|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-seventh General Assembly
22nd Meeting (AM)
Fourth Committee Approves Resolution Endorsing Scientific Committee’s Intention
to Conclude Assessment of Radiation Exposure from Fukushima Accident
Preliminary Findings Indicate No Health Effects, Says Chair; Japan
Commends Committee’s Critical Role, Ukraine Willing to Share Chernobyl Lessons
The work of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation affected decisions in several domains, including energy, waste management, radiation medicine, and the protection of the public, workers and the environment, the Fourth Committee heard today as it approved a draft resolution on atomic radiation, concluding its consideration of that subject.
By the terms of that text, the General Assembly, concerned about the potentially harmful effects on “present and future” generations resulting from the radiation levels to which mankind and the environment are exposed, would request the Scientific Committee to continue its work and to increase knowledge of the levels, effects and risks of ionizing radiation.
The Assembly would also endorse the Committee’s intention to complete, at its next session, an assessment of the levels of exposure and radiation risks attributable to the accident following the great east-Japan earthquake and tsunami and a report on the effects of radiation exposure on children.
Prior to the text’s approval, Wolfgang Weiss, Scientific Committee Chair, speaking via video link from Vienna, said that the Committee — comprised of the world’s leading experts in various aspects of radiation biology, physics, epidemiology and related scientific disciplines — was mandated to assess the levels, effects and risks of ionizing radiation, identify emerging issues, evaluate the levels and effects of such radiation, and improve knowledge in the field for the Assembly, the scientific community, and the public.
Mr. Weiss noted that the results of the Committee’s studies underpinned global protection efforts and fed into the standards of various organizations including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the World Health Organization (WHO), International Labour Organization (ILO), and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The Committee’s four strategic goals were to streamline its publication process, encourage voluntary contributions to its Trust Fund, foster regular data collection, and enhance public information.
Regarding the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in 2011, in Japan, Mr. Weiss, joined by the Scientific Committee’s Secretary Malcolm Crick, said that the Committee had developed a plan to assess the levels, effects and risks of exposure from the accident, and according to preliminary findings, no radiation health effects had been observed among the public or workers.
He added that six workers had died in the first year following the accident, but their deaths were not due to radiation. Thyroid monitoring of 1,080 children had been conducted, and the maximum dose reported was “35 mSv”, which, he said, was reassuring, because that was significantly lower than what had been observed after the Chernobyl incident.
“That good news must be underlined,” asserted the representative of Argentina, following the briefing. It was highly satisfactory that no effects attributable to radiation exposure had been felt either in the health of workers or on the health of children or other people.
The representative of Ukraine welcomed the Scientific Committee’s firm resolve to make a comprehensive assessment of the levels of exposure and radiation risks attributable to the Fukushima accident. The accident at Chernobyl in 1986 had triggered, not only the revision of international nuclear safety standards, but also creation of numerous international instruments to ensure the highest level of nuclear waste and radiation safety worldwide, he pointed out. Having unparalleled experience in dealing with the effects of radiation, Ukraine stood ready to contribute to the Committee’s work.
Japan’s delegate said that the Scientific Committee’s critical role was all the more important in the light of last year’s tragic nuclear accident in his country caused by the massive earthquake and tsunami. The Committee’s intention to complete an assessment of the levels of exposure and radiation risks attributable to that event was welcome, and Japan was grateful for its work, including the dispatch of experts to the country in August to conduct an assessment.
Also speaking were the representatives of China, Syria, Iraq, Belarus, Russian Federation, Philippines and India.
A representative of the European Union delegation also spoke.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 15 November to conclude its work with consideration of all remaining draft texts before it.
The Committee had before it a report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (document A/67/46), which discusses substantive documents on the attribution of health effects to different levels of exposure to ionizing radiation, and on uncertainties in risk estimates for cancer due to exposure to ionizing radiation.
Noting that the Scientific Committee held its fifty-ninth session in Vienna from 21 to 25 May, the report notes its decision to carry out, once sufficient information is available, an assessment of the levels of exposure and radiation risks attributable to the nuclear power plant accident following the great east-Japan earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. The Committee was currently reviewing information that had been reported to it, including that to date, there have been no health effects observed among workers, the people with the highest radiation exposure. The Committee also reviewed documents on radiation exposure from electricity generation, as well as a text concerning an extensive review of the effects of radiation exposure during childhood.
According to the report, the Committee has addressed the attribution of health effects to different levels of exposure to ionizing radiation, and has reached various conclusions, including that an observed health effect in an individual could be unequivocally attributed to radiation exposure if the individual experiences tissue reactions (often referred to as “deterministic” effects), and differential pathological diagnoses were achievable that eliminated possible alternative causes. Such deterministic effects are experienced as a result of high acute absorbed doses (such as about one “gray” or more), such as might arise following exposures in accidents or in radiotherapy.
The Committee also has before it a draft resolution on Effects of Atomic Radiation (document A/C.4/67/L.8). By its terms, the General Assembly, concerned about the potentially harmful effects on “present and future” generations resulting from the radiation levels to which mankind and the environment are exposed, would request the Scientific Committee to continue its work and to increase knowledge of the levels, effects and risks of ionizing radiation from all sources, and to report thereon to the Assembly at its sixty-eighth session.
The Assembly would welcome with appreciation the scientific report on attributing health effects to radiation exposure and inferring risks requested by the General Assembly and the report on uncertainties in risk estimates for cancer due to exposure to ionizing radiation. That text would also request the Scientific Committee to continue its work, including its important activities to increase knowledge of the levels, effects and risks of ionizing radiation from all sources, and to report thereon to the General Assembly at its sixty-eighth session.
A further term of the text would have the Assembly endorse that Committee’s plans to conduct a review on its behalf, in particular, its intention to complete at its next session an assessment of the levels of exposure and radiation risks attributable to the accident following the great east-Japan earthquake and tsunami and a report on the effects of radiation exposure on children.
In related provisions, the Assembly would re-emphasize the need for the Scientific Committee to hold regular sessions on an annual basis; welcome the readiness of Member States to provide that Committee with relevant information and welcome its strategy to improve data collection; and urge the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to strengthen funding for the Committee and encourage voluntary contributions by Member States.
Wolfgang Weiss, Chair of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, and Malcolm Crick, its Secretary, speaking by video link from Vienna and accompanied by a power-point presentation, recalled the Committee’s mandate, namely, to assess the levels, effects and risks of ionizing radiation, to identify emerging issues, to evaluate the levels and effects of such radiation, and to improve knowledge in the field for the General Assembly, the scientific community, and the public.
Mr. Weiss explained that the sources of radiation exposure included both natural (cosmic and terrestrial) and artificial (medicine, nuclear power, industry, military). The effects could be divided into four categories. Among them were clinical effects, such as acute radiation syndrome and local injuries; cancer; hereditary effects; and others, such as cataracts and cardiovascular illnesses. The Committee published the results of its studies in scientific documents, which underpinned global protection efforts and fed into the standards of various organizations including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the World Health Organization (WHO), International Labour Organization (ILO), and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The Committee’s four strategic goals were to streamline its publication process, encourage voluntary contributions to its Trust Fund, foster regular data collection, and enhance public information.
Presenting the Scientific Committee’s findings for this year, Mr. Weiss said that although certain “tissue reactions” could be attributed to radiation exposure, cancer could not unequivocally be attributed to radiation, as other causes were often possible and there was no biomarker for radiation. Increased rates of cancer in a given population could only be attributed to radiation exposure if the increase was higher than the statistical uncertainty involved. Concerning “natural background levels” of radiation, increased rates of cancer or other effects could not be attributed reliably because of the high uncertainties associated with low doses. However, radiation was much better understood than any other carcinogen, and knowledge allowed uncertainty to be quantified.
Nevertheless, he said, it was important for the protection regime to consider uncertainties in dose estimation. The Committee had found that risk estimates were uncertain by a factor of three, and that above certain doses — “1,000 mSv” — the likelihood of a clinically observable effect, such as burns, radiation sickness, or even death, increased dramatically. Below that level, and starting from “100 mSv”, with an increasing dose, there was an increasing risk of cancer, but there were statistical limits in calculating that risk and the population in question had to be big enough to do so. Effects of doses below “100 mSv” were biologically plausible, too.
Turning to the ongoing study of the Fukushima accident, he said that the Scientific Committee had developed in May 2011 a plan to assess the levels, effects and risks of exposure on the population concerned. In May 2012, it had reported its preliminary findings, and the result of that discussion was included in the report that was now before the Fourth Committee. In May 2013, a final report would be published. He also anticipated follow-up reports in later years, including refined dose assessments and epidemiological studies. Based on preliminary information, no radiation health effects had been observed among the public or workers. Six workers had received doses above “250 mSv”, and 170 had received doses above “100 mSv”. Six workers had died in the first year following the accident, but their deaths were not due to radiation. Thyroid monitoring of 1,080 children had been conducted, and the maximum dose reported was “35 mSv”, which was reassuring, because it was significantly lower than what had been observed after the Chernobyl incident. Wildlife had also been studied, and the highest exposures were in the marine environment.
Looking ahead, he said that the Committee, at its upcoming sixtieth session in 2013, would finalize two reports, one on radiation levels and effects of Fukushima, and the other on radiation risks and effects on children. In 2014, it would take up four topics: biological effects of selected internal emitters; revised methodology for assessing discharges; radiation exposure from electricity generation; and epidemiology of low dose rate radiation risks. In 2015, it would address radiation exposures in medicine.
Concluding, he said that the Scientific Committee’s work was fundamental to the international radiation safety regime and affected decisions in various domains, including energy, waste management, radiation medicine, and the protection of the public, workers and the environment. It was more efficient to develop global consensus on the topic through the knowledge sharing rather than through national or regional initiatives. He noted that the Scientific Committee was highly respected by governments, other international organizations and the scientific community, adding that it was independent and committed to scientific objectivity and quality.
In the interactive dialogue that followed, the representative of Chinastated that while the report had referred to the effects of radiation on children, it had not discussed the effects on women. If women were affected by radiation, they might be more vulnerable in terms of resistance.
Responding, Mr. Weiss stated that second to the question of risks to children were the risks to women, especially pregnant women, which was of major concern. That was true, not only after Fukushima, but also in other situations of high exposure. Currently, there was better understanding of the situation of women than that of children, so the first priority was to focus on the latter group, which was rather complex. However, since that was a “burning issue” requiring rapid completion, the Committee had focused on that. The issue of women could be taken up in a future programme of work.
CARL HALLERGARD, speaking on behalf of the European Union, expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the Scientific Committee’s fifty-ninth session, stressing the value of its work. Medical exposure to atomic radiation, which was by far the population’s largest source of exposure, deserved priority in protection efforts. He welcomed the information exchange that had taken place regarding the nuclear accident following the great east-Japan earthquake and tsunami, and noted with satisfaction the availability of the Committee’s extensive experience for assessing exposure following accidental releases of radio-nuclides. Several European Union experts in radiation protection were helping the Scientific Committee with knowledge acquired through their research.
Noting that the question of the Scientific Committee’s had been pending for several years, he said that the European Union and its member States welcomed the 2011 decision to admit Belarus, Finland, Pakistan, the Republic of Korea, Spain and Ukraine as members. The Committee’s present programme of work was in line with the Union’s priorities, and he looked forward to receiving the report on radiation exposure from electricity generation. He also welcomed the Committee’s plan to pursue work on radiation risks and effects on children, pledging the Union’s contribution of key information to that international effort. Also welcomed was the Committee’s work to evaluate epidemiological studies related to environmental sources of radiation at low dose rates and to review developments on relevant mechanisms. That effort was in line with the Multidisciplinary European Low Dose Initiative, launched in 2010 with the European Union’s support.
ANDRIY TSYMBALIUK ( Ukraine) said that the Chernobyl accident in 1986 had triggered, not only the revision of international nuclear safety standards, but also the creation of numerous international instruments to ensure the highest level of nuclear waste and radiation safety worldwide. In the light of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, Ukraine welcomed the Scientific Committee’s firm resolve to fully assess the levels of exposure and radiation risks. Having unparalleled experience in dealing with the effects of radiation, Ukraine stood ready to contribute to that work.
He stressed the importance for the Committee to continue to review advances in the biological mechanisms by which radiation-induced effects on human health or on non-human biota could occur. Those assessments provided the scientific foundation for formulating national and international standards for the protection of the general public and workers against ionizing radiation. Ukraine encouraged specialized international organizations and other relevant institutions to collaborate with the Committee’s secretariat and to coordinate arrangements for the periodic data collection and exchange on radiation exposures for the general public, workers, and, in particular, medical patients. The Committee’s work would be a “shortfall exercise” and just an academic study without wide knowledge-sharing with the general public.
IHAB HAMED ( Syria) said more effort should be made to raise awareness among the public and the scientific community on the effects of nuclear radiation. Recalling the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents, he called attention to the fact that such events could occur with any reactor in the world. Consequently, he was gravely concerned by the absence of international supervision on some reactors and the lack of implementation of the comprehensive IAEA safety systems. For example, Israel’s nuclear reactor constituted a serious threat to the region and to the world. It was very old, according to international criteria and should have been closed years ago to avoid potentially catastrophic emissions of poisonous gases. Those were not his words, but a warning by an Israeli scientist.
Continuing, he said that some observers had emphasized that the Israeli reactor’s cooling towers had not been replaced for 20 years. That was a “time bomb” threatening the entire Middle East, and States should exert all possible pressure on Israel to subject all of its nuclear facilities to IAEA supervision in accordance with Security Council resolution 487 of 1981. The dumping of nuclear waste in the territories of some nations and in the high seas was another very serious issue. Israel had dumped nuclear waste in the occupied Syrian Golan, and he was concerned that the world was silent on that subject. In closing, he drew attention to the importance of international cooperation in order to save humanity from the catastrophic dangers that were threatening it.
KHABAT AL-BARWARI ( Iraq) stated that her country had suffered greatly from the radiation of pollutants as a result of the previous armament programmes. Owing to increased awareness of the health problems associated with such radiation, Iraq’s Constitution emphasized the country’s commitment to nuclear safety. Further, Iraq continued its cooperation with international organizations to limit the results of environmental pollution.
Iraq was also concerned, she added, that the responsibility of protecting the earth and skies from pollution was the responsibility of each and every country, including those advanced countries using nuclear power. Commending the United Nations for following the matter closely, she called on the international community and developed nations to ensure the removal of nuclear pollutants.
XIE XIAOWU ( China) said that while nuclear energy was indispensable to many countries as a clean efficient and stable energy source, an unexpected nuclear incident would bring about disastrous political, economic and psychological impacts for the whole planet. He called on the international community to establish nuclear science-based concepts of safety and to enhance the safety and reliability of nuclear energy. Pointing out that the harm caused by radiation often went unnoticed, he called attention to the overuse of radiation in medical examinations and the sharp increase in mobile radiation sources used for medical treatment, industrial and agricultural production. Yet, he said, regulating radiation and capacity-building to prevent and treat radiation-related injuries was inadequate, and he urged that basic principles of protection against radiation be put in place to reduce potential harm.
For the United Nations to play a bigger role in ensuring the safety of atomic radiation, he made several recommendations, among them, the need to adhere to the principle of safety in the planning, construction, operation and decommissioning of nuclear power plants and in all processes involved with mobile sources of radiation. Also, safety standards should be raised and based on scientific findings for both improving existing nuclear generators and constructing new nuclear power projects. Additionally, in the realm of emergency planning, there should be a norm for national and regional contingency plans covering nuclear injuries and incidents. The working mechanism of the Scientific Committee should be improved to enhance efficiency, increase regional representation and satisfy the desire among Member States to participate. Lastly, the psychological effects of atomic radiation, particularly those major incidents like Fukushima, should be studied. He noted that, in the aftermath of Fukushima, China had reinforced nuclear safety and emergency preparedness.
GERARDO DIAZ BARTOLOME ( Argentina) stated that the report of the Scientific Committee was of vital importance for understanding the epistemology of the effects and risks of low-dose radiation, an issue that had caused much controversy so far. The report also contained the preliminary results of the study on the nuclear accident caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011. Argentina was highly satisfied at the Committee’s finding that, to date, no effects attributable to radiation exposure from that event had been felt either in the health of workers or of children and others. That good news must be underlined.
Concerning financial support of the Committee, he said that the extra-budgetary contributions made by the Executive Director of United Nations Environment Programme did not solve the problem of long-term financing and could be seen as compromising the Committee’s integrity and independence. For those reasons, Argentina, which had made substantive contributions to the Committee’s work, urged the Programme to strengthen its funding.
NAOKI TAKAHASHI ( Japan) said that the Scientific Committee served the vital function of providing authoritative scientific review of the sources and effects of ionizing radiation. Its work provided the world with scientific data for evaluating radiation risk and establishing radiation protection and safety standards. As a country that had long been committed to the safety of nuclear technology, Japan had benefited from that, and in light of the tragic nuclear accident caused by the massive earthquake and tsunami that had occurred in his country last year, it recognized, all the more, the Committee’s critical role.
He welcomed the Scientific Committee’s intention to complete an assessment of the levels of exposure and radiation risks attributable to the nuclear accident following the great east-Japan earthquake and tsunami at the next session. His country had appreciated the dispatch of its experts to Japan in August to conduct the assessment. The importance of ensuring the safety and security of human beings and the environment in the use of radiation and atomic energy as well as of promoting public health in the use of radiation for medical for medical purposes could not be overstated. Japan would hold a Fukushima Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety from 15 to 17 December, in co-sponsorship with the IAEA, which it hoped would strengthen nuclear safety worldwide and allow participants to discuss measures to protect people and the environment from ionizing radiation.
DENIS ZDOROV ( Belarus) stated that the successful participation of Belarusian experts in the Committee’s efforts to understand the effects of the Fukushima accident was an opportunity for his country to share its first-hand knowledge from the experience of the Chernobyl accident. It was also an opportunity for Belarus to apply foreign experience to the rehabilitation of regions contaminated by the Chernobyl accident, which was a priority for his country. The Committee had made remarkable progress in understanding the radiological effects of that accident on human health and environment, he added.
Belarus was also satisfied with the decision of the General Assembly last year to include his country as a fully-fledged member of the Scientific Committee, which was recognition of the country’s contributions. The Assembly’s resolution also increased the focus of Committee in addressing scientific tasks and attracted additional financial resources, as well as expanded the Committee’s ability to implement current and future projects. Belarus, as one of the co-sponsors of today’s draft resolution, intended to remain actively involved in the Committee.
ALBERT SITNIKOV ( Russian Federation) placed great importance on the work of the Scientific Committee and said his country had been actively involved in the Committee since its establishment in 1955. The Committee’s reports were very much in demand. Highlighting the role of his fellow members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, he particularly commended Belarus and Ukraine, which had gained enormous practical experience through their efforts to overcome the effects of the Chernobyl incident. The relevance and importance of the Scientific Committee’s work was also particularly clear in light of the Fukushima incident, and he called for increased emphasis on analyzing the radiological consequences in nuclear emergencies.
He said his delegation attached great importance to guaranteeing the highest levels of nuclear security. The Fukushima accident showed the need to strengthen the framework in that regard, and the Russian Federation had made a proposal to address existing gaps, which included, among other issues, the importance of timely identification of nuclear accidents. It had also made proposals to improve the IAEA’s international standards.
EDUARDO JOSE DE VEGA ( Philippines) said atomic radiation was a reality. Benefits could be derived from it, particularly in the fields of medicine and power generation, but there were also potential dangers. Thus, that power was a two-edged sword, so work should continue to ensure that atomic radiation was harnessed in the best interest of all. The benefits and risks should be defined, in order to allow an informed judgement on its use and minimize any dangers. He commended the Committee’s decision to carry out an assessment of exposure levels and radiation risks attributable to Fukushima accident, and underscored the importance of timely information for the United Nations agencies involved.
His delegation awaited the results of the assessments on thyroid monitoring of children and on radionuclide concentration on foodstuffs. Given that only a few studies had been published on the exposure to non-human biota arising from the releases of radionuclides, and given their contrasting results, he called for additional authoritative studies on the matter. Touching on other issues of concern to his delegation, he called for minimum standards in the context of occupational exposure to radiation, and, as concerned nuclear safety and security, for States parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to implement the 2010 Action Plan. He also called for capacity building in nuclear detection, nuclear forensics and response and mitigation at the national and regional levels. The global framework for emergency preparedness and response should be reviewed.
MANJEEV SINGH PURI ( India) said that the last decade had witnessed a revival of global interest in nuclear energy, which India considered to be an essential energy source. The “most unfortunate” accident at the Fukushima-Daiichi reactor had once again raised concerns about nuclear safety, which must be addressed to restore public confidence that nuclear energy would be pursued conforming to the highest international standards. It was, therefore, essential to critically analyze the events of Fukushima and provide data on releases of radioactive elements and exposure to workers and the general public, using the time-honored scientific methodology of the Scientific Committee to allay public fears.
At the same time, he said, that disaster had diverted the Committee’s attention from its work plan and strained its resources. Nevertheless, it should complete its planned assessments. Particularly awaited were findings concerning the “attributability” of health effects to radiation, especially at low doses, and uncertainties in risk estimation. The Committee’s report had made clear that only tissue injury-like deterministic effects could be attributed to acute radiation exposure at high doses. It was imperative that the Committee address the question of mechanism of radiation action at low doses and dose rates, and periodically review scientific developments and assess their impact. Making such reports available to the public would do much to serve the scientific community. The Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents had raised the issue of radiation effects in children. The world was also witnessing an increase in radiation exposure to children from medical procedures. Thus, he was pleased that the Committee would be considering that topic as part of its programme of work.
Introducing the draft resolution on effects of atomic radiation (document A/C.4/67/L.8), the representative of Germany said that the text dealt with the important work of the Scientific Committee, which could not be underestimated. Thanking Dr. Weiss and all members of the Committee, he added that there was broad agreement on the need for a high-quality scientific body in the United Nations dealing with the subject of radiation, disseminating information to Member States as well as reacting to new circumstances.
More could be done by the Committee to respond to requests by Member States on a number of issues, which would require additional resources, he said, noting that the draft encouraged Member State support for the Committee’s work.
The Committee then approved by consensus draft resolution L.8.
* *** *