Fourth Committee Takes Up Effects of Atomic Radiation, Approves Draft Resolution Urging Proper Funding for Scientific Body

GA/SPD/566
24 October 2014
Sixty-ninth session, 14th Meeting (PM)

Fourth Committee Takes Up Effects of Atomic Radiation, Approves Draft Resolution Urging Proper Funding for Scientific Body

Balancing various scientific capabilities of States with their common desire to contribute to assessing levels and effects of exposure to radiation underpinned an interactive session today in the Fourth Committee, prior to its approval of a draft resolution on the topic.

Carl-Magnus Larsson, Chair of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), speaking via video link from Sydney, Australia, presented that body’s report.  He said Member States used the Committee’s findings on radiation risk in diverse ways.  The Committee was respected by Governments, international organizations, and the scientific community, he said, adding that the Fukushima-Daiichi assessment in Japan was both an opportunity and a challenge.

Providing details on the Committee’s report, its Secretary, Malcom Crick, said the body intended to set up a long-term strategic direction for its work as a way to inform on discussions about expanding membership.  He gave an overview on issues such as extra travel costs, the need for a larger conference room, lengthier discussions and the need for more explicit procedures.

In the interactive dialogue that followed, the representative of Iran said that financial considerations laid out in the report were not a good reason to limit membership.  Other solutions such as the rotational rule could solve the issue and give everyone a chance to contribute.

The representative of Lesotho wondered what Member States should do to enhance the efficiency of the Committee, if increasing membership was not the answer.  It was important to acknowledge the right of developing countries to participate in the work of the Committee, said the representative of Cuba, seeking creative solutions so that they could benefit from its work.

Responding, Mr. Crick hailed the report as a milestone and said that, ultimately, Member States would develop procedures on how best to expand the Committee.  The report, he said, was focused on fulfilling the Committee’s mandate, and not all countries had the required knowledge or the standards.

Questions were also raised today about access to the Committee’s findings and deliberations, to which Mr. Larsson responded that all results and reports were freely available to all.  He would, however, take into account the suggestion made on improving interaction among countries.

In the general discussion that followed, there was broad agreement that the Scientific Committee provided invaluable information on ionizing radiation.  Its effects continued to play a fundamental role in providing the scientific rationale for banning nuclear tests and ensuring radiological and nuclear security. 

The representative of Japan commended the Committee for its report earlier this year titled “Sources, Effects and Risks of Ionizing Radiation” and its annex “Levels and effects of radiation exposure due to the nuclear accident after the 2011 great east-Japan earthquake and tsunami”.

Belarus had undergone a unique, 28-year experience in overcoming the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster, and was dedicated to the use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes with stringent security requirements, that country’s representative said.  In that context, he stressed the importance of the post-Fukushima cooperation agreement between Belarus and Japan.

The representative of Ukraine said the Scientific Committee’s progress reports on epidemiology of low-dose-rate exposure to natural and artificial environmental sources of radiation, as well as on medical exposure, would be used in long-term assessments of cancer risk following the Chernobyl catastrophe.

From 1946 to 1996, the representative of the Solomon Islands said, more than 315 nuclear test explosions were carried out in the Pacific region in Kiribati, French Polynesia, and the Marshall Islands, spreading radioactive fallout throughout the region.  She called on the United Nations to commission an independent study to assess the environmental, ecological, health, and other related impacts.

The representative of Australia introduced the draft resolution on Effects of Atomic Radiation, which would have the General Assembly request the United Nations Environment Programme to continue, within existing resources, to actively support the effective conduct of the work of the Scientific Committee and the dissemination of its findings.  It was approved without a vote.

Also speaking were representatives of Cuba, European Union, Mexico, Argentina, Iraq, India, Jordan, China and Iran.

The Committee will meet at 10 a.m., Tuesday, 28 October to begin a comprehensive review of peacekeeping operations.

Background

The Fourth Committee met today to consider the effects of atomic radiation, for which it had before it the latest reports of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) (documents A/69/46 and A/69/350).  The Fourth Committee also took action on a draft decision entitled Effects of atomic radiation (document A/C.4/69/L.6).

Statements

CARL-MAGNUS LARSSON, Chair of the Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), speaking via video link from Sydney, Australia, highlighted the mandate and evolution of the Committee.  United Nations Member States used findings of the Committee on the levels, effects and risks of ionizing radiation.  UNSCEAR evaluated the science, drew conclusions, and reported to the General Assembly.  Everyone was affected by radiation to some degree, while man-made variants differed from place to place.  The Committee evaluated the huge health effects of exposure, including heritable effects that so far had not been seen in humans, and studied effects on other organisms.  The Committee was careful to draw a line between science and its applications in other domains.

Last year, the Committee published the scientific annex to its report on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident and received responses from different sectors, he said.  Among other work, the methodology for estimating exposure from discharges into the environment had reached a mature stage, while the report on radiation exposure from electric generation was progressing.  Also included in the present programme of work were the biological effects from selected internal emitters, cancer epidemiology of exposure at low-dose-rates in the environment, and data collection on radiation exposure for an evaluation of medical exposure.

The Committee’s work was fundamental to the international radiation safety framework, he said, affecting decisions on energy, water management, medical use of radiation, protection of the public, workers, and the environment.  It was more cost-effective to develop global consensus through knowledge sharing than national or regional initiatives.  The Committee was respected by Governments, other international organizations and, the scientific community, he said, adding that the Fukushima-Daiichi assessment was both an opportunity and a challenge.

Malcom Crick, Secretary of UNSCEAR, highlighted the timetable for the expansion of the Committee’s membership between 2014 and 2018.  The Scientific Committee intended to set up a long-term, strategic direction for its work as a way to inform all on the discussion about membership increase.  The impact of the increase had been assessed over a three-year period.  Presenting the report, he provided an overview of the issues regarding the increase in membership.  Those included extra travel costs due to additional members, a larger room, lengthier discussions, and more detailed procedures.

He noted that the Scientific Committee in 2010 had expressed reservations regarding the impact a large increase in membership would have.  That would mean a change in the configuration and management of the two subgroups would be needed.  The subgroup on levels of exposure would welcome a wider geographical membership; however, the subgroup on the effects of exposure needed highly specialized knowledge, and an increase in membership would not necessarily bring that knowledge.  Linking with scientific institutions from different Member States would be an added value.  Other options, such as virtual participation, would add minimal additional cost, if a large increase in membership were to occur.

He said that the 2012-2014 period had been too short, and confined by intense work on the Fukushima accidents to draw firm conclusions.  The Committee was scientific in nature, and enlarging it was not necessarily the most pertinent way to enhance it.  The Scientific Committee had set out long-term strategic directions to study the decision on membership.  Finally, he added that this discussion would be part of the review for the Assembly’s seventy-second session.

Interactive Dialogue

The representative of Iran expressed reservation towards the financial issues presented in the report regarding the increase in membership.  His delegation did not believe it was a good reason to limit the increase in membership, and added that other solutions such as the rotational rule could solve that issue and give everyone a chance to contribute.  Regarding procedural matters, he recalled that the Secretary-General had known similar issues and was able to increase the number of members.  The representative did not believe that those were good reasons for blocking interested countries from joining the Scientific Committee.

The representative of Lesotho said that in the report, the increase of membership did not necessarily result in an increase in the efficiency of the Scientific Committee, and wondered what Member States should do to address that.

The representative of Cuba said it was important to acknowledge the right for developing countries to participate in the work of the Scientific Committee.  It was important to seek creative solutions that would make it possible for developing countries to benefit from the work of that Committee.

Mr. Larson provided a general statement addressing those questions.  In terms of access to the results of the Scientific Committee’s deliberations, he said that one of the major added values was that all results and reports were freely available to all.  On improving interaction between countries, the point was well noted and he would take it into account in future discussions.

Mr. Crick, responding to the specific issue in the report on the impact of the membership increase, said that putting the report together had been a challenge.  It was focused on fulfilling the Committee’s mandate.  Regarding the budget, he said that rotational rules and other creative solutions were mentioned in the report, and much would depend on the number of countries expressing interest.  On efficiency, he said that countries coming to the Committee might not have the knowledge and the standards the Committee required; therefore, using materials they could offer would require additional work.  There was a contrast between bringing in countries with expertise and those with a great desire to learn from the Committee.  He added that all comments were well received, and noted that the report represented a milestone.  Delegates would develop procedures and, ultimately, decide how best the Committee should expand.

MATEO ESTREME (Argentina), speaking on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), said the resolution establishing the Committee was one of the most important ones in the scientific sphere.  UNSCEAR continued to play a fundamental role in providing the scientific rationale for banning nuclear tests and ensuring radiological and nuclear security.  Welcoming the Committee report, he said it bore testimony to the effects of radiation and the environment.  MERCOSUR sought greater work on the application of nuclear technology on medicine.  He urged the Committee to fulfil its programme of work on the effects of generating electricity, and other areas of importance to the region and beyond.  The MERCOSUR States would continue to support the work of the Committee.

DAVID FORÉS RODRÍGUEZ (Cuba) endorsed the work of the Committee as it provided objective, scientific knowledge that could be used to protect people from the effects of radiation.  Fukushima and Chernobyl were terrible accidents, and many people continued to suffer.  He noted the need to ensure that new accidents of those types never happened again.  His country had treated people affected by radiation, and was satisfied by its modest contribution in mitigating the effects of the Chernobyl tragedy.  He underscored the importance of strengthening links between the scientific communities.  Joint efforts should lead to better benefits for humankind and protection of the environment.

IOANNIS VRAILAS (European Union) said the work and assessments undertaken by the Committee had provided invaluable information on ionizing radiation and its effects.  The Union looked forward to studies currently being undertaken, including the one on the effects of radiation on children.  The Committee’s programme of work was consistent with the Union’s own priorities, he emphasized.

RICARDO ALDAY GONZÁLEZ (Mexico) said the Committee’s work had been useful for United Nations, Governments, and other organizations working on various dimensions of the issue.  Recent deliberations on the effect of detonation of nuclear weapons and its humanitarian consequences had a positive impact on the call to ban such weapons, he stressed.

CARLOS MARÍA VALLARINO (Argentina), speaking in his national capacity and associating himself with MERCOSUR, said the Committee’s work was important to his country, region and beyond.  Welcoming the report, he urged the Committee to complete its proposed studies on a variety of issues of relevance.  He said the studies on Fukushima and the effects of radiation on children were still preliminary.  On the latter, he urged the Committee to coordinate work with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

NAOKI TAKAHASHI (Japan) said that his country was a founding member of UNSCEAR, which played a vital role in providing scientific assessments and reports on the effects of exposure to ionizing radiation.  His delegation commended the publication of its April 2013 report, titled “Sources, Effects and Risks of Ionizing Radiation” and its annex “Levels and effects of radiation exposure due to the nuclear accident after the 2011 great east-Japan earthquake and tsunami”.  Last month, his country received a visiting delegation led by Mr. Carl-Magnus Larsson, Chair of UNSCEAR, to hold public dialogue on the report, which indicated that cancer rates would remain stable following the accident.  In recognition of vital role of UNSCEAR in the safety of nuclear energy, his Government had contributed $863,000 to the body in February.

IGOR MISHKORUDNY (Belarus) said that the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima demonstrated the severe consequences of nuclear accidents on people and the environment.  His country had undergone a unique, 28-year experience in overcoming the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster, and was dedicated to the use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes with stringent security requirements.  He requested the development of a plan for further action in rehabilitating territories affected by the Chernobyl event.  In that context, he stressed the importance of the post-Fukushima cooperation agreement between Belarus and Japan.  Expressing support for the work of the Scientific Committee, he said he attached great importance to its research, especially in regard to the protection of populations and the environment from radiation accidents.

ANDRIY TSYMBALIUK (Ukraine) commended UNSCEAR on the publication of the scientific annex to its 2013 report, noting that it would be used in his country to plan relevant activities for children who had been exposed to radiation as a result of the Chernobyl accident.  His country was ready to contribute further to the Committee’s work on dealing with the effects of radiation on human health and the environment, based on its experience and extensive research.  Progress reports of UNSCEAR on epidemiology of low-dose-rate exposures to natural and artificial environmental sources of radiation, as well as on medical exposures, were of great importance.  They would be used, inter alia, for long-term assessments of cancer risk following the Chernobyl catastrophe.

Mr. GHIZA (Iraq) expressed grave concern over the use of ionizing radiation in munitions, and urged the relevant international agencies to assist any affected populations.  He said that his Government had made efforts to identify zones of danger of such munitions, due to the conflict in the country, and had drawn up protective measures.  His country also sought to develop peaceful applications of nuclear technology, in due compliance with international obligations in that regard.

HELEN BECK (Solomon Islands) said that from 1946 to 1996 more than 315 nuclear test explosions were carried out in the Pacific region in Kiribati, French Polynesia, and the Marshall Islands, spreading radioactive fallout throughout the region.  Entire islands were deemed permanently not suitable for habitation.  Communities still suffered from the tests’ long-term impacts, experiencing higher rates of cancer and other adverse health effects from radiation exposure.

Her delegation was unconvinced of the overall conclusion of the IAEA study on the residual radiological conditions of the atolls of Murorua and Fangataufa in French Polynesia.  The Solomon Islands were concerned about the accountability, transparency, and integrity of the multilateral processes dealing with the impact of nuclear testing in the Pacific.  They were also concerned about the health and environmental effects that people continued to suffer due to exposure to atomic radiation.  That was a serious human rights violation that had to be addressed, especially the injustices done to the people in the Pacific who were living with the health effects of nuclear radiation.  She called on the United Nations to commission an independent study to assess the environmental, ecological, health, and other related impacts of the 30-year period of nuclear testing in the Pacific, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, and the wider impacts on the region.

S. SRINIVAS PRASAD (India) said that his country was pleased to co-sponsor the General Assembly resolution on the effects of atomic radiation.  A three-member Indian delegation had participated in the sixty-first UNSCEAR in July 2014.  He called attention to two Committee reports which had concluded that there had been no significant health affects in Japan, so far, from radiation, following the 2011 earthquake.  The Committee had also discussed two drafts, on the evaluation of electricity-generated radiation exposure, and updating the methodology to estimate human exposure to environmental radioactive discharges.  UNSCEAR had also discussed progress on the biological effects of exposure to internal emitters, tritium and uranium.  India supported the idea of conducting similar evaluations for caesium and iodine.  A thorough review of the effects of radiation exposure on children, post-Fukushima, should receive the highest priority in future programmes.

SONIA ISHAQ AHMAD SUGHAYAR (Jordan) said that as the use of atomic energy increased, it was ever more important to develop mechanisms to tackle the threat of radiation exposure.  It was the responsibility of all countries to ensure safety by complying with international legal and regulatory standards for the protection of the public.  More monitoring was needed for that purpose.  As Jordan prepared to develop capabilities in nuclear power, she said the country would take into consideration lessons from the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents.  Her country intended to be a model for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.  All nuclear facilities must be subjected to strict, comprehensive safeguards, she affirmed.

ZHAO XINLI (China), noting that the United Nations must play an even more important role in addressing the challenges and leveraging opportunities related to atomic radiation, made several recommendations.  Governments and the nuclear energy industry must recognize that nuclear energy development, if achieved at the expense of safety and security, would not be sustainable.  In that regard, concrete measures must be adopted in order for risk management to be effective.  Also, all stakeholders must work together to maintain the quality and efficiency of the work of the Scientific Committee.  Further, it was necessary to build “win-win” partnerships and to strengthen international cooperation in nuclear emergency response and nuclear energy development.

TAHEREH JALILI (Iran) said all Member States had a duty to cooperate fully with the Scientific Committee and Iran welcomed any measures meant to strengthen its work.  That would include laying the groundwork so the Scientific Committee could benefit from the knowledge and expertise of Member States.  Iran expected all interested countries would be represented by their most qualified scientists and no financial, logistical or political issue should prevent any Member State from joining the Scientific Committee.  It was necessary to narrow the gap between developed and developing countries in the body’s membership so as to reach equitable geographical distribution.  In addition, the rule of rotation should be observed for its seats.  Finally, Iran believed one of the most pertinent ways to enhance the Committee’s effectiveness and the quality of its work was to enlarge the Committee.

Action on text

PETA MCDOUGAL (Australia), introducing the resolution, Effects of Atomic Radiation, on behalf of the co-sponsors, said the Committee’s information underpinned not only the peaceful uses of nuclear energy but also supported global economic and social development.  Recognizing the vital need for sufficient and predictable funding, as well as efficient management, she urged the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to ensure the Scientific Committee continued to be appropriately supported.

The draft resolution was then adopted without a vote.  By the text, the Committee would have the Assembly take note of the report of UNSCEAR in its sixty-first session, including confirmation of the Governing Principles for its work and adoption of terms of reference for its bureau.  The Assembly would request the Special Committee to continue its work and report thereon during the Assembly’s seventieth session.

By other terms, the Assembly would endorse the Special Committee’s plans for a scientific review, including its next Global Survey of Medical Radiation Usage and Exposures, requesting it to submit those plans at its seventieth session.  The Special Committee would be invited to consult with experts from interested Member States in preparations for future scientific reports, while UNEP would be requested — within existing resources — to support the dissemination of such report findings to the Assembly, scientific community, and the public.  For their part, States were encouraged to make voluntary contributions to the general trust fund established by the UNEP Executive Director, as well as in-kind contributions to support the Scientific Committee.

For information media. Not an official record.