Fourth Committee Approves Text Supporting Scientific Body’s Plans for Conducting Its Programme of Work

GA/SPD/652
2 November 2017
Seventy-second Session, 23rd Meeting (PM)

Fourth Committee Approves Text Supporting Scientific Body’s Plans for Conducting Its Programme of Work

Members Also Conclude General Debate on Review of Special Political Missions, Approving Related Draft Resolution

Delegates detailed their country’s efforts regarding radiation safety, urging sufficient resourcing for the Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) approved a draft resolution on the effects of atomic radiation and another on special political missions. 

By the terms of the former text, the General Assembly would support the Scientific Committee’s intentions and plans for the conduct of its programme of work, in particular its next periodic global surveys of radiation exposure.  The Assembly would also ask the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to continue, within existing resources, to service the Scientific Committee and disseminate its findings to Member States, the scientific community and the public.  UNEP would also be asked to take proactive steps to ensure continuity through the timely appointment of the next Secretary of the Scientific Committee.

By other terms, the Assembly would decide to review the possible increase in the Scientific Committee’s membership with a view to establishing at its seventy‑third session a procedure for further increases.

Before today’s annual general debate on the topic, Hans Vanmarcke, Chair of the Scientific Committee, made a statement and presented the report of that body’s sixty‑fourth session.  The Scientific Committee had conducted an evaluation regarding observed thyroid cancer incidence after the 1986 Chernobyl accident, he said.  That incidence had continued to increase over the period 2006‑2015 and approximately 25 per cent could be attributed to radiation exposure from the accident.  Regarding the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, he said that, so far, no evidence of an increase in thyroid cancer rates that could be attributed to radiation exposure had been observed. 

He also noted that contributions from some Member States to the General Trust Fund had helped accelerate the Scientific Committee’s work and expand outreach and infrastructure development.  However, if such contributions were not sufficient and sustained, he warned, the secretariat would have a significantly reduced capacity for supporting the Scientific Committee and taking on new projects.

Ukraine’s representative said his country had made a significant contribution to the Scientific Committee’s work dedicated to evaluating data on thyroid cancer in regions affected by the Chernobyl accident.  Practical and theoretical knowledge gained since that accident had also been widely used by the expert community to address the causes and consequences of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan. 

On disaster preparedness, Pakistan’s representative said that her country had a commitment to further enhancing infrastructure, capacity and training of its personnel in collaboration with international organizations to support a radiation safety regime.  It was also committed to protecting workers and the environment from radiation, including by regularly participating in emergency exercises conducted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). 

Algeria’s representative also noted his country’s cooperation with the IAEA, pointing out that it had arranged many regulatory and international symposiums to improve infrastructure for all countries that used radiological resources.  Also, while commending the Scientific Committee’s efforts and the circulation of its findings, he regretted that the entity had decided to reduce its liaison activities due to understaffing at the secretariat and diminishing resources.  He urged the Scientific Committee to reconsider so that its important work could continue.

Agreeing, Argentina’s representative said the entity’s current competencies should be maintained so that it would remain able to provide updated information for dissemination.  As such, she called for the appointment of the next Secretary and the maintaining of adequate human resources.  She also urged States to make material contributions and support its conclusions.  That was particularly important because voluntary contributions could be interpreted as impinging on the scientific work’s independence. 

Also today, the Committee concluded its consideration of the comprehensive review of special political missions, approving a related draft resolution by consensus.  By the terms of that text, the Assembly would stress the need for the United Nations to continue improving its capabilities in the peaceful settlement of disputes.  It would also request the Secretary‑General to hold regular, inclusive and interactive dialogue on the overall policy matters pertaining to special political missions and to reach out to Member States prior to the holding of such dialogue to ensure participation.

Also speaking today were representatives of Iran, Cuba, Bangladesh, Mexico, Venezuela, Cameroon, Japan, Belarus, Belgium, Iraq, Sweden and the Russian Federation, as well as the European Union and the Holy See. 

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Friday, 3 November, to take up the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.

Background

Before the Committee was the report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation at its sixty‑fourth session (document A/72/46) — held from 29 May to 2 June 2017 in Vienna; a list of Member States expressing interest in membership in the Special Committee (document A/72/557) and a related draft resolution titled “Effects of atomic radiation” (document A/C.4/72/L.13).

Effects of Atomic Radiation

Opening Remarks

HANS VANMARCKE (Belgium), Chair of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), introducing the report, said that more than 120 scientists and the Scientific Committee’s 27 States members had participated in the sixty‑fourth session.  The session had approved two scientific annexes, now in the publication process.  The first entailed principles and criteria for ensuring the quality of the Scientific Committee’s reviews of epidemiological studies of radiation exposure.  Evidence from such studies was very important in scientifically evaluating radiation effects and risks, he noted.  The second annex dealt with the evaluation of epidemiological studies of cancer risk from exposure at low‑dose‑rates from environmental sources.  Overall results of that work showed no evidence that the risk of cancer per unit dose at low‑dose‑rates was higher than that derived from studies at higher doses.  However, he cautioned that there were considerable uncertainties because statistical power had been limited and there were confounding factors and inaccuracies in exposure assessment.

He went on to report that the Scientific Committee had conducted an evaluation of the latest data provided by Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine on observed thyroid cancer incidence after the 1986 Chernobyl accident.  Over the period 2006‑2015, both the total number of cases of thyroid cancer and the number of cases per 100,000 person‑years had continued to increase, he said.  As such, the Scientific Committee had estimated that approximately 25 per cent of the observed incidence could be attributed to radiation exposure from the accident. 

Regarding the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, he recalled that, following the UNSCEAR 2013 report, the Scientific Committee had established a follow‑up mechanism so it could remain abreast of new publications in the scientific literature.  Since then, the Scientific Committee had endorsed two White Papers in 2015 and 2016, respectively.  A third White Paper had been published the previous week and shared with the authorities, scientific community and public in Japan.  He reported that, so far, no evidence of an increase in thyroid cancer rates that could be attributed to radiation exposure had been observed.  However, some scientific topics did warrant further analysis or additional research, and thus, the Committee had asked the secretariat to develop a plan for updating the 2013 report.

He recalled that, at its previous session, the Scientific Committee had also agreed on long‑term strategic directions for its work beyond 2019, envisaging the establishment of standing working groups, inviting expertise from non‑member States, increasing efforts to present its evaluations and further enhancing liaison with other bodies.  He voiced gratitude for contributions from some member States to the UNSCEAR General Trust Fund, which assisted the secretariat in accelerating work and addressing outreach and infrastructure development.  If such contributions were not sufficient and sustained, he warned, the secretariat would have a significantly reduced capacity in terms of supporting the Scientific Committee and taking on new projects.

MALCOLM CRICK, Secretary of UNSCEAR, said he would be stepping down from his position at the Scientific Committee at the end of February.  He emphasized that UNSCEAR was “a very important cog in a system” to ensure that people exposed to radiation in different forms were protected.

Statements

ANNE KEMPPAINEN, European Union, said the work and assessments undertaken by the Scientific Committee played an important role in improving international scientific understanding of the levels of exposure to ionizing radiation and its health and environmental effects.  She welcomed the Scientific Committee’s focus on quality criteria for epidemiological studies of radiation effects and its decision to publish a dedicated document.  She went on to note, with approval, the Scientific Committee’s intention to issue electronically, on its website, the evaluation of thyroid cancer data in regions affected by the Chernobyl accident.  She also welcomed its future plan to incorporate quality criteria for reviews of epidemiological studies of cancer risk to low‑dose‑rate radiation from environmental sources. 

GABRIELA MARTINIC (Argentina) noted that substantive scientific assessments had been carried out during the Scientific Committee’s sixty‑fourth session, expressing hope that the United Nations would publish the annexes.  Regarding the future work of the Scientific Committee, she said that her delegation was interested in updates on the risks of exposure to radon gas and a coefficient to calculate the active concentration of radon in the atmosphere.  The Scientific Committee should also focus on secondary cancers caused by the use of radiotherapy.  The current competencies of the entity should be maintained so that it would remain able to provide updated information for dissemination.  As such, she called for the appointment of the next Secretary and the maintaining of adequate human resources.  She also urged States to make material contributions and support its conclusions, as her country had been doing since the Scientific Committee was established.  That was even more important because voluntary contributions could be interpreted as impinging on the scientific work’s independence.  Looking forward to the sixty‑fifth session, her delegation agreed that each State should be invited to appoint a scientist to participate as an observer, but doing so should not be interpreted as an invitation to join the Scientific Committee. 

EHSAN MATIN RAZM (Iran), commending the work of the Scientific Committee, said that despite the benefits and diverse uses of atomic energy, the possible harmful effects of atomic radiation should not be ignored.  Nuclear technology should be handled with the utmost care and control, he said, underscoring the paramount importance of sharing best practices, knowledge and experiences.  He went on to say that all nations with a high level of expertise and scientific potential in nuclear issues and scientific potential should contribute to strengthening the Scientific Committee.

ANAYANSI RODRIGUEZ CAMEJO (Cuba) welcomed the Scientific Committee’s report that included data on the effects of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident and was pleased that it included epidemiological studies on the effects of radiation.  The superior scientific quality of the report meant the data could be used as benchmarks for national Governments seeking to protect their citizens from radiation.  Cuba reiterated its position on the need to completely eradicate nuclear weapons.  Despite the financial challenges it faced, Cuba had shown support for Ukraine after the Chernobyl accident.  The Cuban project there also had proved important scientifically as the data collected was shared at international conferences and with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  The Scientific Committee had cited the work of Cuba in publications addressing the aftermath of Chernobyl.  Partnerships and cooperation between the scientific community and United Nations were crucial, she stressed.  Experience had shown that only by working together would the goals of nuclear safety be achieved.

FAIYAZ MURSHID KAZI (Bangladesh) said that as his country continued to invest in nuclear safety and safeguards as part of efforts to further expand the scope of peaceful uses of nuclear energy, he found the Scientific Committee’s current programme of work covered a range of issues that were relevant to its national context.  In particular, he acknowledged the work of the Committee on the assessment of human exposure to ionizing radiation.  In view of the relevance and ramification of the entity’s work across multiple sectors, he underscored the importance of its enhanced synergy and coordination with other relevant United Nations entities, including the IAEA, World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Ms. JAQUEZ (Mexico) said that Mexico continued to play an active part in the Scientific Committee’s work in order to ensure that Member States would benefit from it.  Her delegation had participated in the translation of a document on radiation effects and sources, which had been published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to mark the Scientific Committee’s sixtieth anniversary.  In August, Mexico had joined the Group of Experts on Occupational Exposure and was charged with literature review and data analysis for a report by the Scientific Committee on that topic.  Her delegation would provide its data through the Scientific Committee platform designed for that purpose. 

VOLODYMYR LESCHENKO (Ukraine) said there was a continuing need to examine and compile information about atomic and ionizing radiation and analyse its effects on mankind and the environment.  He also pointed out the importance of disseminating results of the Scientific Committee’s work to widely publicize scientific knowledge about atomic radiation.  During 2016‑17, Ukraine had made a significant scientific contribution to the Scientific Committee’s work dedicated to evaluating data on thyroid cancer in regions affected by the Chernobyl accident.  That work was contained in document A/AC.82/R.723.  An authoritative report had been developed on thyroid health effects observed to date, primarily among people who had been children or adolescents at the time of the accident.  Practical and theoretical knowledge gained since the Chernobyl disaster had also been widely used by the expert community to address the causes and consequences of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. 

He went on to report that the New Safe Confinement (Arch) over Chernobyl’s destroyed Unit 4 had been completed in late 2016.  It was an unprecedented engineering project in terms of its design and construction, intended to replace the sarcophagus presently in place, and aimed at converting the Unit into an environmentally safe system.  It was a key part of the Shelter Implementation Plan, whose activities were an example of new approaches and technologies elaborated after Chernobyl, enabling radiation safety for more than 16,000 workers in a high‑risk area.  Moreover, a number of important national projects on decommissioning and radioactive waste management at Chernobyl had been successfully implemented through the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation Programme.  That agency had provided technical expertise to reduce exposure and advised the Government on securing the site and returning the land to productive use. 

SAIMA SAYED (Pakistan) said that the use of nuclear technology for peaceful means was rapidly increasing.  Pakistan used nuclear technology in many areas including power production, health, agriculture, bio-technology and pharmacology, she said, and had a robust national infrastructure to monitor those activities and protect the environment, general public and radiation workers.  She went on to say that measures were in place to appropriately respond to any accident or emergency situation.  Pakistan had a commitment to further enhance infrastructure, capacity and training of its personnel in collaboration with international organizations to support a radiation safety regime and protect workers and the environment from radiation, including by regularly participating in emergency exercises conducted by the IAEA.  Pakistan regularly used the Scientific Committee’s reports and recommendations as reference in developing national regulations, she added, and would continue to contribute to its activities by providing relevant data and information.

Ms. RODRIGUEZ (Venezuela) underscored the importance of the continued study of the effects of radiation on human health and the environment.  She reiterated Venezuela’s rejection of the use of weapons of mass destruction, but reaffirmed its position that it was a sovereign right of States to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.  Venezuela continued to develop its nuclear capabilities especially in the health field.  Her country established a regulatory system to guarantee the secure handling of nuclear resources and cooperated with the IAEA on various regulatory measures.  Although Venezuela was able to become fully functional in the nuclear sphere, it chose to only pursue nuclear activities for peaceful purposes, she said, adding that her country had signed an agreement in 2010 to construct two new reactors but had decided to freeze the project.  She praised the Scientific Committee’s follow‑up work in the field, including on the effects of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident.  She was concerned that the Scientific Committee’s awareness‑raising activities could be hamstrung by the lack of secretariat staff and financial resources.  The international community should act urgently to strengthen cooperation and support of those issues and, given the increasing use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, be ready for accidents that might occur as a result of natural disasters, she said.

MAMOUDOU MANA (Cameroon) said it was commendable that the international community had mobilized to combat the constant threat to mankind and the environment from atomic radiation.  He welcomed the Scientific Committee’s work and its methods evaluating the risk of exposure of the public to radioactive waste as well as the biological effects of certain emissions.  His Government had set up a national agency for protecting individuals against the effects of nuclear combustibles and had also provided legislation on protection from radiation.  It had adopted a set of measures to regulate the use, export and import of radiation sources, as well as dosage follow‑up for workers exposed to radiation.  In 2015, Cameroon had also ratified an additional protocol on applying safeguards as part of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. 

Ms. OKU (Japan), emphasizing her country’s commitment to nuclear safety, said today’s draft resolution affirmed ongoing support for the Scientific Committee and its programme of work.  She commended the publication of its report and annex on the levels and effects of radiation exposure following the great east Japan earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, saying those two documents had helped to alleviate public concerns when they were presented by the Secretary of the Scientific Committee in Iwaki City.  She also reaffirmed Japan’s continued support for the Scientific Committee’s work going forward.

MUSTAPHA ABBANI (Algeria) said his country was cognizant of the effects of radioactive contamination because it continued to suffer from the tests conducted in the Algerian desert in the 1960s.  Those affected areas were no longer useable or liveable, he said.  The Algerian Atomic Energy Commission played a significant role in creating legislation to control and monitor radiation sources, and regularly held training courses and awareness‑raising activities.  Algeria had arranged many regulatory and international symposiums including in cooperation with the IAEA to improve infrastructure for all countries that use radiological resources.  The Scientific Committee’s report provided valuable information, he said, and welcomed the annex that reflected the evaluation of low‑dose exposure.  He commended the significant efforts in implementing its strategy and the circulation of findings to the benefit of all.  However, he regretted that the Scientific Committee had decided to reduce its liaison activities due to understaffing at the secretariat and diminishing resources.  He urged the Scientific Committee to reconsider, so its important work could continue.

TATYANA FEDOROVICH (Belarus) said that the Scientific Committee was the most authoritative platform to study the effects of radiation.  She welcomed the work it was carrying out in the study of cancer as a result of outside sources of radiation in low doses and praised the qualitative methods used to gather criteria for those studies.  She went on to note that the rates of thyroid cancer in the areas around Chernobyl had been three times higher during the period after that accident (1991‑2015) than the number of those registered for the previous period.  That data suggested continued work was needed.  She also highlighted the importance of translating the findings of the Committee into all of the languages of the United Nations.

BERNARDITO CLEOPAS AUZA, Permanent Observer for the Holy See, said the recently‑adopted Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was largely the result of renewed attention paid to the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons, including radiation‑related injuries.  The adoption of the Treaty brought the international community closer to a world without nuclear weapons and was a step toward the full implementation of the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.  After the nuclear accidents in Chernobyl and Fukishima, peaceful uses of nuclear energy needed to be pursued with an approach that minimized the risk of accidents.  At the same time, improving the safety and protection of nuclear energy plants and sites would discourage terrorists from targeting them.  He commended the Scientific Committee for its important work, which would not only help eliminate the global health threats caused by nuclear explosions, but would also contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.  Listing the many benefits of nuclear technology, he called for those benefits to be more widely available to developing countries.

Action on Draft Resolution

The Fourth Committee then took up the draft resolution titled “Effects of atomic radiation” (document A/C.4/72/L.13). 

The representative of Belgium, introducing the draft resolution on behalf of its co-sponsors, said that the Scientific Committee’s work was recognized as important.  The resolution had been facilitated primarily in Vienna and was cosponsored by a high number of Member States from different regions. 

The Fourth Committee approved that text without a vote.

General Debate on Special Missions

The Committee then concluded its general debate on the comprehensive review of special political missions.

Mr. AL‑SAHHAF (Iraq), associating himself with the statement made by the Non‑Aligned Movement, said his Government functioned in a harmonious manner and promoted regular dialogue between national and regional bodies.  However, in some cases, the Government could not agree with regional decisions that might hinder the unity of the country as guaranteed by its Constitution.  For instance, the Government had refused a referendum which would have violated the Constitution.  The relationship between the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Government was characterized by ongoing communication, advice and assistance.  That cooperation had been instrumental in planning the population census and electoral process, ensuring good relations with neighbours and on matters related to human rights and judicial reforms.  The coordination with United Nations bodies would only increase as they worked to provide assistance to Iraqis who had been displaced in the aftermath of occupation by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh).  He welcomed UNAMI’s activities and stressed the importance of communication and cooperation between the Mission and his Government.

SIGRUN RAWET (Sweden) noted that special political missions were versatile, flexible and effective peace and security tools that should be sustained throughout the conflict cycle.  Therefore, States should be ready to ensure that their financing and backstopping was set up to deliver that versatility and flexibility over time, while bearing in mind that preventing conflict was cheaper than stopping violence after it broke out.  Such missions were also well‑placed to work across pillars and with regional partners in the field, ensuring that early political engagements and long‑term political strategies continued in tandem with development, human rights and humanitarian efforts.  The Secretary‑General’s proposed reforms aimed to better integrate peace operations in the Organization’s holistic efforts to prevent conflict and sustain peace.  Those changes were absolutely necessary, she stressed, expressing Sweden’s strong support for the Secretary‑General’s reform agenda to bring together the capacity of the three pillars.  Further, lasting peace required the full, equal and effective participation of women as a key component of mission work. 

IGOR KUZMIN (Russian Federation) said special political missions were effective institutions in settling crises and assisting with the maintenance of international peace and security.  They were instrumental in preventing nations from lapsing into new conflict phases, helping to set up dialogues within societies and assisting with national reconciliation.  Adding that the mandates of those missions must be clearly set out and realizable, he pointed to the growing complexity of their tasks, which might include assisting with maintenance of law and order, holding elections and reforming the security sector.  He stressed the significance of special political missions closely cooperating with host countries, paying due respect to national sovereignty.  Regional and subregional organizations, in coordination with the United Nations, could also contribute to resolving post‑conflict situations.

Action on Draft Resolution

Next, the Committee took up a draft resolution titled “Comprehensive review of special political missions” (document A/C.4/72/L.10), approving it by consensus.

For information media. Not an official record.