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The IAEA's Role in Disaster Risk Reduction Law

IAEA Legal Adviser and Director of the Office of Legal Affairs, Peri L. Johnson, discusses the IAEA's activities relevant to disaster risk reduction.

The IAEA has an important mandate and is engaged in a broad array of activities on issues of disaster risk reduction as this relates to the many peaceful applications of atomic energy, said IAEA Legal Adviser and Director of the Office of Legal Affairs, Peri L. Johnson, in her keynote remarks at the Disaster Risk Reduction and International Law Symposium in Reading, UK. The symposium was convened by the School of Law and the Walker Institute of the University of Reading, UK from 29 June to 1 July 2017 and brought together representatives from multiple sectors to discuss the development of law, policy and practice governing disaster risk reduction and disasters at the national, regional and international levels.

In her remarks, Ms Johnson discussed examples of IAEA activities relevant to the four priorities of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 emerging from the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. For example, Ms Johnson highlighted the IAEA’s comprehensive collection of roughly 150 safety standards documents covering all aspects of the safe and peaceful uses of atomic energy, from the measures necessary to minimize the risk that an emergency occurs to measures for emergency preparedness and response. She also discussed ways the IAEA works to help Member States strengthen their disaster risk governance, for example through the Emergency Preparedness Review (EPREV) Service. Ms Johnson also addressed activities that apply nuclear techniques to other disaster risks. For example, through the Joint Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, the IAEA and FAO work together to develop nuclear techniques to promote food safety, pest control, and blight resistance, all of which reduce the risks of food-related disasters.

Ms Johnson particularly addressed the IAEA activities aimed directly at disaster response and recovery, especially those of its Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC). For example, the IAEA has developed and adopted a safety guide on remediating radioactive contamination and the recovery process, which addresses the necessary regulatory infrastructure, an overview of the remediation process, as well as planning and operational aspects. With respect to disaster response, Ms Johnson accentuated the central role of the IAEA in the development and application of the international legal framework for nuclear and radiological emergency preparedness and response and, further, in coordinating international activities and assistance in the event of a nuclear or radiological emergency, based on the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident and the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency, as well as decisions of the IAEA’s Policy-Making Organs.

The IAEA’s legal framework for emergency preparedness and response, with the IEC at its centre, establishes a comprehensive system that has evolved to take into account the lessons learned from past incidents. The framework is continually updated and regularly tested through ConvEx exercises. The largest ever of such exercises took place just two weeks ago, from 21–22 June 2017, involving 82 countries and 11 international organizations.