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

GA/SPD/623
28 October 2016
Seventy-first Session, 18th Meeting (AM)

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

While the findings of the 2013 report on Japan’s 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident remained valid, the long-term incidence of cancer among its victims required further consideration, speakers said today, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) approved a draft resolution on the effects of atomic radiation.

By the terms of that draft resolution “The Effects of Atomic Radiation” (document A/C.4/71/L.5), approved without a vote, the General Assembly would support the intentions and plans of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation for the conduct of its programme of work, in particular its next periodic global surveys of radiation exposure.

The Assembly would also, by other terms, request that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) continue actively to support the Scientific Committee’s work and the dissemination of its findings, within existing resources.  It would further encourage Member States to make voluntary contributions to UNEP’s general trust fund and to make in-kind contributions to support the Scientific Committee.

Prior to its annual general debate on the topic, the Committee heard a statement by Yoshiharu Yonekura, Chair of the Scientific Committee, who also presented the report of that body’s sixty-third session.  He noted that, in order to address topics that were part of the Scientific Committee’s long-term strategic plan, it would establish standing working groups, invite experts and enhance liaison with other entities.  That would entail changes and a larger membership, which should increase the Special Committee’s ability to conduct its scientific, he said.

He said that experts continuously reviewed new literature published since the Scientific Committee’s 2013 report on exposure to and effects due to the Fukushima Daiichi accident.  While a white paper consolidating updates to the report would be formally presented in November, the findings from the 2013 report remained valid, he said, adding that there was no evidence of thyroid cancer rates attributable to exposure.

Ukraine’s representative, however, taking the floor during the general debate, said that an increased incidence of thyroid cancer among victims would require further consideration because of its long-term effects which, based on Ukraine’s estimates from the Chernobyl tragedy, had begun approximately four years after that accident.  The most important lesson learned from Chernobyl was the need to bring about lasting improvements in nuclear and radiation safety around the world, he noted.

Iran’s representative welcomed any measures aimed at strengthening and enhancing the Scientific Committee’s efforts, stressing that no financial, political or logistical issues should prevent interested Member States possessing a high level of expertise and scientific potential from becoming members.  Iran possessed the requisite high-level expertise, knowledge and scientific potential, he pointed out, adding that it was interested in becoming a member of the Scientific Committee and had addressed a formal letter to the Secretary-General in that regard.

The representative of Bangladesh said his country wished to broaden the scope of its engagement and would also welcome the opportunity to serve as a member of an enlarged Scientific Committee, considering its long-running and growing experience and expertise in promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Japan’s representative submitted the draft resolution for action by the Committee.

The Committee also concluded its consideration of the comprehensive review of special political missions.

Also speaking today were representatives of Argentina, Mexico, Pakistan, Cuba, Iraq, India, Venezuela, China, Libya and Eritrea, as well as an observer for the European Union.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Monday, 31 October, 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-third session (document A/71/46) — held from 27 June to 1 July 2016 — and a related draft resolution titled “Effects of atomic radiation” (document A/C.4/71/L.5).

Opening Remarks

YOSHIHARU YONEKURA (Japan), Chair of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), introduced the report, recalling that more than 120 scientists had participated in the session.  The occasion had been used to launch the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) booklet, with four approved scientific annexes, he said.  The report updated the scientific methodology used to estimate exposure to radiation, and it was now more robust and suited to estimating exposure to routine discharges.

Concerning exposure to tritium, he said workers were mostly exposed to it in the operation of nuclear reactors and other industrial installations.  Statistical models could estimate the distribution of tritiated water in the human body but not at the cellular level, and one could not, therefore, draw firm conclusions about the carcinogenic effects of that substance, he said, adding, however, that its accumulation in the organic components of foodstuffs warranted further investigation.  Noting that workers’ exposure was also caused by mining activities and by the use of uranium as a nuclear fuel, he said the Scientific Committee had concluded that there were no clinically significant pathologies resulting from exposure to depleted uranium in munitions.

On the Scientific Committee’s 2013 report on exposure to and effects due to the nuclear accident following the 2011 great East Japan earthquake and tsunami, he said the expert group continuously reviewed new literature published since the report.  While a white paper consolidating updates to the report would be formally presented in Japan in November, the findings from the 2013 report remained valid, he said, adding that there was no evidence of thyroid cancer rates attributable to exposure.  The Scientific Committee had been focusing on outreach in order to share the report’s findings with those to whom they were of most value.

He went on to state that UNEP’S booklet for distribution to the public was being translated into other official languages, a task to be completed by the end of year.  The Scientific Committee’s current strategic plan covered the period 2014—2019, and it had agreed that its long-term strategic plan would focus on the health effects of low-dosage biological actions, among other topics.  In order to address those topics, the Scientific Committee would establish standing working groups, invite experts and enhance liaison with other bodies, he said.  That would imply changes and an increase in the membership, which should increase its ability to conduct scientific work.

Interactive Dialogue

With the floor open for discussion, the representative of China said that his country and the United States had formally established a nuclear security centre, and asked whether the Committee had contacted the Centre yet.

Mr. YONEKURA said that the Scientific Committee solely focused on the effects of atomic radiation.

Statements

ANNE KEMPPAINEN, European Union, said that the work and assessments undertaken by the Scientific Committee had played an important role in improving international scientific understanding regarding levels of exposure to ionizing radiation and its effects.  The bloc noted the confirmation of assumptions and findings relating to the Fukushima Daiichi accident and welcomed the Scientific Committee’s cautious approach to epidemiological studies on radiation effects and its intention to publish a dedicated document on quality criteria in that domain.  It also welcomed the completion of the evolution relating to radiation exposure from electricity generation, as well as radiation doses, risks and effects from internally deposited tritium and radionuclides of uranium.

MARTÍN GARCÍA MORITÁN (Argentina), drawing attention to the Scientific Committee’s recent estimations, said the main radiological impacts did not emanate from nuclear reactors but from other sources.  In that regard, it was essential to determine adequate national electricity production technologies.  Concerning the Scientific Committee’s conclusions on the effects of internal emitters, he said the international standards for protection against tritium radiation were adequate, and expressed hope that United Nations specialized agencies would take note of the Scientific Committee’s conclusions.

RODOLFO DIAZ (Mexico) emphasized that preventing the humanitarian impact of radiation must be at the centre of global efforts, noting that his country had participated in various initiatives aimed at contributing meaningfully to discussions of that effort.  In seeking progress, it was critical to use the latest technologies and communications tools, and to disseminate information in order to raise public awareness.  Citing an example, he said Argentina and Spain had created a joint project, translating the document “Radiation:  Effects and Sources”.

SAIMA SAYED (Pakistan) noted that scientists and researchers around the world were trying to find ways in which to harness nuclear energy, but, following disastrous accidents, the world had also become aware of its devastating negative side effects.  As such, nations were now sensitized to the need for extreme caution while handling that resource.  Meanwhile, the use of nuclear technology was increasing rapidly in the production of electricity and in applications using radioactive sources in the health, agriculture, industry, research and development spheres.  Pakistan followed best international practices so as to ensure the safety and security of its nuclear installations, she said, adding that radioactive sources and nuclear materials were used within the country for peaceful purposes.

NADIA ARREDONDO PICO (Cuba) noted that on issues such as cancer epidemiology associated with low rates of radiation and risks from exposure, the Scientific Committee’s work could be used in order to adopt standards of protection from the harmful effects of ionizing radiation.  She also called for the adoption of an international legal instrument to ensure the total elimination of all weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, describing current legislation as inadequate and emphasizing that it fell to Member States to guarantee that nuclear energy was used solely for peaceful purposes.  She said Cuba had supported Ukraine through the Tarara Humanitarian Programme for the rehabilitation of thousands of child radiation victims of the 1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl.  The project had made a significant scientific impact because the information gathered had been distributed to international bodies.

ILNYTSKYI OLEKSIY (Ukraine), associating himself with the European Union, emphasized the necessity of continuing to assess the levels and effects of exposure to radiation due to the nuclear accident following the great east Japan earthquake and tsunami.  An increased incidence of thyroid cancer among victims required further consideration because of its long-term effects which, based on Ukraine’s estimates from the Chernobyl tragedy, had begun approximately four years after the accident.  He noted that on 26 April, Ukraine had marked the thirtieth anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, and that 2016 had been declared a year of remembrance.  Recalling that more than 2,300 towns and villages had been contaminated with radioactive materials, he said more than 1.9 million Ukrainians were recognized as “suffered persons”.

He went on to state that efforts were under way to build a new, safe confinement area to protect the population and environment from the destroyed power unit.  The most important lesson learned from Chernobyl was the need to bring about lasting improvements in nuclear and radiation safety around the world.  The practical and theoretical knowledge gained from the accident had been used widely by the expert community to address the causes and consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, he said, adding that a number of important national projects on decommissioning and radioactive waste management had been successfully implemented in Ukraine through the Technical Cooperation Programme of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Mr. QASIM (Iraq) said that in order to mitigate the effects of radiation, it was crucial to share recent developments and raise public awareness.  Ensuring radiation protection and nuclear safety was a global responsibility, he said, emphasizing that there was only one world in which to live.  Cognizant of the effects of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, Iraq stood ready to contribute to global efforts, he said, pointing out that his country was still suffering from the effects of such weapons.

SRINIVAS PRASAD (India) said there was insufficient evidence of an increase in hereditary effects of radiation, such as chromosomal instability or congenital malformation in the offspring of exposed parents.  That inference was strongly supported by the data published by Indian scientists on thousands of new-born children in high-level natural radiation areas of the Kerala coast.  Regarding studies on possible iodine intake and the detection of increased nodes in Japanese children, he said the findings might be the result of the aggressive and extensive scanning carried out among such children.

MOHAMMED REZA SAHRAEI (Iran), welcoming any measures aimed at strengthening and enhancing the Scientific Committee’s efforts, said that an increase in its membership would allow interested countries to contribute to its work.  The membership’s composition should observe the principle of equitable geographic distribution, he said, emphasizing that no financial, political or logistical issues should prevent interested Member States possessing a high level of expertise and scientific potential from becoming members.  Interested countries should be represented by their most highly qualified scientists, he said, adding that in light of Iran’s possession of the relevant high-level expertise, knowledge and scientific potential, it had an interest in becoming a member of the Scientific Committee and had addressed a formal letter to the Secretary-General in that regard.

MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh) said his country continued to invest in nuclear safety and safeguards as part of its efforts to expand further the scope of peaceful uses of nuclear energy, including through the generation of nuclear power.  Considering Bangladesh’s long-running and growing experience and expertise in promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the country wished to broaden the scope of its engagement and would welcome the opportunity to serve as a member of an enlarged Scientific Committee.  That would be considered during the seventy-second session of the General Assembly, pursuant to its resolution 66/70, he said.

DOUGLAS NICOMEDES ARCIA VIVAS (Venezuela), acknowledging the work of the Scientific Committee in assessing the effects of atomic radiation, said its studies and conclusions had contributed to the decision-making process.  Drawing attention to the risks posed by nuclear weapons, he urged the Scientific Committee to share new information with Member States.  At the same time, it was critically important to disseminate information about the effects of radiation in order to raise awareness, he said.

LIU JUN (China) said his country had formally established a nuclear security centre to carry out research on the effects of radiation.  Furthermore, it had engaged in various bilateral activities with Japan, Republic of Korea, United Kingdom, United States and the Russian Federation, among others.  As a permanent Security Council member, China had always supported policies favouring the maintenance of international peace and security, he said, adding that, in order to ensure further progress, it would start cooperating with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as well as with other specialized agencies.

Action on Draft Resolution

The representative of Japan, introducing the draft resolution “Effects of Atomic Radiation” (document A/C.4/71/L.5) on behalf of the co-sponsors, noted that the Scientific Committee had recently marked its sixtieth anniversary.  He commended its efforts to widen knowledge about the effects and risks of atomic radiation with scientific authority.  Considering the importance of disseminating findings to the wider public, he also welcomed the publication of the Scientific Committee’s report following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  He said public dialogues had been held in Fukushima Prefecture to help alleviate people’s worries and inform them about the important issue.

Acting without a vote, the Committee approved the draft resolution.

General Debate on Special Political Missions

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

MOHAMED ELMODIR (Libya) described special political missions as being among the main tools for the maintenance of international peace and security through mediation and conflict-prevention efforts.  While their size and form changed from one to another, he said, they made major contributions to peace processes.  The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), was working with the local authorities to build a democratic State and to hold parliamentary elections, he said, adding that it had also helped to strengthen political dialogue and narrow differences.

ELSA HAILE (Eritrea), affirming the General Assembly’s critical role in the maintenance of international peace and security, expressed support for its efforts to enhance dialogue with the Secretariat.  For the success of special political missions, it was critical to take an inclusive, well-structured and result-oriented approach, she said, emphasizing the need for a more balanced report pertaining to policy matters, while taking transparency and equitable geographic representation into account.

For information media. Not an official record.