakeholders involved, who is responsible to pay the cleanup costs? Is there an IAEA fund to help pay for the cleanup of nuclear accidents?

The IAEA legal framework consists of several multilateral and bilateral treaties dealing, inter alia, with nuclear safety (including the safety of spent fuel management) as well as nuclear security and nuclear liability.  The link below provides the full texts of these treaties and the status thereof and includes an overview of those relating to safety and security.  In particular, you may wish to look at the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident, the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency, the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, and the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage (see this convention and the Convention for Supplementary Compensation for mention of the “fund” you were searching for).


I have read recently about a change in the international symbol for radiation, and I was hoping for some further information. Should the new symbol be used on all doors of x-ray rooms and CT scanners? Does the new symbol replace the old one used in hospitals?

The new symbol for ionizing radiation is intended as a supplement to the trefoil, which remains the universal symbol for radiation. This supplementary symbol is intended for IAEA Category 1, 2 and 3 sources defined as dangerous sources capable of death or serious injury, including food irradiators, teletherapy machines for cancer treatment and industrial radiography units.

The symbol is to be placed on the device housing the source as a warning not to dismantle the device or to get any closer. It will not be visible under normal use, only if someone attempts to disassemble the device. The symbol will not be located on building access doors, transportation packages or containers.

The new symbol, launched in February 2007:







For further information, please read the IAEA news story “New Symbol Launched to Warn Public About Radiation Dangers,” 15 February 2007.

Some nuclear power plants are built on sites subject to natural phenomena such as earthquakes or tornadoes, which can pose a risk for any installation. What has been done to ensure the safety of these plants?

Nuclear power plants are designed to withstand natural phenomena such as severe weather or earthquakes according to detailed studies performed at the time of site selection for construction. These studies define the maximum threatening phenomena expected at the site, and include “design basis earthquakes, floods, etc.” Sites undergo constant re-evaluation during the entire life of the plant. Phenomena such as earthquakes are constantly monitored, and in the event that a lower level earthquake – the so called safe shutdown earthquake – occurs, the plant is shut down and a detailed investigation is carried out. Read the rest

If an NPT member country proclaimed a desire to acquire nuclear weapons, is there anything the IAEA could do?

The IAEA’s verification mission is carried out on the basis of safeguards agreements between States and the IAEA. All but 31 of the NNWS have concluded so-called “comprehensive safeguards agreements”, according to which the IAEA has the right and obligation to ensure that nuclear material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other explosive devices. A little more than half of these have also brought into force additional protocols”, which give the IAEA additional verification tools. Read the rest

How safe is it to visit places in Belarus in light of the radioactive releases from the 1986 Chernobyl accident?

Many people visit and live in Ukraine, Belarus and parts of Russia near the Chernobyl site. Guidance is issued for people living in these areas, as well as for tourists or those planning visits. In some of the contaminated areas, special advice may be available locally that will vary from district to district. Experts say there is no significant hazard for short casual or tourist visits. See the nuclear safety Chernobyl pages. To see how some people live and work in areas affected by the accident, visit the Chernobyl Forum.

What nuclear safeguards are applied in China?

China is a nuclear-weapon State (NWS) and, as such, is not obliged to accept the application of Agency safeguards. However, China, like other NWS, has voluntarily offered to accept the application of Agency safeguards on nuclear material in some of its civilian nuclear facilities and has concluded a safeguards agreement with the Agency to that effect. The text of that agreement is reproduced in Agency document INFCIRC/369*. The Agency is not obliged to apply safeguards on nuclear material in any peaceful nuclear facility in China. However, if a formal request were to be made by China for the IAEA to apply safeguards on nuclear material in a particular facility, the Agency would consider this in accordance with established procedures, taking into account the availability of human and financial resources that would be needed.

*The safeguards agreement between China and the IAEA is recorded as INFCIRC/369.

Specific information about IAEA safeguards is available through a series of reports and tables.

I would like to visit the Chernobyl area and I am curious to know if it is entirely safe to go to that area or if it would be detrimental to my health. Would I also need to wear some type of protective clothing and a gas mask?

There is no need for you to wear protective gear or a gas mask. The amount of radiation a tourist would be exposed to in a week-long visit to the Chernobyl site is less than what a person may be exposed to from a typical medical X-ray procedure.

According to available contemporary guidance on current dose estimation and environmental radioactive contamination data for the cities of Chernobyl and Pripyat, which are the two places frequented by tourists, permanent life in that area would result in the annual effective dose in the range of 1 to 10 mSv depending on the particular area of residence. Thus, a person would be exposed to about 0.003 to 0.03 mSv per day and about 0.02 to 0.2 mSv per week. In comparison, a typical X-ray diagnostic procedure is associated with an exposure of 0.1 to 1 mSv, with the exception of certain X-rays which may result in effective dose of about 10 mSv.

Currently, many Ukrainian workers spend, on average, a hundred working days per year in that area without violating local radiation protection standards and without experiencing any hazardous effects on their health.

Is the IAEA involved in work on advanced nuclear power plants?

Yes it is. The work is done through the International Project on Innovative Reactors and Fuel Cycles, or INPRO for short. Twenty-six countries or entities are members: Argentina, Armenia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Netherlands, Morocco, Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, USA and the European Commission. The IAEA Bulletin has featured an article about INPRO.

Are developing countries still interested in nuclear electricity generation?

So far, the use of nuclear power has been concentrated in industrialized countries. But for new construction, the pattern is different. Sixteen of the 27 new reactors under construction are in developing countries. And while the highest percentage of existing reactors is in North America and Europe, recent expansion has been most heavily centred in Asia. China currently has three reactors under construction, and plans a 5-to-6-fold expansion in nuclear generating capacity over the next 15 years. India has eight reactors under construction, and plans a 10-fold increase in capacity by 2022.

See the IAEA´s recent booklet, called Nuclear Power and Sustainable Development, a speech on nuclear energy by IAEA Director General ElBaradei, and the energy edition of the IAEA Bulletin.

What’s the latest in nuclear fusion? I heard that some type of reactor is being built in France.

You´re right. Countries are building an experimental reactor, called ITER. For information, please visit the website www.iter.org, dedicated to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor to be built in Cadarache, France. The website gets regularly updated and contains all news and developments released so far.

For scientists, the IAEA also supports publication of a monthly journal called Nuclear Fusion covering work relevant to controlled thermonuclear fusion:

More useful information regarding nuclear fusion can be found on the website of the IAEA´s Physics Section: http://www-naweb.iaea.org/napc/physics/act.htm.