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Nuclear Liability Developments in Latin America: Joint IAEA/INLEX Mission in Uruguay


IAEA Staff and INLEX experts gathered for a technical meeting on civil liability for nuclear damage with representatives from  Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. (Photo: MIEM)

With a track record of more than half a century, nuclear power is one of the safest forms of energy, comparable to solar and wind and far safer than fossil fuels and other major sources.

Nonetheless, the issues of compensation and civil liability for nuclear damage need to be addressed. These issues were the subject of a meeting of IAEA staff and experts of the International Expert Group on Nuclear Liability (INLEX), together with representatives of neighbouring countries, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, held in Montevideo, Uruguay, from 10 to 11 April 2023. The meeting was followed by a dedicated national workshop and awareness raising meetings with representatives of Uruguay, held from 12 to 13 April.

The subject of civil liability for nuclear damage is addressed in several international legal instruments adopted under the IAEA’s auspices. Argentina is party to the 1997 Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC), the 1963 Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage (1963 Vienna Convention) and the 1997 Protocol to Amend the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage (1997 Vienna Convention). Both Brazil and Uruguay are party to the 1963 Vienna Convention.

Prior to the occurrence of damage from the civil use of nuclear power and from the perspective of a neighbouring country without nuclear installations such as Uruguay, there is a need for an assurance of the prompt availability of meaningful funds to compensate a wide range of nuclear damage, without discrimination and recourse to protracted litigation. On the other hand, suppliers, owners, operators, investors, lenders, and insurers involved in nuclear power projects have concerns over liability exposure. There is a need for legal certainty that third party civil liability claims will be channelled to the operator of a nuclear installation - who shall be exclusively liable to pay compensation, regardless of fault - and that such claims are adjudicated exclusively in the courts of one State, usually the State where the nuclear incident occurred. 

The meeting provided a forum for the representatives to consider the benefits of strengthening the treaty relations of the three countries based on the 1997 CSC. In his opening remarks, Anthony Wetherall, Head of the Nuclear and Treaty Law Section at the IAEA, recalled the annual IAEA General Conference resolutions which encourages Member States to give due consideration to the possibility of joining the international nuclear liability instruments, as appropriate, and to work towards establishing a Global Nuclear Liability Regime. He highlighted that with the goal of enabling universal participation in this Regime, the CSC provides a way to achieving treaty relations with as many States as practical. Joining the CSC guarantees access to the CSC’s international supplementary fund of compensation and helps to minimise the potential unequal treatment of affected persons located in neighbouring and other countries in the vicinity of a nuclear incident.

During the meeting, IAEA staff and INLEX experts delivered presentations on the need for such a regime, its main features, the basic nuclear liability principles and the relevant instruments. Liability during transport and the insurance of nuclear risks were also discussed. Representatives of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay delivered presentations about their countries, which provided insights on national legislation and future developments in this field.

“It is of vital importance for countries in the region to discuss and address the subject of nuclear liability in a coordinated manner. This meeting is a productive start with neighbouring countries to reach common understandings on the exchange of information in the field of nuclear liability,” said Romulo Lima, Head of Legal Office at Brazil’s National Nuclear Energy Commission. “The participants expressed interest in pursuing a harmonised approach to civil liability for nuclear damage based on the CSC. We would also like to attend next month’s Third CSC Meeting of the Contracting Parties and Signatories to gain more insight on the application and implementation of the CSC to facilitate Brazil’s consideration of becoming a Party.”

National Workshop for Uruguay

Following the trilateral meeting of neighbouring countries, more than 15 officials of Uruguay from the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mines, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the General Directorate of the Secretariat and Human Rights Institute of the Faculty of Law attended a National Workshop on Nuclear Liability for Uruguay. The IAEA and INLEX experts also conducted a special awareness raising meeting with parliamentarians which provided an opportunity to answer questions on the implications of Uruguay joining the CSC.

“We appreciate the IAEA team’s expert contribution and dedication to this mission. I am truly grateful for all the hard work and efforts put into supporting the countries efforts to harmonise their approach to nuclear liability, as well as addressing the national specific needs. As a result of the meeting held in Parliament and part of the INLEX mission, the CSC has been included in the agenda of the Committee of International Affairs, which can be considered as part of our adherence process to the Convention,” said Gabriel González Sprinberg, Technical Director of the National Radiological Protection Regulatory Authority.

INLEX was established by the IAEA in 2003 to serve as a forum for the discussion of issues pertaining to nuclear liability and to promote adherence to the relevant international legal instruments. The joint IAEA/INLEX mission was organized as part of the Agency’s continuing efforts to facilitate the achievement of a Global Nuclear Liability Regime addressing the concerns of all States that might be affected by a nuclear accident with a view to provide appropriate compensation for nuclear damage.

The meeting with Parliamentarians from Uruguay provided an opportunity to answer questions on the implications of Uruguay joining the CSC. (Photo: MIEM)

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