|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-fifth General Assembly
18th Meeting (AM)
Amid ‘Renaissance of Nuclear Energy’, Users Eager to Evaluate Risk, Establish
Safety, Protection Standards Over Radiation Levels, Fourth Committee Told
As Value Upheld of United Nations Scientific Committee, Delegations Seek
Expanded Membership, but Caution against Any Attempt to Politicize Body’s Work
Given the current “renaissance of nuclear energy”, Member States and other users were ever more eager to evaluate risk and establish appropriate safety and protection standards over radiation levels from energy production and exposure to nuclear installations, and to assess the consequences on human health and the environment, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) heard today as it began its consideration of the effects of atomic radiation.
Indeed, said Canada’s representative, noting her country’s chairmanship of the 2010 session of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, said that the Committee’s activities had renewed importance, given the increased international cooperation in the supply of materials and equipment and technology transfer, enhancing development of nuclear power in many countries. That, in turn, had spotlighted the question of expanding Committee membership. The body was established in 1955, with 15 members; it now has 21.
Canada called for criteria to be established to evaluate the ability of Member States to contribute to the Committee’s work. She supported the participation of the six candidate countries ( Belarus, Finland, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Spain, Ukraine) at the next session as observers, and looked forward to their positive contributions. She also welcomed the establishment of a new P-4 post for the Committee’s secretariat. Confident that this year’s resolution would build on last year’s in strengthening the Committee in all such areas, she called on Member States to adopt it by consensus.
Pakistan’s representative said that when it was established, the Committee’s 15 members comprised nearly 20 per cent of the entire United Nations membership. However, expansion of the Committee had not matched the expansion of the Organization. Also pointing to imbalances in the equitable geographic distribution of the membership, he recalled that General Assembly resolution 3154 (1973) had specifically mentioned such distribution as a basis for expansion.
India, however, said that the Committee had considered several suggestions with regard to expanding or diversifying membership, such as continuing the present observer status of the six Member States desiring membership, mixed delegations on a regional understanding, some members not participating in the sessions regularly, and voluntarily opting out of membership by some States. In this regard, he stressed that India would not agree to share its membership with another nation on a regional basis.
Indonesia’s representative cautioned that the Committee was a scientific body with the core scientific mandate of assessing and reporting on levels and effects of exposure to ionizing radiation. For it to remain scientifically credible, it had to strengthen its work within the limit of its mandate. Any attempts to go beyond the mandate by assessing “who should be in” and “who should be out” with regard to membership, could be interpreted as an attempt to politicize its work.
While Ukraine’s delegation welcomed the invitation to participate in the Committee as an observer, its representative said that the limitations associated with that status restricted the ability to contribute substantially to the discussions, not to mention the decision-making process. From the outset, the Committee was involved in the evaluation of radiation exposure and health effects from the Chernobyl accident. Ukraine remained ready to actively cooperate with the Committee and all concerned parties, to counter and minimize the ongoing consequences of history’s worst nuclear accident through a common scientific understanding of its causes.
The representative of the Scientific Committee’s sole Pacific region member, Australia, said that when the Committee was formed in the 1950s, the dangers of atmospheric nuclear tests were already becoming increasingly apparent. The Committee’s early work had laid the scientific ground on which the Partial Test Ban Treaty was negotiated and signed in 1963. It was thus tragic, but fitting, that the Committee’s resolution this year recognized the ongoing effects of such tests in the Marshall Islands.
The representative of the Marshall Islands said that during its status as a United Nations Trust Territory, his country had experienced 67 large-scale atmospheric nuclear tests, between 1946 and 1958. Those tests had produced a complex legacy of effects — leaving behind local communities which were still in exile, serious health issues passed down through generations, and unmet compensation.
While the records of General Assembly resolutions providing assurances to the Marshall Islands were now “yellowing with age”, generations had passed and the islands were still wrestling to understand and address the complex effects of the testing, he said.
In a presentation at the start of the meeting, Chairman of the Scientific Committee, Dr. Norman Gentner, shared his findings regarding scientific events associated with the Committee’s fifty-seventh session, noting several studies on cancer, levels of radiation from electrical energy production, and the effects of low-dose radiation on health, especially on victims in Japan.
Also speaking during the general debate on the issue were the representatives of Belgium, on behalf of the European Union, Brazil, Cuba, Belarus and Syria.
The representatives of Australia and Belarus participated in a brief discussion following Mr. Gentner’s address to the Committee.
The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. on Monday, 1 November, to begin consideration of its agenda item on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met today to begin its consideration of the effects of atomic radiation. It had before it the report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (document A/65/46 and A/65/46/Add.1), containing the conclusions of that Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, pursuant to paragraph 13 of General Assembly resolution 64/85.
According to the report (A/65/46), exposure to ionizing radiation arises from sources, such as medical diagnostic and therapeutic procedures; nuclear weapons testing; radon and other natural background radiation; nuclear electricity generation; accidents, such as the one at Chernobyl in 1986; and occupations that increase exposure to artificial or natural sources of radiation. In pursuit of its mandate, the Scientific Committee thoroughly reviewed and evaluated global and regional exposures to radiation, and also evaluates evidence of radiation-induced health effects in exposed groups, including survivors of the atomic bombings in Japan. The Committee also reviewed advances in the understanding of the biological mechanisms by which radiation-induced effects on health or on the environment could occur.
Also according to the report, the fifty-seventh session of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation had been twice unavoidably postponed, once owing to an unforeseen personal crisis for the Secretary of the Committee and subsequently because of worldwide flight disruptions following the April 2010 volcanic eruptions in Iceland. The Committee expressed its dissatisfaction that volume II of the scientific annexes — approved in 2006 — entitled “Non-targeted and delayed effects of exposure to ionizing radiation”, “Effects of ionizing radiation on the immune system” and “Sources-to-effects assessment for radon in homes and workplaces”, had not been published until July 2009.
The Committee regards the late publication of these and other relevant annexes as “intolerable”, because Member States and relevant organizations relied on the information contained therein, says the report. The Committee emphasized to the Secretariat that it was especially important that the new material on the Chernobyl accident be published well before the twenty-fifth anniversary of the accident. The Secretariat reported that the delays were traceable in part to inadequate staffing and to a lack of sufficient, assured and predictable funding.
The report also stated that the Committee had developed and approved for submission to the General Assembly a scientific report that summarizes low-dose radiation effects on health, including a synthesis of the Committee’s detailed findings on the mechanisms of radiation actions at low doses. The Committee reviewed substantive documents on the attributability of health effects to radiation exposure and on uncertainty in radiation risk estimation. With regard to the attributability of health effects at low doses, the Committee decided that there was a need to consider the ability to attribute scientifically risk and effects at both high and low doses, and that the ability to attribute should be clarified both for populations and for individuals.
The Committee had also reviewed assessments of levels of radiation from electrical energy production, and its methodology for estimating exposures due to discharges, and approved a strategy developed to improve data collection, analysis and dissemination. This strategy is based on the development of electronic solutions, targets specific countries, and entailed close collaboration with other networks, in particular those of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The Committee further reviewed plans for conducting work on medical radiation exposures, biological effects of selected internal emitters, enhanced exposures to natural sources of radiation due to human activities, development of a knowledge base on radiation levels and effects, and improving public information. Regarding the Committee’s proposals for its future programme of work, it decided to conduct some preparatory investigations into the merits and appropriateness of preparing substantive assessments of radiation effects and risks specifically for children, and of the epidemiology of exposures of the public to natural and artificial environmental sources at low doses and low dose rates.
In order to accelerate the conduct of its programme of work, the report states that it would be beneficial for voluntary contributions be made to the general trust fund established by the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme to receive and manage voluntary contributions to support the work of the Committee.
The report further summarizes low-dose radiation effects on health, stating that a key objective is to provide evidence-based estimates of the risks to human health from exposure to low doses and low-dose rates of radiation that may be received, throughout the world, by the general public, by workers, and by patients undergoing medical procedures. It also produces radiation risk estimates for cancer and hereditary effects, stating that recently, there was increasing evidence of low-dose radiation exposure leading to increased incidence of cataracts, and had raised concern over increased incidence of circulatory disease. These non-cancer diseases arose naturally and could be relatively common in the general population, however.
The report also says that because the diseases of interest could be relatively common and their incidence may be influenced by factors other than radiation exposure, epidemiological observations were frequently unable to reveal clear evidence of radiation-associated increased incidence at low doses. For this reason, the Committee has sought to make full use of recent advances in knowledge from experimental studies and in the understanding of the mechanistic basis for human disease.
With regard to radiation-induced cancer, the report says that cancers are due to many causes, were frequently severe in humans, and were common, accounting for about one quarter of deaths in developed countries and a growing burden of deaths in developing countries. Regarding epidemiological studies, the report finds that particular attention has been given to the soundness of study design, including consideration of a wide range of potential confounding factors, and of the statistical power of any such study to reveal excess radiation-associated cancer incidence. The Committee’s analysis also included an assessment of statistical power, the potential for systematic error and other sources of uncertainty, including those associated with the radiation doses received. In reviewing all these studies, the Committee has judged that the single most informative set of data on whole-body radiation exposure comes from studies of the survivors of the atomic bombings in Japan in 1945. The atomic-bombing exposures were predominantly high-dose-rate gamma radiation, with a small contribution from neutrons, and the Committee used these data to assess the risks of radiation associated solid cancer together with the risk of leukaemia and of lymphoma.
The report further states that the radiation exposures of the survivors of the atomic bombings in Japan were very unlike those of most of the groups of people exposed either to radiation during the course of their work, or to environmental sources of radiation. The atomic bombing survivors were exposed to external radiation from gamma rays and neutrons, generally at high doses over short periods. By contrast, many other groups that were studied were exposed over long periods to low doses; and sometimes the exposure was from internally incorporated radionuclides.
Regarding mechanistic studies, the report finds that over many years, studies of the development of cancer had accumulated evidence that, in general, the process started by the change (mutation) of one or more genes of the DNA of a single “stem-like” cell in a body organ. Subsequent cancer development and the onset of malignancy were believed to proceed in a multi-step fashion, and these steps had also been associated with mutation or other changes involving cellular genes. Highly sophisticated studies on the ways in which radiation caused damage to cellular DNA, cast new light on possible mechanisms for cancer development.
The report says that the induction and development of cancer after radiation exposure was not simply a matter of the stepwise accumulation of mutations in the DNA of the relevant cells, but rather could be attributed to the following hypotheses: that adaptation of cells and tissues to low doses of radiation might cause them to become more resistant to cancer development (adaptive response); that the effects of radiation on the immune systems, which recognize and destroy abnormal cells, could influence the likelihood of cancer development; and that radiation can produce changes that create long-lasting and transmissible effects on the stability of cellular DNA (genomic instability) and/or trigger the transfer of signals from damaged cells to their undamaged neighbours (bystander effects). These and other modulating factors, such as the induction of inflammatory reactions, could serve to increase or decrease the cancer risk due to radiation exposure.
The report also says that the Committee has reviewed the development in knowledge of inherited conditions that lead to increased susceptibility to incurring certain cancers over the normal incidence in individuals. As for heritable effects of radiation exposure, the report said unlike the studies on radiation-associated cancer, epidemiological studies had not provided clear evidence of excess heritable effects of radiation exposure in humans. The largest and most extensive study of this type was conducted using data on children of the survivors of the atomic bombings in Japan, and found that no increase in the frequency of heritable effects in that or any other human study.
As for radiation-associated non-cancer diseases, the report finds that radiation exposure of the developing embryo or foetus during pregnancy could also contribute to the appearance of non-cancer diseases in children. Evidence has accumulated that the risk of common diseases, in addition to that of cancer, could increase following irradiation, at least at moderate to high doses.
The report further notes that recent studies also suggested that an increased incidence of cataracts may be associated with low-dose radiation exposure. The induction of such abnormalities in the lens of the eye had been recognized for some years as an effect of high-dose exposures. As with circulatory diseases, the Committee would continue to monitor and review new findings in that area, along with mechanisms of potential relevance to explaining radiation-induced disease.
The report’s addendum (A/65/46/Add.1), covering the Committee’s membership, summarizes the outcome of its fifty-seventh session, held from 16-20 August, during which the Committee continued its reflection on how the current, as well as a potentially revised, membership of the Scientific Committee could best support its essential work, including by developing, with the participation of the observer countries, detailed, objective and transparent criteria and indicators to be applied equitably to present and future members alike.
Also according to the report, the Scientific Committee also considered indicators in the context of membership of all States presently members of the Committee and of the six observer countries. Twenty of the 21 current members of the Scientific Committee attended its fifty-seventh session and reaffirmed their commitment to the Committee’s work and satisfied the Committee of their fulfilment of the objective of membership.
The report says that the scientists of the six observer countries attended the fifty-seventh session of the Scientific Committee and confirmed their countries’ commitment to the Committee’s work. The geographical distribution of the current membership was accepted, with the appropriate and sufficient mix of the various scientific disciplines required for assessing levels and effects of atomic radiation. The current membership represented what the Scientific Committee considered to be an appropriate size for its efficient method of working, which depended largely on consensual decision-making among scientists.
The Scientific Committee considered that the participation of scientists of some of the six countries expressing interest in becoming members of the Committee would be beneficial to that body’s work, says the report. However, the current members of the Scientific Committee raised concerns with respect to a potentially large increase in membership, including with regard to compromised working arrangements and lessened efficiency of the Scientific Committee.
The report also says that the Scientific Committee had developed ideas for mechanisms to improve its ability to access expertise resident in countries not members of the Committee, including through the engagement of experts to assist in developing session; invitation of experts as observers, at the Scientific Committee’s behest, for specific agenda items; and bilateral arrangements between members of the Scientific Committee and partners in other countries.
Also according to the report, the Scientific Committee proposed the expansion of those mechanisms mentioned above, as a method of accommodating useful contributions from the six observer countries, especially where those contributions supplement and extend the scope of the Committee’s expertise.
Report by Chairman of Scientific Committee
Dr. Norman Gentner of Canada, Chairman of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, shared his findings regarding scientific events associated with the fifty-seventh session of United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, which had held 16 to 20 August, in Vienna. He discussed the summary of radiation effects and also noted a study of the inherited effects of radiation due to low-dose exposure. He touched on other studies, such as the dose response for solid cancer mortality based on the 1986 and 2002 studies of the Japanese survivors of the atomic bombings. One chart was on the observed expected deaths from cancers, excluding leukaemia, in the International Association for Research on Cancer studies.
He said that the assessment of levels of radiation from electrical energy production were timely because of interest in the development of new nuclear energy generation. However, it was less developed than was hoped; it was based on existing assessments, and was not itself an assessment. Radiation was only one of the problems; there were others, such as projection times. He discussed the Chernobyl accident and said there were wide differences of opinion on the number of deaths to be expected as a result of it. Thus, there was a Chernobyl Forum 2005, which had tried to find out how many deaths were due to the accident. He asked where the limits were of attributing cancer.
Another document reviewed by the Committee had concerned improving data collection, analysis and dissemination, he reported. That process was complicated by the unavailability in each country of information requested. Plus, current data was insufficiently representative of the global population. There was also concern about delayed publication of reports, and he noted that for the first 55 years, the report was issued in a timely manner, for the year. Now, however, reports were delayed, and references were coming four years late. However, every document was now available on the website www.unscear.org.
He said his long-term wish was to have “the holy grail… a signature of radiogenic cancer”. Until that was sorted out, the Scientific Committee and its representatives were ready to serve.
Discussion of Report
The representative of Australia asked if copies of the PowerPoint presentation would be made available. He also asked for clarification regarding information presented and discrepancies in data from Canada.
Dr. Gentner noted that copies of the presentation were in the back of the room, and added that, as far as the correction of the Canadian data, that would take time, as there was a quirk in the transfer into the national dose register of Canada. He could show a slide that showed no excess risk. He said that when data went to the national dose register, one saw a huge elevation in risk. He gave credit to the Scientific Committee for their report, which explained why there was some disbelief in some of its data.
The representative of Belarus noted the need to prepare the report on Chernobyl before the twenty-fifth anniversary of the accident. Regarding membership of the Committee, he said that over the past few decades, there had been a “heady” developments and demands for nuclear technology, but there had also been major accidents and thus he asked how the membership of the Committee had remained unchanged for so many years. Secondly, he asked how the number of the members of the Scientific Committee corresponded to the needs, and said that one member had not made any contribution to the Committee at all.
Dr. Gentner responded, and said that there had been growth in demand for nuclear power, but that did not imply an increase in the capability to assess its health effects. The Scientific Committee could only look at over time to see the health effects, and that was why there was a lag in terms of data on Chernobyl. Regarding, the unchanged membership, the Committee had started with the 15 members, then the United Nations added five, and then China was added. There was always a concern over Committee efficiency, and he suggested one way to achieve that might be by replacing members with new ones. He noted criteria for membership, such as the ability to attend meetings regularly and possession of scientific expertise.
EVY DEMAN (Belgium), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the work and assessments undertaken by the Scientific Committee in assessing the effects of radiation on human health and the environment were highly important and played an important role in improving international scientific understanding of levels of exposure to ionizing radiation and its health and environmental effects. In preparation for its new research cycle, the Committee had approved a strategy towards streamlining the collection, analysis and dissemination of data, which was provided by United Nations Member States and international organizations. Likewise, there was an increased interest for cooperation from relevant international organizations. The European Union reaffirmed the continued willingness of its Member States to provide all relevant new information to the Committee for its examination, and encouraged maintaining close cooperation with the IAEA.
She said that the European Union took note of the addendum to the report, which was dedicated to the question of membership, and looked forward to the participation of Belarus, Finland, Pakistan, the Republic of Korea, Spain and Ukraine as observers in the Scientific Committee’s fifty-eighth session. The Union also looked forward to the report of the Secretary-General on the objective criteria and indicators to be applied to determine membership. Her delegation hoped that the report would also contribute to a comprehensive discussion to addressing how the scientific team could be assisted to achieve greater efficiency, in line with the increased importance of the Committee’s activities and its budgetary constrains.
CAMILO LICKS ROSTAND PRATES ( Brazil) stressed the validity of the work of the Scientific Committee, and took note with interest the effect of low doses of radiation on health. The administrative issues of the committee were of concern, and she noted the practical difficulties and delays associated with the fifty-seventh meeting, including in publications. He looked forward to preparation of high-quality documents. He reiterated the importance of stable, regular support to the Scientific Committee. The voluntary contributions were important, however, extra budgets did not solve the problem. The importance of the Committee was highlighted by the desire to add more members, and thus, he called for a speedy resolution to budget issues. The twenty-fifth anniversary of Chernobyl reminded that precaution combined with knowledge was for the benefit of humanity.
DAVID WINDSOR ( Australia) said that his delegation strongly supported the work of the Scientific Committee, whose mandate was to collect and evaluate information from all sources on the levels and effects of ionizing radiation. He said that the Scientific Committee’s work was unbiased, scientific, authoritative, non-political, and had contributed significantly to a better understanding of the effects of ionizing radiations on humans and other species, how to quantify radiation exposures, and how to assess the impacts from various exposure pathways. Thanks to that Committee’s work, the international community now knew more about the effects of ionizing radiation than it did about many other pollutants.
He also said that the Scientific Committee only operated effectively due to the large in-kind contribution from Member States, which provided collectively more than 100 scientific experts to participate in the annual meetings at no cost to the wider United Nations membership. When it came to considering the Committee’s membership, that should be based on sustainable knowledge on a broad range of issues in the field of radiation levels and effects. Australia was honoured to have been elected to Committee Vice-Chair, and would do its utmost to support and facilitate the evaluation and publication of advice on the topic in an expedient manner and would continue the high scientific standards.
The Committee had formed in the 1950s, when atmospheric nuclear tests were still being conducted and the dangers from those were becoming increasingly apparent, he said. The first two substantive reports of the Committee, in 1958 and 1962, had presented comprehensive evaluations on the state of knowledge about the levels of ionizing radiation to which human beings were exposed and of the possible effects of such exposure. Those reports had laid the scientific ground on which the Partial Test Ban Treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapon testing in the atmosphere had been negotiated and signed in 1963. It was tragic, therefore, if not fitting, that the resolution this year contained recognition of the ongoing effects that the Marshall Islands were experiencing. He strongly welcomed the call this year for the Secretary-General to report to the General Assembly, within existing resources, during its sixty-sixth session, on the effects of atomic radiation in the Marshall Islands, taking into account analysis by recognized experts, including the Scientific Committee, and previously published studies on the topic.
REBECA HERNANDEZ TOLEDANO ( Cuba) said the number of nuclear weapons in the world was unjustifiable and, thus, she reiterated support for their abolition and the prohibition of the use of nuclear energy for warlike purposes. Noting the work of the Scientific Committee, she said it was key to strengthen its operation and links to other organizations, such as the IAEA and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Cuba provided support to Ukraine to mitigate the effects of Chernobyl, specifically for their programme of rehabilitation, especially of children. Every year, there were 500 to 800 patients, and in addition to the programme’s humanitarian aspect, primary data was collected, especially on the disaster’s impact on infants in the area. The programme’s evaluation of consequences had been used by the IAEA and other bodies. She added that the request of six Member States to become Committee should be resolved now.
ZAHEER AYUB BAIG ( Pakistan) said that the work of the Scientific Committee was only going to increase, as was the application of radiation in daily life. Therefore, it was imperative to upgrade and more widely disseminate the knowledge base regarding ionizing radiation and its effects on human beings and the environment. The vast expertise on the topic needed to be tapped, in order to further enrich the work of the Scientific Committee. For that, expansion of the membership of the Committee would be necessary.
He said that when the Scientific Committee was established in 1955, its 15 members comprised nearly 20 per cent of the entire United Nations membership. When the Committee expanded its membership by five members in 1973, total United Nations membership stood at 135 countries. Since then, membership had increased by another 57 countries, and the “contradictions” of those figures “magnified”. He also pointed to imbalances in equitable geographic distribution of the membership, and recalled that General Assembly resolution 3154 (1973), enabling the only sizable expansion, had specifically mentioned equitable geographic distribution as a basis of expansion. General Assembly resolution 61/109 (2006) had specified a timeline for Member States to express their intent to join the Committee, and Pakistan was among those that had responded. He hoped that all contentious issues regarding the work of the Scientific Committee would be cleared up this year. His delegation was committed to working with other Member States in finalizing a mutually acceptable consensus resolution.
DENIS ZDOROV (Belarus) noted that his country had been an observer during the fifty-sixth and fifty-seventh sessions of the Scientific Committee, and he hoped it had proved itself so that that would have served as a transitional period leading to its Committee membership. Belarus was directly affected by Chernobyl and had conducted research, and thus, it wished to make a significant contribution to the Committee. The reliability of the scientific data used by the committee used should be at the highest level, and the Committee should have predictable and adequate means to accomplish its mandate.
MEHBOOB BEG ( India) noted that his country was a member of the Scientific Committee and that the issue of membership was under consideration. He recalled that the Committee, in 2008, had been instructed to develop detailed, objective and transparent new criteria and indicators to be applied to all members, and that the 2010 session of the Committee had been postponed from April to August, owing to the volcanic disruption of air traffic in Europe. The day before that meeting had taken place, his country had been asked to make a presentation based on the new criteria, relative to the format of its earlier reports. The reason given was that, although India had proven its scientific capabilities, it had not provided the requested scientific data.
He said that the Committee’s formats for the reports from members were not acceptable. The expectation for members, including responding to surveys, creating a national framework for data on radiation exposure, and other relevant activities was understandable. However, not all members could “come on board at the same time or to the same level”. Further, security concerns could constrain a State to withhold information. Those factors should be taken into account. A simpler format of data collection and a non-intrusive approach should thus be adopted.
Regarding new membership, he said that the Committee had considered several suggestions with regard to expanding or diversifying membership, such as continuing the present observer status of the six Member States desiring membership; mixed delegations on a regional understanding; some members not participating in the sessions regularly; and voluntarily opting out of membership by some States. In that regard, he stressed that India would not agree to share its membership with another nation on a regional basis.
Finally, he noted that areas of interest were re-emerging, such as radiation-induced cataracts, cancer risk due to low-dose radiation and high natural-background radiation. Interestingly, some studies suggested a positive risk for cancer following low-dose radiation exposures, but studies in Kerala on high-background natural radiation had not linked congenital deformities in newborns with radiation exposure. The Committee’s work programme on those aspects of the issue was welcome. Also satisfying was the focus on specific issues enabling quick publication of documents, in addition to the analysis of global data on the sources and effects of radiation exposure.
CATERINA VENTURA (Canada), noting her country’s chairmanship of the 2010 sessions of the Scientific Committee, said that this year’s resolution on atomic radiation would support that Committee by continuing to endorse its longstanding mandate and by encouraging it to pursue its important work. That work was continuing, meanwhile, on six of the high-priority topics endorsed by the General Assembly last year, including the assessment of radiation levels from energy production and its effects on human health and the environment; the uncertainty in risk estimation; the attribution of health effects due to exposure; the updating of methodology for estimating exposures due to discharges from nuclear installations; and the improvement of data collection, analysis and dissemination.
She said that the Scientific Committee’s activities had renewed importance, given the current renaissance of nuclear energy, allowing non-governmental organizations, IAEA, Member States, and users of nuclear energy to evaluate risk and establish appropriate safety and protection standards. Turning to the enlargement of the Committee, she called for criteria to be established to evaluate the ability of Member States to contribute. She supported the participation of the six candidate countries at the next session as observers, and looked forward to their positive contributions. She also welcomed the establishment of a new P-4 post for the Committee’s secretariat. Confident that this year’s resolution would build on last year’s in strengthening the Committee in all such areas, she called on Member States to adopt it by consensus.
JUAN SILK (Marshall Islands) said that since his delegation had long spoken to the United Nations regarding the effects of atomic radiation, it should by now be well-known that during its status as a United Nations Trust Territory, the Marshall Islands had experienced 67 large-scale atmospheric nuclear tests, between 1946 and 1958. Those tests had produced a complex legacy of effects — leaving behind local communities, which were still in exile, serious health issues passed down through generations, and unmet but adjudicated compensation claims. This year, Bikini Atoll had been listed as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site, for the role that atomic weapons tests there had played in shaping global culture.
He said that although the Marshallese had petitioned the United Nations to halt further testing in 1954, the Organization had responded with two resolutions in 1954 and 1956, which, while explicitly authorized further testing, did provide a range of assurances to the Marshallese people. However, the United Nations archive and records of those critical and unprecedented decisions were now yellowing with age, and crumbled at the touch of a finger. Meanwhile, generations had passed and the Marshall Islands were still wrestling to understand and address the effects of the testing. No people should ever bear such a burden, he said.
The effects of atomic radiation were perhaps far more complex than originally anticipated when the Scientific Committee was founded, he said. Despite some actions taken to date, there were still very significant outstanding issues that needed appropriate redress. He called on the United States to fully consider the islands’ “Changed Circumstances” petition, and emphasized the need for a more focused and specific response on the multilateral aspects of the issue — from the international community, including the United Nations system and international organizations — who also bore fiduciary responsibility. His delegation was seeking to do more than just tell its nation’s story; it wished to advance understanding of the issue within the United Nations. He strongly welcomed the consensus of Member States on this year’s resolution, calling for a report by the United Nations Secretary-General regarding the effects of atomic radiation in the Marshall Islands, as it marked the most significant treatment of the issue at the United Nations in more than 50 years.
YEVHENII TSYMBALIUK ( Ukraine) commended the Scientific Committee for its valuable contributions and for fulfilling its mandate with scientific authority and independence of judgment. It was clear that, without its work, the necessary international harmonization on safety matters related to atomic radiation could not have been achieved. There was a continued need for its work, particularly in light of the growing challenges to be coped with this century. For those reasons, the Scientific Committee should make its work better known to the public.
Expressing satisfaction that input provided by his country had been reflected in the three annexes published by the Committee last year, he noted that the Committee had been involved in the evaluation of health effects of the Chernobyl accident since the outset and through several generations, and he pledged Ukraine’s continued readiness for active cooperation. He welcomed the Committee’s involvement in the calculation of collective doses of radiation, which had started during the preparatory phase of the construction of the new confinement of the Chernobyl reactor.
He said that, while his delegation welcomed the invitation to participate in the Scientific Committee as an observer, the limitations associated with that status restricted its ability to contribute substantially to the discussions, not to mention the decision-making process. From the outset, that Committee had been involved in the evaluation of radiation exposure and health effects from the Chernobyl accident. Ukraine remained ready to actively cooperate with the Committee and all concerned parties, to counter and minimize the ongoing consequences of history’s worst nuclear accident through a common scientific understanding of its causes, and hoped the General Assembly would approve Ukraine’s full membership. Pending that decision, Ukraine would continue its participation as before. He called for strengthened financial and human resources for the Committee’s work.
IHAB HAMED ( Syria) reasserted the need for Committee to continue discharging its mission, and congratulated it on the way in which it was performing its work. Syria was worried about the problems facing developing countries with regard to ionizing radiation, and had for a long time called for ridding the world of nuclear arsenals, in order to limit the risks of nuclear radiation. Syria had been one of the first countries calling for the Middle East to be a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, because any such weapons in the region threatened international peace and security, and international disarmament agreements. That fact that Israel was the only nuclear-weapon-possessing State in the region, without any controls, and which refused to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, jeopardized international peace and security in the region, and could lead to an environmental disaster or an arms race. That also undermined the credibility of collective international action to put an end to nuclear proliferation.
He said that the Chernobyl accident could have happened in any reactor in the world, and he drew attention to the lack of safeguards over Israeli facilities. The international community must exert pressure on Israel to submit its nuclear installation to the IAEA inspection regime. Syria had constantly drawn the attention of the international community to the major danger of ionizing radiation leaking from the subsoil of developing countries or from the high seas, and the threat posed to human health and the environment. Israel was burying radioactive waste in the Golan Heights, with no international supervision, and flaunting international agreements in that field. He also drew attention to the need to intensify international cooperation and to protect humanity from that mortal danger.
DANIEL SIMANJUNTAK ( Indonesia) thanked the Canadian delegation for efforts to ensure that the draft resolution on the Scientific Committee for this session would be adopted by consensus. Indonesia had joined the Committee in 1973 upon invitation by the General Assembly. Indonesia had never wavered in its commitment to the Committee or sought to withdraw its membership, and he underlined the Indonesian commitment to increase its participation in the Committee.
Noting that the Committee was a scientific body with the core scientific mandate to assess and report levels and effects of exposure to ionizing radiation, he said that for it to be scientifically credible, it had to strengthen its work within the limit of its mandate. Attempts to go beyond the mandate by assessing “who should be in” and “who should be out” could be interpreted by Indonesia, and would be responded to as such, as an attempt to politicize its work. With regard to future membership, Indonesia was ready to participate in a constructive and proper consultation with other Committee members in the framework of the current and future sessions of the General Assembly, while continuing its strong commitment to the Committee’s work.
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