Speakers Hail Body’s Efforts in Aftermath of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident, Its Work on Low-Dose Rate Exposure
More research into the effects of atomic radiation on humans, especially at low-dose rates, was urgently needed, speakers in the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) said today as it took up the issue this afternoon, unanimously approving a related draft resolution.
By the terms of the draft resolution, titled “Effects of atomic radiation” (document A/C.4/70/L.12), the General Assembly would support the Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation in conducting its programme of work of scientific review and assessment, in particular its next Global Survey of Medical Radiation Usage and Exposures and its assessments of levels of ionizing radiation exposure from electrical energy production.
Also by that text, the Assembly would request the Scientific Committee to submit plans for its ongoing and future programme of work at its seventy-first session. Additionally, it would ask the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), to actively support, within existing resources, the effective conduct of the Scientific Committee’s work and the dissemination of its findings.
Finally, the Assembly would encourage Member States to make voluntary contributions to the general trust fund established by the Executive Director of UNEP and to make contributions in kind, to support the Scientific Committee’s work and the sustainable dissemination of its findings.
Prior to opening its annual general debate on the topic, the Committee heard opening remarks by Yoshiharu Yonekura, Chair of the Scientific Committee, who also introduced the report of its sixty-second session. Delegates then engaged in a brief interactive discussion.
“We are all exposed to ionizing radiation,” Mr. Yonekura said in his opening remarks, adding that, in most locations and for most people, exposure came mainly from natural sources, including from the ground and the bedrock, inhaled radon gas and naturally occurring radioactive substances ingested with food and water. However, people were also exposed to radiation from artificial sources like medicine or from radiation emergencies.
The Committee evaluated the effects of such exposure, including acute health effects that could be observed when exposure was very high, he said. Much scientific attention had been paid to the high risk of cancer and other effects of lower exposure, including heritable effects, which so far had not been demonstrated in human populations. Going forward, the Committee had discussed preliminary plans for four projects: appraisal of the health effects of low-dose radiation exposure, selected evaluations of risks to health from radiation exposure, evaluation of the risk of second cancers after radiotherapy, and assessment of the impact on biota of radiation exposure due to the nuclear industry.
Taking the floor during the general debate, the European Union’s representative said the Scientific Committee’s work and assessments played an important role in improving the understanding of levels of exposure to ionizing radiation as well as its health and environmental effects. The regional bloc welcomed the Committee’s intention to systematically appraise new information relating to Fukushima Daiichi, and to update the 2013 report on radiation exposure from that accident.
The representative of Belarus recalled with gratitude the work of the Scientific Committee in preserving the health of his country’s population and environment, exposed to radiation following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident, which Belarus had taken into account in its policies and practices. As a result of that work, the country had put in place national systems for radiation control and monitoring, he added.
Pakistan’s representative stressed the need for strict nuclear safety regulations at the national and international levels. Instead of shunning nuclear energy as dangerous, nations were now sensitized to the need for extreme caution while handling nuclear power, she said, noting that the use of nuclear technology for the production of electricity was now rapidly increasing, as were applications using radioactive sources in the health, agriculture, industry, research and development fields.
The representative of Japan presented the draft resolution for action by the Committee.
Also speaking were the representatives of Paraguay (on behalf of the Southern Common Market), India, Mexico, Cuba, Ukraine, Argentina and Iran.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 27 October, to begin its consideration of questions related to information.
Before the Committee was the Report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation at its sixty-second session (document A/70/46), as well as a related draft resolution titled “Effects of atomic radiation” (document A/C.4/70/L.12).
YOSHIHARU YONEKURA (Japan), Chair of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, took the floor to deliver opening remarks and introduce the report of the Committee at its sixty-second session (document A/70/46). The Committee’s mandate and scope of work covered the levels, effects and risks of ionizing radiation, or “atomic” radiation, either from natural or man-made sources, and Member States drew on its scientific evaluations to develop their protection frameworks as well as policies and programmes for implementing technologies involving radiation. The Scientific Committee reported annually to the Fourth Committee. It published detailed evaluations as scientific annexes to the latter body’s report to the General Assembly. Importantly, the Committee did not advise on protection, policies, programmes or use of radiation techniques.
“We are all exposed to ionizing radiation,” he said. In most locations and for most people, the exposure in any normal year came mainly from natural sources, including from the ground and bedrock, inhaled radon gas and naturally occurring radioactive substances ingested with food and water. In addition, people were exposed to artificial sources of radiation, like medicine, or from radiation emergencies. The Committee evaluated the effects of such exposure, including acute health effects that could be observed when exposure was very high. Much scientific attention had been paid to the high risk of cancer and other effects of lower exposure, including heritable effects, which so far had not been demonstrated in human populations.
The Committee’s sixty-second session, in Vienna, had been attended by all its 27 States members, and more than 120 scientists had participated in its work, he continued. It had begun work on its long-term strategic directions beyond 2019, which would further imply changes to its working arrangements. The Committee’s 2013 report on the levels and effects of exposure from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident had been translated and published in Japanese, and a number of follow-up activities had been initiated. No publications on the report had challenged the report’s major assumptions or affected its main findings.
As for the Committee’s present programme of work, he said it had discussed two draft scientific annexes, one updating its methodology for estimating human exposure due to radioactive discharges into the environment, and the other on radiation exposure from electricity generation. An evaluation of cancer epidemiology at low-dose rate exposure was progressing, as was the collection of global data for an evaluation of medical exposures. Going forward, the Committee had discussed preliminary plans for four projects: an appraisal of the health effects of low-dose radiation exposure, selected evaluations of the risk to health from radiation exposure, an evaluation of the risk of second cancers after radiotherapy, and an assessment of the impact on biota of radiation exposure due to the nuclear industry.
HOSSEIN MALEKI (Iran) asked which consumers or clients would use the results of the Scientific Committee’s assessment. He questioned why the report on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident had been translated into Japanese, and whether the report on Chernobyl had been translated into Russian.
Mr. YONEKURA replied that the Committee would present the report to the General Assembly, saying that other international bodies would use the information to decide on their next policies. Regarding the report’s translation, he said that, due to cost, the translation had been limited to Japanese in order to send a message to the Japanese people first. The Chernobyl report had been translated into Russian.
MALCOLM CRICK, Secretary of the Scientific Committee, said the body did not have a rigorous system for measuring contributions, but analysed public workers from various Member States and their attendance at its various working groups.
FEDERICO ALBERTO GONZÁLEZ FRANCO (Paraguay), speaking on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), said the General Assembly’s resolution creating the Scientific Committee was one of the most important in the history of United Nations efforts in the field of science and technology. The Committee played a vital role in rationalizing the suspension of nuclear testing. MEROCUSR recognized the importance of continuing to conduct research into ionizing radiation, and ensuring the further deepening of the Committee’s work in areas such as electricity generation and radiation for health uses. MERCOSUR was pleased with the studies carried out on the effects of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident, and urged the Committee to deepen those studies.
He said the regional group also supported the Scientific Committee’s programme of work, and encouraged it to pursue its goals in studying human exposure to radiation. There was a need to inform the wider population of the Committee’s recent findings on retrospective accountability on radiation, he said, noting that MERCOSUR recognized the right of sovereign States to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, in line with the regulations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Nuclear accidents occurring throughout history provided irrefutable evidence that nuclear safety measures were essential, he said, stressing that the international community must therefore promote strict compliance with the Convention on Nuclear Safety. “The studies of the Scientific Committee are essential,” he stressed, noting that they informed research in the areas of radiological medicine, waste management and the protection of public workers and the environment, among others.
JACEK BYLICA, European Union, said the Scientific Committee’s work and assessments played an important role in improving the understanding of exposure levels to ionizing radiation and its health and environmental effects. The European Union welcomed the Committee’s intention to systematically appraise new information relating to Fukushima Daiichi and to update the 2013 report on radiation exposure from that accident. The bloc also approved of the Committee’s cautious approach to epidemiological studies on radiation effects, which evaluated the strengths and limitations of each study and identified methods for improving them. He said his delegation looked forward to the Committee’s future plan on the evaluation of new knowledge relating to the health effects of low-dose radiation exposure, selected appraisals of risks to health from radiation exposure, and its assessment of prospects for second cancers following radiotherapy.
ABHISHEK BANERJEE (India) said it was heartening to note that more than half of the new publications had broadly endorsed the major assumptions made by the 2013 report on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident following the 2011 earthquake in Japan. India also welcomed the Committee’s discussions on the two draft scientific annexes: updating the methodology for estimating human exposure to radioactive discharges in the environment and on radioactive discharges from electricity generation. Both were vital in helping developing countries determine how they could diversify their energy generation mix, including nuclear energy, to combat global warming. India especially appreciated the launch of an online platform for the collection of data on radiation exposures, particularly for medical and other workers, he said, adding that his delegation looked forward to future discussions on progress made in evaluating epidemiological studies of low-dose rate exposures of the public to naturally occurring and artificial sources of radiation.
RICARDO ALDAY GONZÁLEZ (Mexico) said the work carried out by the Scientific Committee had been “hugely useful” to Governments and intergovernmental organizations. Mexico had been involved in its study of the Fukushima Daiichi accident and was now working on epidemiological studies on the effects of atomic radiation from low‑dose sources, among others. The outcomes and results of the Committee’s work had strengthened global understanding of the potential humanitarian impact if nuclear weapons were ever used. That issue must be at the centre of negotiations in the Disarmament Commission and on the agenda of all twenty-first century security discussions, he emphasized. “We must continue to build on lessons learned.”
VITALY MACKAY (Belarus) said the Scientific Committee was highly professional in the breadth and depth of its work, adding that its results were broadly used in the areas of radiological protection and environmental protection. Belarus recalled with gratitude the Committee’s work in preserving the health of its population and environment, exposed to radiation following the Chernobyl accident, he said, adding that, as a result of its efforts, the country had put in place national systems for radiation control and monitoring. Calling attention to the jointly accumulated knowledge of the Russian Federation, Belarus and Ukraine, he said that experience had great practical use for the international community. There should be a strategic plan on Chernobyl issues for the period after 2016, he stressed, calling additionally for joint events with the Scientific Committee on the thirtieth anniversary of the Chernobyl accident.
DAVID FORÉS RODRÍGUEZ (Cuba) said that, nearly 70 years after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the main nuclear Powers had not limited their arsenals. The only way to ensure the use of atomic energy for peaceful means was to adopt a legally binding instrument. He noted that the Scientific Committee had cited the work of his country’s scientists in its report, despite the various embargoes imposed on Cuba, especially their reviews of the fallout from Chernobyl. Calling upon the Committee to strengthen its links with Member States and other United Nations organizations, he said that, considering the advanced nature of nuclear energy, serious and broad-based cooperation and communication in related research and use was the only way to prohibit serious damage from ionizing radiation.
VOLODYMYR LESCHENKO (Ukraine), associating himself with the European Union, said that the introduction of methodology for estimating human exposure to radioactive discharges would be of particular importance for Ukraine due to its need to establish sanitary zones around its nuclear power facilities. He said his delegation also attached significant importance to the Committee’s document on radiation exposures from electricity generation because it would help Ukraine to develop hygienic standards in accordance with its own radiation security norms. Finally, he emphasized that the inclusion of four new topics in the Committee’s future work would prove essential: the health effects of low-dose radiation exposure, evaluations of health risks from radiation exposure, risks of secondary cancers from radiation, and radiation impact on biota from the nuclear industry.
SAIMA SAYED (Pakistan) said that, instead of shunning nuclear energy as dangerous, nations were now sensitized to the need for extreme caution while handling that resource. The use of nuclear technology for the production of electricity was now rapidly increasing, as were applications using radioactive sources in health, agriculture, industry, research and development. In order to regulate facilities and activities using those technologies, the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority had been working as an independent regulatory body to ensure nuclear and radiation safety, she said. It had given special attention to developing a system of emergency preparedness and response to nuclear or radiological emergencies.
Pakistan participated regularly in emergency exercises conducted by IAEA, she continued. Ensuring the safety of workers and protecting the public and the environment from the hazards of atomic radiation were challenging responsibilities, requiring highly skilled professionals with appropriate academic qualifications and technical experience. Pakistan had undertaken steps to build the capacity of all concerned stakeholders in nuclear and radiation safety, radiation protection and security of nuclear and radioactive material, she said. For that purpose, it had established a Centre of Excellence for training in nuclear security, nuclear safety and regulatory aspects.
GONZALO S. MAZZEO (Argentina), associating himself with MERCOSUR, reiterated his country’s appreciation for the professional work carried out by the Scientific Committee. While emphasizing his delegation’s endorsement of the Committee’s work on the Fukushima Daiichi accident, there was an urgent need for it to complete those studies. In that regard, it was important that the Committee bear in mind the resolution of the IAEA General Conference, requiring an exhaustive report on the accident, and on the subsequent report, just published by IAEA. The two scientific bodies should pool their findings on the matter.
He also noted the “inconclusive” nature of the Committee’s study of the effects of radiation exposure on children in the context of the Fukushima accident. While the Committee had made some strides in its evaluation of radiation exposure by selected emitters, he cautioned the need for it to be prudent in that area. Regarding epidemiological studies on the effects of natural and artificial radiation exposure, which was critical, Argentina welcomed the compilation of data by the Committee, he said, adding that the country had appointed an official to work with it on that issue.
HOSSEIN MALEKI (Iran) said that, as a stable, cost-effective energy source with the lowest emission of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, nuclear energy would remain useful, not only in daily life, but also in the fields of health care, food production and scientific research. At the same time, the international community should have concerns about the effects of atomic radiation and the potential harm they could cause. The United Nations should study atomic radiation carefully in order to ensure effective protection against its risks and to harness its technology fully, he emphasized. All Member States must commit to cooperation with the Scientific Committee, which in turn should remain open to the benefits of contributions from all Member States. Iran welcomed any measure aimed at enhancing and strengthening the Committee’s work, he said, stressing that nothing should prevent Member States with a high level of expertise from joining the Committee.
Action on Draft Resolution
The representative of Japan, introducing the draft resolution “Effects of Atomic Radiation” (document A/C.4/70/L.12) on behalf of the co-sponsors, commended the Scientific Committee’s work and welcomed the readiness of Member States to provide it with information. The Committee’s work underpinned the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, he said, expressing his appreciation for the publication of its report on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. He also underscored the Committee’s importance in raising international awareness on the effects of ionizing radiation, saying the Committee also recognized that, because of the need to maintain the intensity of its work, voluntary contributions to the general trust fund established by the Executive Director of UNEP would be beneficial.
Acting without a vote, the Committee then approved the draft resolution.