In the past half-century the Vienna-based UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) has moved from assessing the deadly impact of nuclear warfare to gauging the effects of radiation that can harm us - be it medical, natural or industrial.
At its 50th anniversary celebration in Vienna in late May 2006, experts and distinguished guests alike spoke of the wide-reaching global role that UNSCEAR and its experts play.
"Their contributions have led to measures vital to the health of the global environment," said Dr. Hans Blix, the former head of the IAEA. "By becoming the authoritative voice of the UN system in matters of radiation exposure, UNSCEAR turned out to be a key instrument in the process through which international radiation protection standards were developed."
Dr. Werner Burkart, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications, noted the importance of the IAEA´s longstanding relations with UNSCEAR. "The value of UNSCEAR is not simply to catalogue information," he said. "Its early reports provided the scientific foundation to the treaties prohibiting the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. More recent ones provide a basis for the work of other organizations, including the Agency... which has a formal mandate for establishing safety standards. It is not surprising, therefore, that we have developed a close relationship with UNSCEAR."
In a message to the ceremony, Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that for half a century the 21-member-state Committee has been the trusted world authority on ionizing radiation.
"From assessing the significance of fallout from nuclear-weapon tests in the 1950s, to studying the effects of radiation on the human genome today, UNSCEAR has always taken an independent and objective approach to its work," he said in the message, delivered by Antonio Costa, Director-General of the UN Office in Vienna.
"We live in a nuclear world, with important nuclear applications in science, medicine and the power industry, but also, regrettably, with the threat of nuclear and radiological weapons. To make sensible decisions on these issues, we have to understand the effects of atomic radiation. UNSCEAR´s work will also be essential in meeting the environmental challenges associated with nuclear power," the Secretary-General said. "On questions that are often highly emotional and political, UNSCEAR´s reports are impartial, dispassionate and scientific, and have prompted significant worldwide reductions in radiation exposure."
Twenty-one States appoint scientists to UNSCEAR: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Sudan, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States.