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Radioactive Sources and Liability for Damage

IAEA Topical Webinar Series on Nuclear Law

Date and time

Thursday, 16  December 2021
2:00 pm Europe Time (Berlin, GMT+01:00)

Register here →


Radioactive sources are used throughout the world for a wide range of purposes, including medical, agricultural, industrial and academic applications. Despite a generally strong safety record in recent years, accidents involving radioactive sources have occurred, and in some cases have led to death, serious injury and/or significant financial costs. The need to ensure the safety and security of these sources has been recognised for many years, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was called upon to establish relevant legal and regulatory infrastructures for that purpose. In 2003, the IAEA developed the Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources, which formed the basis of international regulation of the use of radioactive sources. The Code was soon supplemented by the Guidance on the Import and Export of Radioactive Sources, which was updated in 2011. Another supplementary Guidance on the Management of Disused Sources was approved by the Board of Governors in 2017 and published in 2018.

Nuclear liability for damage is a special legal regime to establish minimum standards to provide financial protection against damage resulting from some peaceful uses of nuclear energy, especially in a cross-border context. There are some special principles which are different from those under regular “tort law”.  However, under the current international legal framework, the special liability regime does not apply to radiation damage caused by radioactive sources used in facilities such as hospitals and industry. When it considered the issue, the International Expert Group on Nuclear Liability (INLEX) was of the view that the possible scope of damage - particularly transboundary damage - was not so great as to demand a special international regime. However, it recommended that States should require, as a condition for the licensing of an activity involving a high-activity radioactive source, that the licensee take out a specified amount of insurance to cover its potential third-party liability. Some States already have such a requirement in place, and the advice from the insurers was that such insurance is readily available.

Also, the question of financial provision for the management of disused radioactive sources needs to be considered.  The Code of Conduct and the Guidance referred to above emphasise the importance of ensuring that a source remains safely and securely managed when it is no longer in use; most of the accidents referred to above have involved disused - indeed, abandoned - sources.  Governments need to consider how to ensure that the cost of dealing with a source at the end of its useful life - whether that be return to the manufacturer, disposal, or another option - is addressed before the source is licensed for use.

For officials from IAEA Member States, the IAEA will hold a webinar on Radioactive Sources and Liability for Damage which will include an interactive Q&A session.

Topics to be addressed include:

  • Outline and development of the international legal instruments on the safety and security of radioactive sources;
  • Background on the international nuclear liability regime and why it does not apply to radioactive sources;
  • INLEX discussions and conclusions on civil liability for nuclear damage;
  • Technical and legal issues related to end-of-life management of radioactive sources;
  • Challenges which Member States face in these areas and some overarching identified issues.


The Webinar will be held in English.


  • Steve McIntosh, Chair of International Expert Group on Nuclear Liability (INLEX), former Senior Manager, Government and International Affairs at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO)
  • Hilaire Mansoux, Section Head, Regulatory Infrastructure & Transport Safety Section, Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, IAEA


Wolfram Tonhauser, Head, Nuclear and Treaty Law Section, Office of Legal Affairs, IAEA

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