Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage


Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage: International Framework
In September 1997, government took a significant step forward in improving the liability régime for nuclear damage. At a Diplomatic Conference at IAEA Headquarters in Vienna, 8-12 September 1997, delegates from over 80 States adopted a Protocol to Amend the 1963 Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage and also adopted a Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC). The Protocol sets the possible limit of the operator´s liability at not less than 300 million Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) (roughly equivalent to 400 million US dollars). The Convention on Supplementary Compensation defines additional amounts to be provided through contributions by States Parties on the basis of installed nuclear capacity and UN rate of assessment. The Convention is an instrument to which all States may adhere regardless of whether they are parties to any existing nuclear liability conventions or have nuclear installations on their territories. The Protocol contains inter alia a better definition of nuclear damage (now also addressing the concept of environmental damage and preventive measures), extends the geographical scope of theVienna Convention, and extends the period during which claims may be brought for loss of life and personal injury. It also provides for jurisdiction of coastal states over actions incurring nuclear damage during transport. Taken together, the two instruments should substantially enhance the global framework for compensation well beyond that foreseen by existing Conventions. Before the action in September 1997, the international liability regime was embodied primarily in two instruments, i.e. the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage of 1963 and the Paris Convention on Third Party Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy of 1960 linked by the Joint Protocol adopted in 1988. The Paris Convention was later built up by the 1963 Brussels Supplementary Convention. These Conventions are based on the civil law concept and share the following main principles:

  1. Liability is channelled exclusively to the operators of the nuclear installations;
  2. Liability of the operator is absolute, i.e. the operator is held liable irrespective of fault;
  3. Liability is limited in amount. Under the Vienna Convention, it may be limited to not less than US$ 5 million (value in gold on 29 April 1963), but an upper ceiling is not fixed. The Paris Convention sets a maximum liability of 15 million SDR provided that the installation State may provide for a greater or lesser amount but not below 5 million SDRs taking into account the availability of insurance coverage. The Brussels Supplementary Conventionestablished additional funding beyond the amount available under the Paris Convention up to a total of 300 million SDRs, consisting of contributions by the installation State and contracting parties;
  4. Liability is limited in time. Compensation rights are extinguished under both Conventions if an action is not brought within ten years from the date of the nuclear incident. Longer periods are permissible if, under the law of the installation State, the liability of the operator is covered by financial security. National law may establish a shorter time limit, but not less than two years (the Paris Convention) or three years(the Vienna Convention) from the date the claimant knew or ought to have known of the damage and the operator liable;
  5. The operator must maintain insurance of other financial security for an amount corresponding to his liability; if such security is insufficient,the installation State is obliged to make up the difference up to the limit of the operator´s liability;
  6. Jurisdiction over actions lies exclusively with the courts of the Contracting Party in whose territory the nuclear incident occurred;
  7. Non-discrimination of victims on the grounds of nationality, domicile or residence.

Following the Chernobyl accident, the IAEA initiated work on all aspects of nuclear liability with a view to improving the basic Conventions and establishing a comprehensive liability regime. In 1988, as a result of joint efforts by the IAEA and OECD/NEA, the Joint Protocol Relating to the Application of the Vienna Convention and the Paris Convention was adopted. The Joint Protocol established a link between the Conventions combining them into one expanded liability regime. Parties to the Joint Protocol are treated as though they were Parties to both Conventions and a choice of law rule is provided to determine which of the two Conventions should apply to the exclusion of the other in respect of the same incident.


Date of adoption: 21 May 1963
Place of adoption: Vienna, Austria
Date of entry into force: 12 November 1977
Languages: English, French, Russian and Spanish
Depositary Governments: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)


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