|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-third General Assembly
10th Meeting (AM)
REDRESSING CHRONICALLY UNDER-FUNDED SCIENTIFIC COMMITTEE, WHOSE WORK UNDERPINS
PUBLIC PROTECTION FROM ATOMIC RADIATION EXPOSURE, FOCUS IN FOURTH COMMITTEE
Policies Based on Incomplete Science Have Tragic Consequences,
Marshall Islands Says, Urging Better Medical Treatment for Subsequent Generations
Delegates today in the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) were unanimous in calling for the chronically under-funded and understaffed Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation to be provided sufficient resources to fulfil its mandate of assessing the levels, effects and emerging risks of ionizing radiation on humanity and the environment.
As the Fourth Committee began its annual consideration of the effects of atomic radiation, it reviewed the work of the Scientific Committee, which, although sometimes delayed or stymied by a persistent lack of funding, has, since 1955, sought to provide policymakers with relevant scientific information that underpins the global radiation safety regime. Earlier this year, it approved five long-awaited scientific annexes on medical exposures, public and worker exposures, accident exposures, Chernobyl radiation levels and effects on non-human biota.
As current Chair of the Scientific Committee, Canada’s representative said that because the Committee’s financial and secretariat resources had diminished over time, they were now insufficient for it to complete its important work -- which was indeed a “vital tool” by which Governments and organizations evaluated radiation risk and establish protection and safety standards.
He said that staffing and financial losses should be corrected, including through the addition of a professional scientific post in its secretariat. An additional $90,000 for the biennium would also be needed if the Committee’s membership was to be expanded.
Emphasizing that policy decisions made on the basis of incomplete science had tragic consequences, the representative of the Marshall Islands urged Member States to provide effective support to the Scientific Committee in researching the effects of background radiation. He also brought attention to the responsibility of the United Nations and the United States in fully addressing the effects of atomic radiation in the Marshall Islands, which had been the test site for 67 large-scale atmospheric nuclear weapons between 1948 and 1958, and had resulted in several small islets being vaporized and in “nuclear exile” for some inhabitants.
He said declassified documents had revealed that the exposed communities were the subject of ongoing and deliberate medical testing. As a result of the tests, those populations had suffered years of displacement, devastating disease and death, yet there had been an inadequate response from the international community. He called upon the United Nations to carefully consider the assurances made to the Marshall Islands regarding compensation for the losses. It was also important to create a more comprehensive medical care strategy and infrastructure to treat the “disproportionate” health impacts of subsequent generations.
The representative of Australia, which had previously served as chair of the Scientific Committee, pointed to the Committee’s conclusion that worldwide exposures from man-made sources had doubled in the last 15 years, due largely to emerging technologies in diagnostic medicine. Further underlining the importance of the Committee’s work, he said that as countries showed increasing interest in using nuclear power to reduce global warming, the Committee’s role would be essential in providing objective scientific analysis on the radiological impacts of the nuclear fuel cycle.
In an overview presentation, Malcolm Crick, Secretary of the Scientific Committee, said that while the Committee’s staffing problems hindered its output, it was making every effort to adjust its strategic plan to future challenges. Highlighting a number of Committee findings, he said that while atomic testing had once been the largest man-made source of radiation in the environment, there had been significant growth in emissions from diagnostic medical technologies, such as the computerized tomography used in CT scans. Today, medical exposures were dominant among artificial exposures, and in some countries, doses from diagnostic medicine exceeded those from natural sources -– a trend that should be watched since it had implications for protection programmes.
On the question of the sequencing for resolving the Committee’s resource challenges in the context of an expanded membership –- which numbers 21 -- speakers remained divided. In its resolution 62/100 of 17 December 2008, the General Assembly had welcomed the interest expressed by Belarus, Finland, Pakistan, the Republic of Korea, Spain and Ukraine in becoming members and had invited them to hold observer status at the Scientific Committee’s next meeting.
Saying it was heartening that additional Member States wished to join the Scientific Committee, India’s representative said -– as many others had -– that the Committee’s administrative and financial constraints should be rectified before those increases took effect, since increased membership would not be sustainable until resources were improved.
The representative of Pakistan stressed, however, that as the Scientific Committee sought to promote wider knowledge and understanding of the effects of ionizing radiation, it could benefit immensely from the expertise that existed in that field around the world. The decision to increase the Committee’s membership was a step in that direction, and his country looked forward to contributing to the Committee’s work.
Similarly, Ukraine was also ready to share its considerable accumulated scientific and practical experience in dealing with the effects of atomic radiation with the Committee, that country’s delegate said, adding that the limitations of its observer status had an adverse impact on its ability to contribute most efficiently to discussions, let alone participate in the decision-making process.
Also speaking were the representatives of Brazil (on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), Cuba, Syria, Myanmar, Finland, Belarus and Japan.
The Committee will meet again tomorrow, 17 October at 3 p.m. to continue its work.
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met today to begin its consideration of the effects of atomic radiation. The Committee had before it a report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (document A/62/46), which covers that body’s fifty-sixth session, held in Vienna from 10 to 18 July 2008.
The Scientific Committee reviews global exposure to sources of radiation -- such as nuclear weapon production and testing, nuclear electricity generation, and others -- and its effects on human health and the environment. According to the report, the Committee, at its fifty-sixth session, approved five scientific annexes, originally planned to be published by 2005, and expressed disappointment at the delay –- traceable, in part, to inadequate staffing and funds -- since Member States and organizations rely on the information.
The Committee also developed a strategic plan for its activities during the period of 2009-2013, the report noted. The objective was to increase awareness and deepen understanding among authorities, the scientific community and civil society about levels of ionizing radiation and the related health and environmental effects as a sound basis for informed decision-making. To implement this strategic plan, action would have to be taken to ensure sufficient, assured and predictable funding, as requested in General Assembly resolution 62/100. This would address both the Committee’s concern that reliance on a single professional-level post in its secretariat had left the Committee seriously vulnerable and had hampered the efficient implementation of its approved programme of work.
The report goes on to examine the natural and artificial sources of radiation exposure; natural background radiation, exposure from military activities, peaceful activities such as medicine, and exposure to workers, the general public, and from accidents like Chernobyl. The effects of the Chernobyl accident are delineated, particularly increased cases of thyroid cancer, as well as the effects of natural and artificial radiation of non-human biota -- plants, fish and mammals.
Statement by the Secretary of the Scientific Committee
MALCOLM CRICK, Secretary of the Scientific Committee, recalled that the Committee was established to assess the levels, effects and emerging risks on human beings and the environment of ionizing radiation, and to provide policy-relevant information to policy-making bodies. Its budget came from the regular United Nations budget. Experts were engaged to collate and analyze data and to convene annual sessions; more than 100 scientists attended the last meeting in Vienna. An important underpinning of the international radiation safety regime, the Scientific Committee earlier this year had approved five scientific annexes on medical exposures, public and worker exposures, accident exposures, Chernobyl radiation levels and effects on non-human biota.
He reviewed some of the science of radiation, including the radionuclides emitted by natural and man-made sources which were the main focus of the Scientific Committee. Radiation particles that were absorbed by human tissue were called radiation “doses” and were measured in millisieverts. A major natural source of radiation was the sun, which as an “unshielded nuclear reactor” emitted cosmic radiation. Other natural sources included terrestrial sources, such as uranium, potassium and thorium, which, as they decayed, emitted radiation in forms like radon that humans then inhaled or ingested.
Man-made radiation came from sources like nuclear testing and other military activities, medical uses, occupational exposures, accidents and the nuclear fuel cycle, he continued. In fact, the Scientific Committee had originally been created to measure the effects of atomic testing, and, with at least 540 tests by all countries, particularly from 1952 to 1962, atomic testing had been the largest man-made release to the environment. Such testing had decreased significantly, however, and medical exposures were today the largest artificial source of exposure by far. While markedly uneven depending on the country, there had been significant growth in computerized tomography. In some countries, doses from diagnostic medicine -- which in one test could deliver the equivalent of four years of “natural” exposure -- exceeded those from natural sources. That trend needed to be watched, he stressed.
Other artificial doses were the result of occupational exposures, particularly in mining industries and at civil nuclear power reactors, he said. As of 2007, 439 nuclear power reactors were functioning in 31 countries and produced approximately 15 per cent of the world’s electricity. Accidents at those reactors represented the worst occupational hazard, with the Chernobyl accident the most well-known and most devastating historical example. At Chernobyl, two workers were killed in 1986, when the accident first occurred. Of the 134 others who suffered acute radiation syndrome, 28 had died in 1986, with 19 eventually dying in the years since. More than 600,000 recovery workers had also shown higher rates of leukaemia. Meanwhile, substantial radiation deposits over larger areas of the Soviet Union and other parts of Europe had resulted from the radioactive cloud. There had been increased incidence of thyroid cancer among those who had been children in 1986 in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, and some contaminated areas had continued to have higher radiation doses, but there was no consistent evidence of any other radiation health effects.
Overall, he said the Scientific Committee had concluded that natural exposures were the largest source of exposure, but were highly variable and were dominated by radon. Exposure to fallout from weapons testing was now very small. Medical exposures by far dominated artificial exposures. Governments should be aware of that fact, as that had implications for protection programmes. Global doses from nuclear power were small and discharges had fallen. More focus for occupational exposures to natural sources were needed. Chernobyl dominated all other environmental accidents by far, although most injuries and deaths occurred during medical uses. Together, those conclusions reconfirmed the extent and character of previous assessments on Chernobyl: more people died from medical overexposures than had died as a result of that devastating accident.
Turning to the Scientific Committee’s strategic plan for 2009-2013, he said it aimed to increase awareness and deepen understanding among authorities, the wider scientific committee and civil society with regard to levels of radiation and related health and environmental effects, as a sound basis for informed decision-making on radiation-related issues. Its thematic priorities included: medical exposures of patients; radiation levels and effects of energy production; exposure to natural sources; and improved understanding of effects from low-dose radiation exposure. Making strategic shifts, it also hoped to streamline its processes, enhancing data management, improve results-based management and coordination.
Acknowledging the delay in the publication of the Secretary-General’s report on the financial and administrative implications of increased membership in the Scientific Committee, he said he could nevertheless provide some information on what the report would say. First, financial resources for the Scientific Committee had increased for 2008-2009. But while a trust fund could help provide for project implementation, funds were still not sufficient, assured or predictable. Further, an additional scientific officer at the P-4 level was in the programme budget. But six Member States had expressed interest in becoming members of the Scientific Committee, bringing a higher estimated cost of $90,000 per biennium, and the amount of additional work resulting from that increased membership could be absorbed only if the P-4 position were added. If it was not, the Scientific Committee’s work would be seriously impeded.
While the Scientific Committee welcomed interest by Member States in becoming members, he said, a solution to the resource issue should be found first. The committee was also concerned about increasing its size and suggested that its maximum number of members should remain the same. It proposed, therefore, that some existing members be replaced and others be made members on a rotating basis. The Committee’s staffing problem hindered its output, but it was making every effort to adjust its strategic plan to future challenges.
ALAN BOWMAN ( Canada) said that his country, as Chairman of the fifty-sixth (2008) and fifty-seventh (2009) sessions of the Scientific Committee, would coordinate the drafting of a resolution on the effects of atomic radiation. The text would endorse the Scientific Committee’s longstanding mandate and encourage it to continue its important work.
He said Canada welcomed the following documents: exposures from radiation accidents; exposures of the public and workers from various sources of radiation; medical radiation exposures; health effects due to radiation from the Chernobyl accident and effects of ionizing radiation on non-human biota.
The Scientific Committee served an important function, he said, by providing authoritative scientific assessments of the sources and effects of atomic radiation. That “vital tool” allowed Governments and organizations to evaluate radiation risk and establish protection and safety standards. However, over time, financial and secretariat resources for the Committee had diminished and were now insufficient for it to complete its important work. Staffing and financial losses must be corrected.
The Committee’s effectiveness and efficiency must be preserved by proceeding in a measured, transparent and fair manner, he urged. A second professional secretariat post should be allocated to it, along with an additional $90,000 for the biennium, if the Committee’s membership was expanded. That plan was not inconsistent with the desire of six Member States to become members of the Committee, however, adding members without adding resources would prevent the Committee from being as effective as possible.
Addressing membership without sufficient resources would risk a stagnation of the programme of work and an ineffective Committee. He hoped that the six Member States invited as observers to the fifty-sixth session would be able to attend the fifty-seventh session once the Committee was strengthened.
MARIA TERESA MESQUITA PESSOA (Brazil), speaking on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), said that the Scientific Committee’s report described with detail and scientific rigour the overall levels of exposure to ionizing or atomic radiation. She expressed interest in the report’s conclusion that the primary sources for radiation exposure were natural, particularly radionuclides in the geosphere, and that the Committee had established that natural radionuclides in the environment were highly variable. The series of evaluations on the impact of the production of nuclear-powered energy was encouraging, as it indicated that those doses were dropping over time, and exposure by commercial power plants had also been decreasing over the past 30 years.
She noted that flora and fauna had not been seriously harmed by the Chernobyl accident, which indicated that the current regulations were sufficient to protect the natural world from man-made radiation. Additionally, no solid proof existed to support the notion that any negative effects on the general population could be attributed to the Chernobyl accident, with the exception of increased thyroid cancer for children exposed to high doses of radiation due to a lack of adequate response measures. Radiation for medical purposes continued to be on the rise, and the dose levels were also increasing. That was an important piece of data and should bring about policies of protection for patients who needed radiation doses or radiation therapy.
The thematic priorities for the Scientific Committee should be exposure to patients; effects of energy production; natural exposure; and better understanding of exposure to low-dose radiation, she suggested. As proposed, the Committee should promptly produce a report on the effect of uncertainties of radiation risks and the degree to which the effects of exposure could be attributed to health care practices. Furthermore, the Committee’s secretariat should adopt pertinent measures to implement the strategic plan and the carry out its future work plan.
MARIE-ANNA LEBOVITS ( France), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the report before the Fourth Committee confirmed the Scientific Committee’s importance. The European Union fully backed the Committee’s work in assessing the impact of radiation exposure. She underscored the fact that medical exposure represented by far the largest source of artificial exposure and said that it was an international priority with respect to radiation protection.
She commended the quality of the strategic plan. Opting to make special efforts to raise awareness was in full keeping with the Scientific Committee’s authority and would undoubtedly contribute to its reputation. Defining thematic priorities should be part of the Committee’s thinking on projects through 2013. The strategic changes made by the Committee demonstrated its determination to improve and deepen knowledge, while strengthening interactions with international organizations. The Committee’s guidelines were also useful because of their provision for widespread exchanges of information.
Saying that the Scientific Committee provided the world community with essential, independent information on numerous common areas of interest regarding the effects of atomic radiation, she emphasized that the delays in getting its work published was all the more costly, given the increased interest by many countries in developing nuclear energy and the across-the-board rise in medical uses of radiation. The European Union, therefore, called for a comprehensive discussion to address how to increase the Committee’s annual budget and expand its team, in line with the increasing importance of its work. An in-depth study on how the Committee’s scope could best be adapted to meeting its budgetary constraints and achieving greater efficiency might also be necessary.
She encouraged the Secretary-General to resolve the problems regarding the financing and resource issues facing the Scientific Committee as soon as possible, so that the applications of those countries that had requested membership could be fully examined in a timely manner. In that, it might be useful to explore the option of using multinational authorities, she added.
CAMILO GARCIA LOPEZ-TRIGO ( Cuba) said it was unjustifiable that some 30,000 nuclear weapons were still in existence, with more than 12,000 ready for immediate use, with “catastrophic consequences”. He reiterated Cuba’s firm commitment to the prohibition and total elimination of all nuclear weapons and expressed “total opposition” to the use of nuclear energy for warlike purposes.
He said the Scientific Committee was a source of specialized, balanced and objective information, and it was important to strengthen collaboration between the Committee, Member States, and different organs and agencies of the United Nations. Cuba had assisted the Ukraine to reduce the consequences of the Chernobyl accident. For 16 years, a rehabilitation programme for the nuclear accident victims, most of them children, had been carried out between the two countries. During that time, 18,546 children and 3,400 adults had been treated in Cuba. In addition to the programme’s humanitarian aspect, scientific data had also been collected and disseminated in the main scientific forums to assess the disaster’s after effects. The data had been used by international bodies of the United Nations system.
Cuba welcomed expanding the membership for the Scientific Committee, and reiterated the request for an additional six Member States be included as soon as possible, he added.
MANAR TALEB ( Syria), commending the work and report of the Scientific Committee, said his delegation also supported the strategic plan it had established for the period 2009-2013. It further supported the call for all the Member States, as well as all United Nations bodies and specialized agencies and other international scientific bodies, to cooperate with, and provide information to, the Scientific Committee.
He said Syria’s policy in dealing with nuclear technologies was to use it for peaceful purposes, without discrimination and without a double standard. His country was concerned by limits imposed on developing countries on their access to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, under the pretext of non-proliferation measures. Syria had always called for eliminating nuclear arsenals to eliminate their risks to humanity and curb the effects of atomic radiation, and had been one of the first countries to call for the creation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. It had continuously worked to achieve that goal, acceding to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1968. It had undertaken a number of other initiatives to meet that goal, the last of which had been its submission on behalf of the Arab group to the Security Council of a resolution in 2003 that sought to render the Middle East free of nuclear weapons.
The exclusive possession of nuclear weapons by Israel, and its refusal to accede to NPT, undermined peace and security in the world, he went on to say. It also threatened an environmental accident; indeed, an accident like Chernobyl could take place anywhere in the world, and it was the world’s right to know if reactors were safe. The lack of control or safeguards over Israeli nuclear systems posed a threat to the global community as a whole and pressure should be brought to bear on that country to place its eight nuclear reactors under supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Syria had also repeatedly drawn world attention to the harmful effects of dumping nuclear waste in the ocean or burying it underground. Israel had dumped nuclear waste in the occupied Syrian Golan, while the international community remained silent. That raised questions about Israel’s respect for conventions concerning nuclear disarmament -- an issue that required intensified cooperation by the world community aimed at providing protection from that lethal danger, he said.
VISHVJIT P. SINGH ( India) welcomed the Scientific Committee’s strategic plan for 2009-2013, as it would heighten awareness among civil society and the scientific community of the environmental and health affects of ionizing radiation. He also approved of the thematic priorities for that period, particularly research on the effects of low-dose radiation exposure on human beings. Although it was heartening that additional Member States wished to join the Committee, it was important to first rectify its administrative and financial constraints since increased membership would not be sustainable until resources were improved. He also lamented that the scientific annexes, originally set to be published by 2005, were long overdue. His delegation awaited their release.
He said that, while the uses of radiation for medical purposes were on the rise in many countries, proper documentation of patient or attendee exposure and monitoring of those facilities was not always carried out. Medical radiation exposure was second in level only to natural background sources and even exceeded it in some countries. Thus, Member States not already doing so should maintain good record-keeping mechanisms and adopt requisite regulations regarding medical exposures of patients to radiation.
Adherence to the “Linear No Thresholds” hypothesis as a cornerstone for radiation protection should be revisited, particularly the adverse results attributed to radiation, he suggested. Biological and health effects were very complex, and more than one type of agent might trigger the same outcome, such as cancer, which could be complicated by other factors such as smoking and diet. He also suggested that cancer-centric considerations, such as congenital malformations, in utero effects, and cardiovascular effects, among others, should not overshadow other possible effects when deciding upon exposure limits.
CLARE GATEHOUSE ( Australia), noting that her country had previously chaired the Scientific Committee, reiterated its strong support for that body’s work. She welcomed the assistance offered by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in the form of a general trust fund, noting that Australia had contributed $90,000 in 2007. Although the Scientific Committee had a low-profile among United Nations agencies, it performed a critical task, providing a scientific basis for international standards for protecting the public and workers from the effects of ionizing radiation. Those standards, in turn, were linked to important legal and regulatory instruments. Due to that work, more was probably known about the effects of radiation than about many other chemical and biological pollutants.
She said that the Committee’s ongoing work remained vital, including its conclusion that worldwide exposures from man-made sources had doubled in the last 15 years largely due to emerging technologies in diagnostic medicine. As countries showed increasing interest in using nuclear power to reduce global warming, it was also critical that the radiological impacts of the nuclear fuel cycle were understood, for which the Committee’s role would be essential in providing objective scientific analysis.
Given that, she said the Scientific Committee’s modest funding of approximately $1 million a year seemed inadequate. It was no longer possible to continue with just one scientific Secretary. Two scientists -- one each from the physical sciences and the biological sciences -- were needed. The understaffing issue should be addressed before the proposed membership increase was considered. Meanwhile, Member States acting as observers should continue in their current status. Australia hoped that they could, in that capacity, continue to contribute their knowledge to the Committee until the funding issues were resolved.
When it came to considering membership, she said her delegation believed that consideration of membership in the Scientific Committee should be based on sustainable knowledge on a broad range of issues in the field of radiation levels and effects. Further, the capabilities required by the Scientific Committee’s work -- including those of compiling, preparing and evaluating reports; assessing drafts of scientific documents; and summarizing and synthesizing the material for the General Assembly, the scientific community and the public -- should be the sole criteria to keep in mind when representatives were appointed to that body.
PHILLIP MULLER ( Marshall Islands) said that policy decisions made on the basis of incomplete science had tragic consequences. He urged Member States to provide more effective support to the Scientific Committee in researching the effects of background radiation. He also brought attention to the responsibility of the United Nations and the United States in fully addressing the effects of atomic radiation in the Marshall Islands.
During its status as a United Nations Trust Territory, 67 large-scale atmospheric nuclear weapons were tested in the Marshall Islands from 1948 to 1958, which took place with the explicit approval of the United Nations Trusteeship Council, he said. During those tests, children “lacking knowledge of the nuclear tests” played in the nuclear fallout and mistook it for snow. Declassified documents had revealed that the exposed communities were the subject of ongoing and deliberate medical testing.
As a result of the tests, those populations had suffered years of displacement, devastating disease and death, he said. Small islets had been “vaporized” and there continued to be widespread environmental impacts from nuclear contamination, with some communities living in “nuclear exile”. Later resettlement efforts were made without full understanding of the effects of the contamination, which had created a “new generation of tragic challenges”.
However, he said, despite the tremendous physical, financial and cultural devastation visited upon the Marshallese, there had been an inadequate response from the international community. He called upon the United Nations to carefully consider the assurances made to the Marshall Islands under the Trusteeship Council resolutions of 1954 and 1956, which stated that urgent steps needed to be taken to adequately compensate for the losses.
He noted that provisions had been made under the United Nations-approved Compact of Free Association to establish a nuclear claims tribunal, but that only a small fraction of the actual adjudicated damages had been compensated, with unmet claims totalling hundreds of millions of dollars. It was important to monitor the health impacts of the affected population, but also to create a more comprehensive medical care strategy and infrastructure to treat the “disproportionate” health impacts of subsequent generations.
Additionally, “short cuts” might have been taken 30 years ago in the construction of a large concrete storage dome for nuclear waste material, he said, adding that the Marshall Islands lacked sufficient resources to fully address the storage facility’s long-term stewardship.
Furthermore, some parts of the Marshall Islands remained unfit for settlement until adequate environmental remediation was fulfilled, he said, urging the scientific community to undertake more proactive information-sharing strategies regarding the effects of atomic radiation. Those strategies should take into account the unique structure and geographic challenges of the Marshall Islands’ traditional communities.
U MAUNG WAI ( Myanmar) said the report was commendable in its provision of important data. The Scientific Committee’s recommendations were useful input for informed decision-making on radiation-related issues by such bodies as the International Labour Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization. The consequences of the 1986 Chernobyl accident underscored the fact that the effects of atomic radiation on human health and the environment could be devastating, and the Scientific Committee had worked to identify information Governments could use to formulate their policies.
In view of that work, he said that the Scientific Committee should ensure that it had the support and resources it needed. Unless adequate resources were forthcoming, it would not be able to function effectively and on a sustainable basis. Myanmar supported the plan to strengthen its present funding and hoped that the general trust fund established by the United Nations Environment Programme would be a useful alternative source of funds. Stressing the need to address the staffing problems, he hoped that the General Assembly’s appeals in resolution 62/100 to the Secretary-General to take appropriate administrative measures would receive the attention they deserved.
ANDRIY KHARYTYNSKYI ( Ukraine) said his country attached particular importance to the effects of atomic radiation and to the Scientific Committee’s activities. In the past few decades, Ukraine had accumulated considerable scientific and practical experience in dealing with the effects of atomic radiation and was ready to share that experience with the Committee. Regarding its membership, the limitations of Ukraine’s observer status had an adverse impact on its ability to contribute most efficiently to discussions, let alone participate in the decision-making process. In that respect, he called for Ukraine’s timely admittance to the Committee and for the Committee’s financing to be strengthened to allow the proposed membership increase. However, if that was not possible currently, Ukraine would continue as an observer.
He said that during the preceding year, the Scientific Committee had made ample efforts to provide an authoritative and definitive review of the health effects attributable to radiation exposure of the general public, occupational workers, and non-human biota. A considerable volume of new research had become available to the Committee, owing to cooperation with Ukraine, Belarus, and the Russian Federation, and had allowed it to make a number of important conclusions, such as the fatality of radiation doses to emergency workers, as well as the increased incidence of leukaemia and cataracts for the thousands of staff involved in recovery operations.
ASIM IFTIKHAR AHMAD ( Pakistan) said his delegation attached great importance to the Scientific Committee’s efforts to promote wider knowledge and understanding of the effects of ionizing radiation. There was great value in increasing international cooperation on that topic, and the Committee’s work could benefit immensely from the expertise that existed in that field around the world. The decision to increase the Committee’s membership was a step in that direction. Pakistan had the capacity, relevant experience and professional expertise at personnel and organizational levels, and, thus, looked forward to contributing to the Scientific Committee’s work.
He said that that important work demanded that the Scientific Committee be provided with the necessary resources. Lingering problems of staffing its professional secretariat and of funding should be addressed without further delay. Neither the Committee’s mandate nor the question of expanding its membership -- an action on which the General Assembly had already taken a principled decision -- should be affected by financial or administrative constraints.
KIRSTI LINTONEN ( Finland) regretted that she had not been able to see the recommendations for membership expansion because the Secretary-General’s report was still not available. Turning to the topic of radiation, she said that knowledge of its effects was essential to evaluating protection measures and risks. The exposure of the population to natural radiation was unavoidable, and medical use of radiation had become an indispensable part of modern health care.
She said that Finland was among the first countries to discover that radon in drinking water or indoor air was a major contributor to exposure to ionizing radiation. Due to climate and uranium-containing bedrock, Finns were exposed to some of the highest levels in the world of radon in indoor air and uranium in drinking water. In the early 1960s, reports from Lapland revealed that herders were exposed to fallout from the atmospheric nuclear tests, which helped trigger the subsequent ban of atmospheric nuclear weapons tests.
Radiation protection standards relied on current knowledge of the risks from radiation exposure, and any over or underestimation could lead to unnecessary restrictions or a lower level of health protection, she said. Thus, Finland was committed to continue research on radiation risks. While medical radiation exposure was essential for diagnostics and medical care, justification for those exposures called for extra attention. Finland was the first country in the European Union to implement the “Medical Directive”, which included clinical audits addressing justification and the role of the referring doctor.
She drew attention to Finland’s four nuclear reactors and said that a new reactor was under construction, with proposals to build even more. The country’s uranium-containing bedrock had also raised the interest of mining companies, and exploration was currently being carried out at several sites. Those activities called for high-level expertise and long-term commitment in radiation protection.
IGOR MISHKORUDNY ( Belarus) said that the Scientific Committee’s report was of great interest to his country, which had suffered the most since the Chernobyl disaster. Although the interest of the international mass media and the world community in that disaster had diminished, hundreds of thousands of Belarusians continued to suffer from its effects. Despite that, Belarus saw great positive aspects of the peaceful use of atomic energy in different spheres of life -- sustainable energy, medicine and agriculture, among others. Indeed, Belarus had launched the first scientific research nuclear reactor 46 years ago. Last year, it had decided to build a nuclear power plant and had established a special department on nuclear and radiation safety. It was following the radiation protection standards elaborated by IAEA and the International Commission on Radiological Protection. Its scientists were invited on a regular basis to participate in the Scientific Committee’s sessions.
Noting that Belarus sought to become a member of the Scientific Committee, he called for the timely preparation of the Secretary-General’s report on the financial implications of increased Committee membership. He added that he would interrupt his statement and finish once his delegation had been able to study the report.
KAZUTO TSURUGA ( Japan) said that to ensure the safety and security of human beings and the environment in the use of atomic energy, as well as to promote public health in the use of radiation for medical purposes, the Scientific Committee must continue to carry out its task of authoritative study of the effects of radiation. UNEP should review and strengthen the present arrangements for the Committee and consider a temporary funding mechanism on a voluntary basis to complement existing ones, so that the Committee could continue its responsibilities and mandate.
Regarding extension of the Committee’s membership, he said it was necessary to consider and clarify the standard of qualifications to serve as a member, so as to maintain proper functioning. He agreed with the Committee’s report that financial and administrative issues should be addressed first, before discussing membership expansion.
In closing, the Chair said that the Committee would return to the effects of atomic radiation when the report of the Secretary-General on “financial and administrative implication of increased membership of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, staffing of the professional Secretariat and methods to ensure sufficient, assured and predictable funding” was made available in all official languages.
Noting that interested delegations were continuing in their efforts to find agreed language in the draft resolution on the question of Western Sahara (document A/C.4/63/L.5), he then proposed that action on that text be deferred until Monday 20 October, at 3 p.m.
He said that the Committee would take action tomorrow, 17 October, on draft resolution VI on the questions of American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Guam, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, Turks and Caicos Islands, and the United States Virgin Islands, which is contained in the report of the Special Committee on Decolonization (document A/63/23, p.64). Action on an amendment to part A operative paragraph 2 of that text (document A/C.4/63/L.5) would also be taken at that time.
* *** *For information media • not an official record