Fourth Committee Approves Text on Effects of Atomic Radiation, while Rejecting Proposed Amendments to Scientific Body’s Membership Criteria

GA/SPD/682
6 November 2018
Seventy-third Session, 22nd Meeting (PM)

Fourth Committee Approves Text on Effects of Atomic Radiation, while Rejecting Proposed Amendments to Scientific Body’s Membership Criteria

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) approved a draft resolution on the effects of atomic radiation without a vote today, while voting to reject proposed amendments to its provisions on criteria for joining the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation.

According to operative paragraph 21 (e) of the draft resolution (document A/C.4/73/L.9), the General Assembly will decide on the acceptance of observer delegations as States members of the Scientific Committee in the fourth year, with due consideration for a fair degree of participation in accordance with the Secretary‑General’s suggested framework of membership criteria and indicators.  The Committee retained that paragraph by a recorded vote of 136 in favour to 2 against (Israel, United States), with 4 abstentions (Honduras, Peru, Sudan, Togo).

The Committee went on to reject a second draft amendment by a recorded vote of 17 against to 7 in favour (Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Honduras, Israel, Peru, Ukraine, United States), with 114 abstentions.  By the proposed amendment, operative paragraph 21 (e) would indicate that the General Assembly will decide on accepting observer delegations as States members of the Scientific Committee considering the principles set out in Articles 1 and 2 of the Charter of the United Nations.

By the terms of the draft resolution approved in its entirety, the General Assembly will 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 will also ask the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to continue, within existing resources, to service the Scientific Committee and to disseminate its findings to Member States, the scientific community and the public.  Further, it will insist that UNEP take all steps to ensure continuity and that any ongoing selection process for a new Secretary of the Scientific Committee is expedited and managed in a transparent manner.

Before starting its annual general debate on the topic, the Committee heard Hans Vanmarcke (Belgium), Chair of the Scientific Committee, deliver a statement and present the report of that body’s sixty‑fifth session, held from 11‑14 June 2017.  He said that the Scientific Committee’s secretariat published updated data on thyroid cancer in regions affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident, in which about 20,000 cases of that disease were registered in the period 1991‑2015.  The Scientific Committee estimates that one in four of those cases is attributable to radiation exposure, he added.

However, major administrative challenges are limiting the degree to which the Scientific Committee can address agenda items on its programme of work, he said.  Specifically, the delay in recruiting a new Secretary reduces the secretariat’s capacity to support the Scientific Committee’s efforts to take on new projects, he noted, emphasizing that the root of the problem lies in the lack of interest on the part of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

With the floor opened for the general debate, the observer for the European Union delegation said the deferral of the Scientific Committee’s sixty‑sixth session due to the delay in appointing the Secretary and disruptions in the secretariat’s staffing are causes of concern, agreeing that the postponement hampers implementation of the Scientific Committee’s approved programme of work.

Argentina’s representative called for the appointment of a Secretary without delay, also joining in a request for an internal audit as well as an investigation of the matter by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).

Algeria’s representative stressed the importance of broadly disseminating the Scientific Committee’s research and expressed concern about reduced media coverage due to lack of funding.  As such, he underlined the need to create an inter-agency joint fund and to expeditiously appoint a Secretary for the Scientific Committee.  He also noted that his country is suffering the effects of radiation pollution resulting from nuclear experiments conducted in the Algerian desert during the 1960s, noting that the affected areas are no longer habitable or arable.

Others speaking today were representatives of Pakistan, India, Cuba, Belarus, Japan, Cameroon, Russian Federation, Iran and Bangladesh.

Also delivering statements were an observer for the Holy See as well as speakers representing the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 8 November, to conclude its general debate on the review of special political missions.

Introductory Statement

HANS VANMARCKE (Belgium), Chair of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), introducing the report covering that body’s sixty‑fifth session (document A/73/46) (11‑14 June 2018), recalling that all of its 27 States members and four observer countries were in attendance.  More than 150 scientists also participated in the discussions, he added.  Annex A of the report covers principles and criteria for ensuring the quality of the Scientific Committee’s reviews of epidemiological studies of radiation exposure, he said, describing the annex as representing a new approach to handling the ever‑increasing amount of research data in a systematic and quality‑assured way.  The Scientific Committee’s secretariat published the updated data on thyroid cancer in regions affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident, in which about 20,000 cases of that disease were registered in the period 1991‑2015, he said, adding that the Scientific Committee estimates one in four of those cases is attributable to radiation exposure.

He went on to report that the Scientific Committee decided to update its Fukushima report and to sum up the findings made since the 2011 accident.  In 2014, the secretariat launched an online platform to facilitate collection of data on medical exposure and, more recently, on occupational exposure.  He said that collaboration with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) resulted in common questionnaires for the UNSCEAR Global Surveys.  The secretariat also requested that countries nominate national contact persons to coordinate the collection of data at the national level, he said, relaying that the Scientific Committee will evaluate exposure on the basis of the data submitted during its next session.  The secretariat will start implementing a strategy for conducting similar surveys of public exposure from natural and artificial sources of radiation, he added.

Regarding the long‑term direction of the Scientific Committee’s work beyond 2019, an ad hoc working group will be established to help in developing the Scientific Committee’s future programme of work, he said, adding that an increasing number of scientists from States other than the Scientific Committee membership are involved in the evaluations.  However, major administrative challenges are limiting the degree to which the Scientific Committee can address topics on its programme of work.  The delay in recruiting a new Scientific Secretary significantly reduced the secretariat’s capacity to support the Scientific Committee and to take on new projects, he noted, emphasizing that the root of the problem lies in the lack of interest on the part of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).  He recalled that the Scientific Committee noted the inappropriate absence of UNEP support for the Scientific Committee and its secretariat, and requested that the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) in New York conduct an investigation into the recruitment process for the new Scientific Secretary, as well as an audit to determine whether the Programme is the most appropriate agency to provide administrative support to the Scientific Committee.

General Debate

GUILLAUME DABOUIS, European Union delegation, emphasized the importance of the Scientific Committee’s work in assessing the effects of radiation on human health and the environment.  It plays a vital role in improving international scientific understanding of exposure to ionizing radiation.  Due to its scientific authority, the Scientific Committee is essential in supplying the international community with high‑quality information on the sources, exposures and effects of ionizing radiation.  He went on to welcome the Scientific Committee’s intention to finalize work on selected evaluations of health effects and risk inference from radiation exposure, saying he had looked forward to its approval of the scientific annex during its sixty‑sixth session.  Results on lung cancer from exposure to radon and penetrating radiation will be of general interest, he said, adding that various United Nations entities as well as Members States also await them.  However, the deferral of the sixty‑sixth session due to the delay in appointing the Scientific Secretary and disruptions in the secretariat’s staffing, are a cause of concern, he said, noting that the postponement hampers implementation of the Scientific Committee’s approved programme of work.

MARTÍN GARCÍA MORÍTAN (Argentina) said United Nations protection standards will be affected by the Scientific Committee’s work on radon effects on lung cancer.  Argentina is actively collaborating by contributing national data and appointing an expert, he added, noting that the national regulatory authority, in collaboration with IAEA, came up with a related study.  Noting with concern that UNEP has not delivered on the General Assembly’s request that it hire a new Scientific Secretary, he called for an appointment without delay and joined in the request for an internal audit as well as an OIOS investigation.  He also called upon Member States to provide in‑kind and financial contributions to the Scientific Committee without conditions so that it can continue its work.

The representative of Pakistan commended the Scientific Committee’s work in providing Member States with a scientific foundation for formulating international standards for protecting the general public, workers and patients against ionizing radiation.  Pakistan uses nuclear technology in many areas for such peaceful purposes as power production, health, agriculture, bio‑technology, pharmacology and industry, they said, adding that its Nuclear Regulatory Authority is an independent agency responsible for controlling and supervising all matters related to radiation and nuclear safety in facilities operated by the Atomic Energy Commission.  Those facilities are required to develop comprehensive programmes for monitoring radiological effects on the environment, they said.

DEEPAK MISRA (India) said there is a growing body of experimental and epidemiological evidence that does not support the linear‑no‑threshold hypothesis model of estimating health effects at low doses.  It includes evidence from studies conducted by Indian scientists in high‑level natural background radiation areas on the country’s southern coast.  Emphasizing that the fear of risk due to exposure to low‑level radiation should not influence medical practitioners and patients to defer justified medical examination involving low levels of exposure, he noted that expert risk evaluation of radiation exposure strongly influences public perceptions of risk.

ROSANIS ROMERO LÓPEZ (Cuba) said the results of the Scientific Committee’s study meet the demands of the scientific community and could form a basis for international norms for protecting people from atomic radiation.  Cuba recently ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, she said, describing it as an essential contribution to international security.  Despite the blockade imposed on Cuba, she said, her country has contributed to efforts to assist the survivors of Chernobyl, she pointed out.  Emphasizing that collaboration between the Scientific Committee and United Nations entities including WHO and UNEP is crucial for its work, she said nuclear development and technology are important for socioeconomic development.  She called for broad and serious cooperation to ensure that nuclear energy is harnessed for peaceful purposes.

TATYANA FEDOROVICH (Belarus) said the proposal of an algorithm to select new members reflects the majority stance of Member States and will help the Scientific Committee avoid conflict.  She expressed satisfaction with the Scientific Committee’s work, including its studies on the effects of low doses of radiation and lung cancer caused by radon.  Recalling that the Scientific Committee’s April 2018 report on the Chernobyl accident was broadcast widely, she expressed support for the Scientific Committee’s conclusion that the growth in the morbidity of thyroid cancer should be a priority requiring further study.  In closing, she encouraged broad dissemination of all reports and documents of the Scientific Committee.

SHIORI OKU (Japan) said her country has long been deeply committed to nuclear safety, particularly following the Fukushima Daiichi accident in 2011.  Considering the importance of disseminating the Scientific Committee’s work, she commended its issuance of white papers and reports after the earthquake and tsunami.  The Government of Japan contributed approximately $640,000 to the Scientific Committee in February, she reported, going on to emphasize the significance of appointing a new Secretary for the Scientific Committee and reaffirming her country’s continued commitment and support for its work.

NAZIM KHALDI (Algeria) said the increasing use of ionizing radiation calls for measuring possible harm, especially as related to human health.  Noting that his country is suffering the effects of radiation pollution resulting from nuclear experiments conducted in the Algerian desert during the 1960s, he said those areas are no longer habitable or arable.  Through policies aimed at monitoring such issues and protecting humans, Algeria’s atomic agency is playing an important role, he said, noting its strict rules for issuing licenses for the use of radio equipment.  The Government also organized training workshops in collaboration with such international agencies as IAEA, he added.  Stressing the importance of broadly disseminating the Scientific Committee’s research, he expressed concern about reduced media coverage due to lack of funding.  As such, underlined the need to create an inter‑agency joint fund and to expeditiously appoint a Secretary for the Scientific Committee.

Mr. AHIDJO (Cameroon) noted that exposure to ionizing radiation can have pernicious effects on humans and the environment, depending on the levels of exposure.  Highlighting the scientific database established by radiation workers in his country and the drafting of international standards for radiation protection, he emphasized that Cameroon has not remained on the sidelines of this international movement, noting that his country’s Government has adopted legislation on radiation and the dangers linked to the use of atomic radiation.  That text was drafted in the context of the growing threat of nuclear terrorism, he recalled, noting that it remains pertinent considering the insecurity surrounding his country.  Cameroon is also working with IAEA, having collaborated with the Agency in 2014 on a national framework programme dealing with seven priority areas.  That programme serves as a reference for medium‑term planning, he added.

DENIS LOZINSKIY (Russian Federation) described the Scientific Committee’s work as a prestigious structure whose norms are the basis for international understanding of the effects of radiation.  Expressing satisfaction that its reports are widely used, he noted, however, that there have been administrative problems and delays in appointing its new Secretary.  He went on to note that the Vienna draft resolution on Committee membership depoliticizes the issue, noting that the involvement of countries that have experienced the effects of radiation will only improve the Scientific Committee’s work.  Algeria, the United Arab Emirates and other prospective members fit the criteria and will contribute as full‑fledged members, he emphasized.

MOHAMMAD REZA SAHRAEI (Iran) said the work and assessments undertaken by the Scientific Committee are of vital importance.  Describing nuclear energy as clean and useful, he noted the increase in its use in health care and agriculture, among other fields.  Despite the benefits, however, the possible harmful effects of nuclear energy are undeniable, he said, calling for the safe handling of nuclear materials and the dissemination of best practices and knowledge in that regard.  The nature of the Scientific Committee’s work calls for significant collaboration from all fields and will only be strengthened by the involvement of all nations possessing expertise, he noted.  In that context, Iran supports the increase in the Scientific Committee’s membership, he said, recalling noting that the topic was thoroughly discussed and adopted during its last session.

The representative of Bangladesh underscored the importance of the Scientific Committee’s cooperation with other United Nations entities, expressing hope that UNEP will take note of the Chair’s comments and address the issue of appointing a new Secretary.  Advocating a procedure for increasing Scientific Committee’s membership, they said the protracted discussions on that matter are distracting from its actual work, pointing out that the guidelines contained in the draft resolution provide a roadmap for addressing the question of membership.

DAVID PAUL CHARTERS, an observer for the Holy See, described the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima as reminders that the use of nuclear energy does not come without risks.  They indicate the impact that would follow the use of nuclear weapons, especially in cities, he said, adding that his delegation looks forward to the Scientific Committee’s update on the Fukushima disaster.  He expressed appreciation for the Scientific Committee’s close cooperation with other United Nations entities in providing new data for a deeper understanding of the effects of atomic radiation, pointing out that its work has contributed significantly to the collective understanding of the effects of atomic energy.

FATIMA KHAN, World Health Organization (WHO), said the agency relies on Scientific Committee data to assess radiation risks when setting norms and standards, developing evidence‑based policy positions, providing guidance and identifying research priorities for the protection of the public, patients and workers.  WHO has been granted observer status at the Scientific Committee and has cooperated with it in terms of medical, occupational and public exposures to ionizing radiation.  Expressing appreciation for the Scientific Committee’s work as a trusted and reliable source of scientific information, she said the agency looks forward to continuing their collaboration.

TRACY BROWN, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said that entity’s primary objective is to bring the benefits of nuclear science and technology to all humankind, while minimizing the associated risks.  Describing the Scientific Committee as the official international authority on the levels and effects of radiation, she noted that its reports are prepared by leading international scientists and carry considerable weight.  She said that her Agency, working closely with the Scientific Committee, seeks to ensure that safety standards and guidance publications are based on scientific principles and peer‑reviewed scientific findings.  Those standards serve as a global reference for protecting people and the environment, she added, noting that many stakeholders make use of them.

Action on Draft Resolution

The Committee then took up the draft resolution “Effects of atomic radiation” (document A/C.4/73/L.9).

The representative of Belgium introduced that text, recalling that a 2017 General Assembly resolution calls for a procedure to increase the Scientific Committee’s membership.  Noting that it comprises 27 States members, he recalled that in 2017, the Scientific Committee invited four countries to designate one scientist each as an observer before becoming States members in 2021.  The draft resolution under consideration today proposes a clearly defined procedure for increasing the membership starting in 2027, he said, adding that it strikes a balance between the principle of equitable geographical distribution and the need to ensure the Scientific Committee’s effectiveness and the quality of its work.  He also highlighted the draft paragraphs expressing concern about UNEP’s delay in selecting the Scientific Committee’s Secretary and the challenging relationship between the two entities.

Moving to take action, the Committee first considered a draft amendment proposed by a delegation.

The representative of the United States said that although his delegation’s support for the Scientific Committee remains unchanged, the draft resolution’s language on the criteria for new members is not sufficient.  While it is important to specify the criteria for experts, it is also important to consider the records of Member States, which must act in accordance with the United Nations Charter, he emphasized.  As such, the draft amendment reminds Member States to abide by Articles 1 and 2 of the United Nations Charter when deciding how to vote on an applicant’s candidacy in the General Assembly.  Noting that the text before the Committee in no way prejudices the work of the Scientific Committee, he said it is specifically directed towards Member States, which should abide by the principles of the United Nations Charter.

The representative of Israel expressed supports for the draft amendment.

The representative of India said the draft resolution contains procedures allowing any interested Member State to join the Scientific Committee in a transparent manner after demonstrating its potential to participate.  Any further specifications in that regard could affect its work, he cautioned, adding that India, therefore, does not support the draft amendment and will vote against it.

The representative of Indonesia pointed out that the entire draft resolution was carefully crafted and intensively discussed before today’s deliberations, cautioning that the draft amendment might tip that careful balance.  While emphasizing that his delegation is a strong proponent of the United Nations Charter, he quoted that document in relation the possibility that a specific paragraph in a draft resolution might create false impressions, as if the rest of the text is not based on the Charter.  Moreover, delegations cannot consider the draft amendment properly because of time constraints, he noted, saying that his delegation will abstain.

The Committee then rejected the draft amendment by a recorded vote of 17 against to 7 in favour (Guatemala, Guinea‑Bissau, Honduras, Israel, Peru, Ukraine, United States), with 114 abstentions.

The representative of Viet Nam, speaking in explanation of position, expressed support for expanded membership, but emphasized that Member States must work towards consensus, adding that Viet Nam will therefore abstain.

The representative of Algeria expressed opposition to the proposed amendment, pointing out that the annual draft resolution on the effects of atomic radiation is a technical scientific text and should not be the subject of matters beyond the Scientific Committee’s mandate.  Its work must be preserved, he said, stressing that Vienna is the appropriate forum to discuss such issues.

The representative of Iran said the Scientific Committee should be able to benefit from the contribution and knowledge of all countries in all ways, especially through participation in the Scientific Committee.  No political or financial pretext should be used to prevent interested countries from joining, he said, noting that developing countries are under‑represented on the Scientific Committee.

The Committee then took up operative paragraph 21 (e) of the draft resolution.

The representative of the United States said the draft resolution’s language on the criteria for new members is not sufficient, emphasizing the vital need to consider the records of Member States wishing to join in terms of the mission of the United Nations.  He urged all States to vote against that draft operative paragraph.

The Committee then voted to retain operative paragraph 21 (e) by a recorded vote of 136 in favour to 2 against (Israel, United States), with 4 abstentions (Honduras, Peru, Sudan, Togo).

Finally, the Committee then took action on the draft in its entirety, approving it without a vote.

The representative of the United States said his that although his delegation strongly supports the Scientific Committee’s work, it must dissociate itself from the language in operative paragraph 21 (e), because it is insufficient in relation to the criteria for new membership.  While the United States cannot support that language as written, its delegation considers it important to join the consensus on the overall text, he said.

The representative of Japan said that while her delegation joined the consensus, it was disappointing that additional costs related to reclassification cannot be absorbed.  Japan hopes the issue will be revisited in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), she added.

For information media. Not an official record.