Fifty-sixth General Assembly
8th Meeting (PM)
FOURTH COMMITTEE TAKES UP 2001 REPORT ON EFFECTS OF ATOMIC RADIATION; SEVERAL
SPEAKERS SUGGEST EXPANDED MEMBERSHIP FOR SCIENTIFIC COMMITTEE
Report Reviews Risks to Offspring of Parental Radiation Exposure
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) began consideration of the report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation this afternoon, and heard calls for an expansion in the Scientific Committee’s membership.
Ukraine's representative noted that his country, having suffered the effects of the most serious nuclear accident -- at Chernobyl in 1986 -- possessed significant scientific potential and considerable experience in radiation research. That factor should be duly taken into account in considering the expansion of the Scientific Committee, he said.
The representative of Belarus, also referring to the Scientific Committee's proposed expansion, said important geopolitical changes in the world since the early 1990s had resulted in the emergence of new States. They had every right to count on the widest possible respect for their interests. After many years spent overcoming the consequences of Chernobyl, Belarus had gained unique knowledge and expertise in atomic radiation issues, he added.
Other speakers this afternoon commended the Scientific Committee's 2001 report and called for continuing support for its work, which had become the basis for national and international standards in the area of protection from the effects of radiation.
India's representative, while appreciating the Committee’s highly competent handling of complex issues, said uncertainty remained over the estimation of risk, especially for low dose exposures. That uncertainty was attributable partly to the lack of reliable data on the effects of such doses, and the complexity of the biological systems involved. He hoped that, following current biological research, some of those uncertainties would be sorted out.
Before the general debate, Enio Cordeiro (Brazil), Chairman of the Scientific Committee, introduced the Committee's report, a comprehensive review of risks to offspring following parental exposure. Also introducing a draft
resolution on the Committee's continuing work, he said the complexities of
the issues concerned made it necessary for the Committee to intensify its efforts both in raising awareness and in seeking rapid and viable solutions.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Belgium (on behalf of the European Union), Libya and Japan.
The Fourth Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday, 18 October, to conclude its consideration of the effects of atomic radiation.
As the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) began its debate on the effects of atomic radiation this afternoon, it had before it the report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the effects of Atomic Radiation (document A/56/46). The report presents the results of a comprehensive review of risks to offspring following parental exposure to radiation. It considers diseases which have both hereditary and environmental components, the so-called multi-factoral diseases, in addition to those thought to have one preponderant cause.
Radiation exposure, the report states, has never been demonstrated to cause hereditary effects in human populations. There was no observable impact, for example, on children of survivors of the atomic bombings in Japan. Experiments using plants and animals, however, have demonstrated that radiation can induce hereditary effects, and humans are unlikely to be an exception in that regard. Sounder bases now exist to estimate such effects, through molecular genetics and new knowledge of multi-factoral diseases.
Taking those factors into account, the report states that the total hereditary risk to the first generation following radiation can be estimated to be 3,000 to 4,700 cases of relevant disorders per gray (a unit of radiation exposure) per 1 million progeny. That constitutes 0.4 to 0.6 per cent of the baseline frequency of those disorders in the human population; and it is less than
one tenth the risk of fatal carcinogenesis following irradiation presented in the 2001 report.
At its fiftieth session held in Vienna from 23 to 27 April, the report states, the Committee decided that its new programme of work would include efforts to gather new data on radiation exposures from natural, man-made and occupational sources. It would also extend its evaluation of medical exposures; perform a comprehensive assessment of radon in homes and workplaces; and examine the effects of radiation on the environment as part of a study on radioecology.
The Committee also plans to use the cellular and molecular concepts of its 2000 report to address radiation effects at the level of cells, tissues and organs; continue to evaluate various diseases that may be increased by radiation; and continue its studies on the radiological effects from the Chernobyl accident. Those studies are expected to be published in 2005.
ENIO CORDEIRO (Brazil), Chairman of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, introduced the report of that Committee (document A/56/46) and the resolution concerning the continuation of its work (document A/C.4/56/L.5). The Scientific Committee, he said, had been recognized as the major international body in the field of estimating the exposure of the world population to all sources of radiation. In its 2001 report, a comprehensive review of risks to offspring following parental exposure, it included an evaluation of so-called multi-factoral diseases, such as coronary heart disease, diabetes and hypertension.
Such Scientific Committee reports, he said, served as a basis for national and international standards for protection against the harmful effects of radiation. Despite the cessation of atmospheric weapon testing, many radionuclides were still being released into the environment by power plants, as well as processes of medicine, agriculture and industry, in addition to natural radiation sources. The complexities of the issues discussed by the Scientific Committee makes it necessary to intensify its efforts, both in raising awareness and in searching for rapid and viable solutions to the problems on which it worked. He hoped the resolution on that work would be adopted by consensus, as in previous years.
STEPHANE DE LOECKER (Belgium), on behalf of the European Union and associated countries, praised the quality of the Scientific Committee’s work and welcomed the publication of the new report. The European Union also fully supported the work programme contained in that report, particularly with regard to studies on the health effects of the Chernobyl accident, which should be completed and published in 2005.
The Union, he said, also welcomed the cooperation of other organizations with the Scientific Committee, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) and the International Ccommittee’s 2001 meetings. The Union reiterated its full support for the Scientific Committee, which, by virtue of its scientific authority, provided the international community with essential, independent and effective contributions in the evaluation of the levels of atomic radiation and effects of exposure.
PETRO DATSENKO (Ukraine) said the negative public perception of atomic radiation underlined the continuing need to collect and analyse information on its harmful effects on mankind and the environment. Ukraine had constantly supported the Scientific Committee’s broad scientific review of the important problems of radiation.
There was also a need to continue scientific research on the problems related to the Chernobyl disaster, he said. Ukraine noted with satisfaction the submission of the Scientific Committee’s programme of work and particularly welcomed its plans to continue its studies on the radiological effects of the accident. Ukrainian scientists would continue to provide the Committee with updated scientific data on the health impact of radiation exposure as a result of the accident.
He suggested that special attention be paid to further evaluation of the effects of low radiation doses on biological species and ecosystems, to dynamic changes in health records, and to the epidemiology of cancerous tumours and leukemia in the affected adults and children. Also, noting the prevailing trend towards ensuring fair representation in different United Nations bodies, he recommended consideration of a wider membership in the Scientific Committee. Ukraine, having suffered the most serious nuclear accident, possessed significant scientific potential and considerable experience in the area of radiation research. It had made valuable contributions to the Committee's work for years, a factor that should be duly taken into account in considering the expansion of membership.
SERGEI LING (Belarus) said his country had consistently supported the continuation of the Scientific Committee's activities, on the understanding that the guiding principles of its work must include objectivity and impartiality and take the widest possible account of the opinions of all interested stakeholders. Belarus saw the latest report and its annex concerning hereditary effects of radiation as an important contribution in enhancing the international community's understanding of the effects of atomic radiation.
He said that after spending many years overcoming the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe, his country had gained unique knowledge and expertise in issues concerning the effects of atomic radiation. Belarus took note with appreciation of the Scientific Committee's intention to continue its studies on the radiological health effects of the Chernobyl disaster and was ready for close and mutually beneficial cooperation with the Committee. He had listened with great interest to Ukraine's proposal on an increase in the Scientific Committee's membership. The important geopolitical changes that had taken place in the world since the early 1990s had resulted in the emergence of new States that had every right to count on the widest possible respect for their interests concerning issues within the Scientific Committee's sphere of competence.
SATISH MEHTA (India) said that, as a participant in the activities of the Scientific Committee, his country appreciated the highly professional work of that group. The 2001 report contained a highly competent and, perhaps, the best possible assessment of a very complex issue. However, there was still some uncertainty in the estimation of risk, especially for low dose exposures. That uncertainty was attributable partly to the lack of reliable data on the effects of such doses, and the complexity of biological systems. He hoped that, with new biological discoveries, some of those uncertainties would be sorted out, and new developments would be reflected in the Scientific Committee's future programme of work.
He said that the work programme as outlined in the report indicated the continuation of earlier work, both on the effects of radiation on cancer and the health effects of the Chernobyl accident. In that regard, there was a need to link sources to effects. The effects of radiation from so-called orphan sources, as well as that from medical devices, should also be further addressed. He was gratified to note that, in keeping with the spirit of last year’s resolution, the Scientific Committee had established close collaboration with scientists from countries most affected by the Chernobyl accident. Finally, he said that India continued to be interested in the health and other effects of high natural background radiation levels. He believed that would be a fertile area for the application of new cellular and molecular technologies and hoped that such studies would be pursued by the Scientific Committee.
SALEH SHEBANI (Libya) said that the world was currently expressing particular interest in the field of nuclear pollution. The risks threatening humankind as a result of atomic radiation were a source of serious concern for the international community. Those risks could only be reduced through international cooperation.
Expressing his country's deep concern over the increasing risks of radiation, particularly in the Arab region, he attributed the cause to nuclear reactors, saying there should be no expansion in their production. The international community had called frequently upon Tel Aviv in that regard, but had been ignored. Requests to inspect the reactors had been rejected.
Noting that regional and international efforts should be devoted to the peaceful uses of radiation for the benefit of humankind, he stressed the need to reduce the harmful effects as much as possible. The moratorium on nuclear testing declared by some countries, and their measures on nuclear waste disposal, were not enough. The danger stemmed from the nuclear warheads in the hands of some States.
KATSUHIKO TAKAHASHI (Japan) said that, as a member of the Scientific Committee, Japan supported its activities. He expressed satisfaction with its cooperative relationship with other relevant international organizations, as well as with non-member countries engaged in relevant research. The Committee’s activities of collecting, structuring and disseminating radiological information were essential in a world increasingly reliant on nuclear technology. As the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack, and as a country long committed to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, Japan was determined to use its experience for the benefit of all humankind. In peaceful applications of nuclear energy, it attached the highest priority to the promotion of safety, both domestically and internationally.
In that connection, he spoke about the use of radioisotopes in various fields in his country, as well as its new Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. In the context of international cooperation, he said that Japan, along with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), had convened a conference in 1999 for assistance to the Semipalatinsk region of Kazakhstan, and had just commenced a survey to assess the effects of radiation on the region’s population.
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