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IAEA Looks Ahead to the Future of Nuclear Law

IAEA Director-General, Rafael Mariano Grossi, welcomes participants at the annual session of the Nuclear Law Institute, held in Vienna, Austria. 

IAEA Director-General, Rafael Mariano Grossi, welcomes participants at the annual session of the Nuclear Law Institute, held in Vienna, Austria.  (Dean Calma / IAEA)

The importance of national and international nuclear law was underscored in recent remarks by the IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, as countries increasingly plan to adopt or expand nuclear energy to their energy grids to meet the growing challenges of climate change and energy security. Mr Grossi addressed lawyers, regulators and other officials from 54 countries around the world on 10 October as part of an intensive two-week training programme, known as the Nuclear Law Institute (NLI).  

The annual two-week course was launched by the IAEA in 2011, in response to demand from countries around the world for greater capacity building in nuclear law. The course aims to equip participants with a solid understanding of all aspects of nuclear law and enable them to draft, amend or review national nuclear legislation.  

In the past year the IAEA has also launched a new fellowship programme in nuclear law.  It has also partnered with six universities around the world to develop a graduate level curriculum in nuclear law, three of which were represented at this year’s NLI. 

During his keynote address on the future prospects of nuclear law Mr Grossi said he attached “enormous importance” to the subject, particularly as the use of nuclear science and technology was gathering pace around the world. 

“We are confronting global challenges unlike any we have seen before,” he said, “Without nuclear energy [and the needed accompanying legal framework] … we are not going to be able to decarbonize the global energy matrix … We are also confronted with a situation of energy security.” 

He stressed the importance of the establishment of comprehensive national legislative and regulatory frameworks for countries in the process of building their first nuclear power plants.  But he added that even countries without nuclear energy programmes needed adequate national laws due to the fact that most countries used radioactive material in science and technology for other peaceful uses such as in radiopharmaceuticals.  

Hundreds of lawmakers trained

Peri Lynne Johnson, Legal Advisor and Director of the IAEA Office of Legal Affairs said “For more than a decade now, the NLI has been the go to course on legislative drafting for officials from IAEA Member States. More than 600 lawmakers, ranging from decision-makers and legislative drafters, to lawyers, regulators, parliamentarians, and other stakeholders, have been trained, with many going on to provide the much needed technical and legal support during the national law-making process.” 

Pitambar Bhandari of the Ministry of Education in Nepal said he decided to attend the NLI to build upon the work of an IAEA Legislative Assistance mission to Nepal in March 2023.  

“The mission provided an opportunity for a wide range of government officials to have a view on international and national nuclear law, focusing on the relevant international instruments adopted by, and under, the auspices of the IAEA to which Nepal is not yet party,” he said. “To enable nuclear technology to play a vital role in addressing some of the world’s biggest challenges, we need a legal framework that carefully weighs its risks and benefits – which is the primary role of national nuclear law.” 

Bernardino Etoriaga Sayo, an Undersecretary in the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office of the Philippines, said the NLI’s course on drafting nuclear law had proved useful in preparing the country’s draft comprehensive nuclear bill which is expected to soon go before the Senate. “My participation at the NLI has provided me with the knowledge needed to help me support the Senate’s consideration of our draft Bill and the relevant international nuclear legal instruments including the 1997 Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage,” she said. 

Saabesele Somda, from the Ministry of Environment in Burkina Faso, said: “Our draft law was sent for IAEA review in October 2022 with a bilateral review meeting and an awareness mission being held in December 2022 to support our goal of tabling the law in the Parliament at the March 2023 session. My participation in this year’s NLI has been very helpful to my role as the head of the drafting committee and will enable me to effectively support the law-making process.” 

At the end of the course, groups of participants presented their drafts of a national nuclear law prepared during the course under a hypothetical country profile, explaining each article in the law, followed by a plenary session of questions from all participants and experts.  

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