CAMBRIDGE, MA | July 9, 2014 – The unfortunate events at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in March 2011 have raised serious issues for the world community. For countries with plans to develop nuclear energy programs, this incident highlights the need to determine the scope and adequacy of nuclear liability coverage in the event of a nuclear accident.
A newly released paper by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Nuclear Liability: A Key Component of the Public Policy Decision to Deploy Nuclear Energy in Southeast Asia, authored by Mohit Abraham, a lawyer to the Supreme Court of India, provides a comprehensive, empirically rich analysis of the historical evolution of the nuclear liability regime currently in force and outlines the steps necessary for the adoption of a regional nuclear liability regime in Southeast Asia.
Nuclear liability has always been a critical, but often weak, component of the global nuclear governance process. Today, however, this topic becomes all the more poignant and compelling given the increasing number of emerging countries exploring and pursuing nuclear power programs and the changing nuclear supplier market.
The changing nature of the relationship between nuclear newcomers and nuclear suppliers has revealed significant gaps that exist in the current nuclear liability regime. Years ago, the nuclear industry accepted the practice of channeling all the liability for a nuclear accident to the operator, who has the duty to ensure that the products and services being supplied are free from defect. But the growing reliance of nuclear aspirants on foreign technology and expertise, including safety oversight, creates new under-explored challenges regarding legal jurisdiction as to who is responsible for compensation and the extent of liability that could be imposed on these foreign entities and individuals.
In addition, the lack of adequate capital resources in many nuclear aspirant countries makes these countries increasingly dependent and overly reliant on nuclear suppliers. This ultimately generates tensions between the nuclear supplier, the host, and the neighboring states, who would share the costs of liability in the event of an accident.
These important challenges are seldom studied in the current nuclear literature.
Dr. Abraham’s paper focuses on the region of Southeast Asia for two important reasons: growing energy needs among many ASEAN countries make it a palatable market for nuclear suppliers under intense competition to secure new nuclear deals; and concerns over nuclear accidents have become increasingly widespread in response to the development of Vietnam’s nuclear program and the Fukushima accident.
In order to address these factors within the region, Abraham asks two interrelated questions: What is the standard that policy-makers and scholars planning the deployment of new nuclear energy should use as a guidepost as they consider nuclear liability legislation in their respective states? And will the vendors in Russia, Japan, China, and the Republic of Korea, as substantive future nuclear suppliers, be influential in setting the trend(s) in the nuclear liability regime?
In reviewing the current nuclear liability legislation in place at both the global and national level, Abraham urges countries in Southeast Asia to also consider the adoption of a regional nuclear liability framework. He concludes by arguing that it is evident that a robust nuclear liability regime is essential for the growth of nuclear power as well as its public acceptance. This requires a great deal of cooperation among countries, regulators, international institutions, and the nuclear industry.
The paper also takes into account the existing difficulties the global community has encountered in its efforts to develop a global nuclear liability regime. Abraham, therefore, suggests using the EU’s initiative as a model to develop a system of international nuclear liability focused on regional cooperation.
Nuclear Liability: A Key Component of the Public Policy Decision to Deploy Nuclear Energy in Southeast Asia, published as part of the American Academy’s Global Nuclear Future (GNF) Initiative, is available online at:
Members of the Academy’s GNF Initiative are working with policy-makers in the United States, Middle East, and Asia to advance effective policies and procedures to ensure that the spread of nuclear power does not aggravate, but rather reduces, concerns over international safety, security, and nonproliferation. Because the Academy is not identified with a particular stance on nuclear questions, yet has a fifty-year-old tradition of work on arms control, it offers a neutral forum for discussing these issues.
Mohit Abraham is Partner at PXV Law Partners and Advocate-on-Record of the Supreme Court of India. He is on the Governing Board of the Nuclear Law Association of India and also chairs its working group on nuclear liability.
Recent Academy Publications from the Global Nuclear Future Initiative include:
- A Worst Practices Guide to Insider Threats: Lessons from Past Mistakes, Matthew Bunn and Scott D. Sagan (American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2014)
- Nuclear Collisions: Discord, Reform & the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime, Steven E. Miller (American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2012)
- The Back-End of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: An Innovative Storage Concept, Robert Rosner, Stephen M. Goldberg, and James P. Malone (American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2012)
- Game Changers for Nuclear Energy, Kate Marvel and Michael May (American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2011)
- Nuclear Reactors: Generation to Generation, Stephen M. Goldberg and Robert Rosner (American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2011)
- Shared Responsibilities for Nuclear Disarmament: A Global Debate, Scott D. Sagan, James M. Acton, Jayantha Dhanapala, Mustafa Kibaroglu, Harald Müller, Yukio Satoh, Mohamed I. Shaker, and Achilles Zaluar (American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2010)
- Multinational Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle, Charles McCombie and Thomas Isaacs, Noramly Bin Muslim, Tariq Rauf, Atsuyuki Suzuki, Frank von Hippel, and Ellen Tauscher (American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2010)
- On the Global Nuclear Future, vols. 1–2, Dædalus (MIT Press, 2009–2010)
All of these publications are available on the Academy’s website.
Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (www.amacad.org) is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. Current Academy research focuses on science and technology policy; global security and international affairs; institutions of democracy; the humanities and culture; and education. With headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Academy’s work is advanced by its 4,600 elected members, who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs from around the world.