Thursday, April 8, 2010

Nuclear Energy Development – Safety and Liability Measures

Oman’s plans to develop a peaceful nuclear energy program are an exciting prospect and hold great potential for the Sultanate’s future. In order to help make its nuclear energy program a reality, Oman would be well advised to consider establishing a supportive legal and regulatory framework. Having the proper legal and regulatory framework in place would help the Sultanate gain access to the technological support from other nations that it will need to develop its nuclear program. As discussed in our March 1 post, the first important step that aspiring nuclear countries usually take is to become a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. This article discusses two related steps: developing nuclear safety and liability measures.

Although the Sultanate has already acceded to some nuclear safety conventions, it will likely need to implement further measures as it proceeds in developing a peaceful, international-law compliant nuclear energy program. Nations in a phase of nuclear development similar to Oman’s often focus on building a supportive legal and regulatory framework by becoming party to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) major conventions on nuclear safety and putting in place legislation that effects compliance with these conventions.

Broadly speaking, building a supportive legal and regulatory framework tends to involve developing and implementing a rigorous safety program that meets IAEA standards and international environmental standards relating to nuclear activity, as well as establishing a competent, independent regulator to oversee adherence to these standards. Two of the most important of these safety programs relate to spent fuel management and to radioactive waste management. These programs normally include management procedures, facilities specifications and emergency plans.

Closely linked to nuclear safety is the issue of the liabilities that may arise when safety mechanisms fail. For example, currently Omani law is not equipped to handle potential nuclear liability claims, because Omani compensation law does not cover the unique kinds of damages that can be caused by nuclear-related incidents. Aspiring nuclear countries typically adopt a nuclear liability regime that complies with all relevant major international agreements dealing with nuclear liability.

In particular, key features of nuclear liability laws usually include:

  • strict liability for the operator of the nuclear facility for damages arising from any nuclear-related incident;

  • exclusive jurisdiction for the nation’s courts over claims arising from any nuclear-related incident that occurs within the nation’s territory;

  • limits on the amount of compensation to be paid for any proven liability, as well as limits on the time frame during which a claim can be brought, arising from any nuclear-related incident; and

  • indiscriminate application of the damage compensation mechanism without regard to nationality, domicile or residence.