Fourth Committee Approves Draft Resolution on Effects of Atomic Radiation, as Delegates Highlight Role of Scientific Committee

GA/SPD/702
24 October 2019
Seventy-fourth Session, 13th Meeting (PM)

Fourth Committee Approves Draft Resolution on Effects of Atomic Radiation, as Delegates Highlight Role of Scientific Committee

Delegates highlighted the role of the Scientific Committee in informing radiation safety standards for the entire international community, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) approved a draft resolution on the effects of atomic radiation today.

By the terms of the draft, the General Assembly supports the Scientific Committee’s intentions and plans for its programme of work, in particular its next periodic global surveys of radiation exposure.  The Assembly also requests that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) continue, within existing resources, to service the Scientific Committee — formally known as the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation — and disseminate its findings to Member States, the scientific community and the public.

Further by that text, the Assembly emphasizes the vital need for sufficient, assured and predictable funding for the Scientific Committee.  As such, it requests that the Secretary-General strengthen support for the Scientific Committee within existing resources, particularly with regard to the increase of operational costs in the case of a further increase in membership.  Moreover, the Assembly invites Algeria, Iran, Norway and the United Arab Emirates to designate one scientist to attend the sixty-seventh session of the Scientific Committee as an observer, pursuant to General Assembly resolutions 72/76 (2017) and 73/261 (2018).

Before starting its annual general debate on the subject, the Scientific Committee Chair Gillian Hirth (Australia) presented the report of that body’s sixty‑sixth session, held from 10 to 14 June.  The session approved two scientific annexes, she reported, the first addressing the sources of uncertainty involved in relation to estimating risk in five scenarios of health effects due to exposure to ionizing radiation that are more relevant to present-day exposure situations.  The second annex, addressing lung cancer from exposure to radon, aimed to update and clarify approaches to assessing doses and the risks of lung cancer from exposure to radon.

Concerning administrative issues, she recalled the negative impact of the delay in recruiting the Scientific Secretary on the Scientific Committee’s work, stressing the critical need to ensure continuity with the Secretariat in order for the Scientific Committee to deliver on its mandate.

With the floor opened for discussion, the representative of Belarus noted the upcoming thirty-fifth anniversary of the Chernobyl accident in 2020 and expressed appreciation for the Scientific Committee’s work in examining the medical and environmental impact of the accident, including its recommendations on protecting the area’s population.

Cuba’s representative recalled that his country offered comprehensive medical care to Ukraine, facilitating the treatment of 20,000 victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, most of them children.

Others speaking today were representatives of Argentina, Pakistan, Japan, Ukraine, India, Cameroon, Algeria, Morocco and Australia.

Also delivering statements were observers for the Holy See and the European Union delegation.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 30 October, to begin its general debate on peaceful uses of outer space.

Introduction of Report

GILLIAN HIRTH, Chair of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, introduced the report covering that body’s sixty‑sixth session (10–14 June 2019, document A/74/46), recalling that only 25 of 27 States members and four observer delegations attended the Committee’s annual meeting.  The session approved two scientific annexes, she said, the first addressing the sources of uncertainty in relation to estimating risk in five scenarios of health effects due to exposure to ionizing radiation that are more relevant to present-day exposure situations.  The Committee concluded that the life span study remains a main source of information for analysis and that considerable uncertainty remains around quantifying radiation risks, she said.  To reduce that uncertainty, it is important to improve and continue epidemiological studies of health effects from exposure to ionizing radiation and to develop methods to quantify and combine the various sources of uncertainty, she added.

The report’s second annex, addressing lung cancer from exposure to radon, aimed to update and clarify approaches to assessing doses and the risks of lung cancer from exposure to radon, she continued.  The Committee confirmed its previous conclusions that the inhalation of radon and its decayed by-products is carcinogenic, mainly for the lungs.  As for the ongoing programme of work, she said the Group of Experts assigned to review scientific literature on the levels and effects of exposure to radiation from the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in Japan continues its work ahead of the 2020 report.  As of April 2019, 50 countries provided data on medical and occupational exposure through an online platform, she said, inviting others to nominate contact persons to coordinate the collection of national data for that purpose and to expand the database.

Also during the sixty-sixth session, the Committee endorsed a second ad hoc working group on sources and exposure to examine the future work programme in that area, she continued.  The amount of effort put into disseminating the Committee’s evaluations depends upon the financial and human resources made available by the Secretariat, she emphasized.  Concerning administrative issues, she recalled the negative impact that the delay in recruiting the Scientific Secretary had on the Committee’s work, stressing the critical need to ensuring continuity with the Secretariat is critical for the Committee to deliver on its mandate.  She went on to welcome the upgrade of the Scientific Officer post to Deputy Secretary, expressing hope that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will provide better administrative support in the future.

General Debate

GUILLAUME DABOUIS, European Union delegation, described the Scientific Committee as essential in terms of supplying the international community with high-quality information on the sources, exposures and effects of ionizing radiation.  As such, it recognizes the need to perform quantitative risk evaluations of health effects in specific exposure situations with low-to-moderate doses for cancer and higher doses for circulatory diseases, he said.  He went on to welcome the approval for publication of the scientific annexes on evaluating selected health effects, on the inference of risk due to exposure to radiation as well as on lung cancer from exposure to radon.  The Scientific Committee recognizes the status of the draft report on mechanisms of radiation actions and biological reactions relevant for the inference of cancer risk after low-dose exposure, he continued.  It also recognizes the importance of completing data analysis on medical as well as occupational exposure to ionizing radiation in order for the relevant technical documents to be submitted for approval at its sixty-sixth session.  As such, the Scientific Committee’s work is aligned with the European Union’s own priorities, as reflected in the strategic agenda of its research community on protection against radiation, he said, adding that the results of the bloc’s research in that field will further contribute to the work and assessments undertaken by the Scientific Committee.

MARTÍN GARCÍA MORITÁN (Argentina) noted that provisions on administrative matters pertaining to the Scientific Committee make it possible for the Secretary to carry out its mandate.  Emphasizing the importance of studies examining the risks of secondary cancers caused by exposure during radiation therapy, he cautioned that negative effects could happen as a result of high or low doses.  He went on to stress the Scientific Committee’s important role in informing radiation safety standards for the international community.

RAJEEL MOHSIN (Pakistan), emphasizing that his country uses nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, said it has developed robust national infrastructure for the protection of workers, the general public and the environment.  In that regard, Pakistan relies on reports of the Scientific Committee as well as International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standards as references for developing national regulations.  The Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority is an independent regulatory body responsible for monitoring and regulating all radiation and nuclear safety matters in facilities operated by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, he explained.

KENTARO KANETO (Japan) said the Scientific Committee plays a vital role in providing assessments and reports on the effects of exposure to ionizing radiation.  Its work helps in the evaluation of radiation risks and in establishing radiation safety standards from which Member States benefit, he added.  Expressing his country’s strong commitment to nuclear safety, particularly following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in 2011, he said that as co-sponsor of the draft resolution presented today, Japan commends the Scientific Committee’s continued efforts to broaden knowledge and deepen understanding of the effects and risks of exposure to ionizing radiation.  Commending the publication of the report, white papers and annexes on the levels and effects of radiation exposure after the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, he said he looks forward to the Scientific Committee’s updated report.

CARLOS LEONEL ALVARADO GARRIGO (Cuba) said that, unfortunately, nuclear weapons still pose a threat more than 74 years after the criminal attacks against Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.  The total elimination of such weapons is the only way forward, he emphasized, pointing out that his country has ratified the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  The instrument’s implementation would constitute a true contribution to international peace and security, he added.  Despite the unjust embargo imposed by the United States, he recalled, Cuba offered comprehensive medical care to Ukraine, facilitating the treatment of 20,000 victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, most of them children.  He went on to emphasize that cooperation between the Scientific Committee and the United Nations system must be strengthened, observing that joint efforts have favoured the implementation of strategic guidelines in that regard.  Reaffirming the importance of peaceful uses of nuclear energy, he said broad cooperation in that area is the best path forward.

OLEKSIY ILNYTSKYI (Ukraine) welcomed the appointment of the Scientific Committee new Secretary, while urging UNEP to ensure that all steps are taken to conduct future recruitment processes in a transparent, effective and timely manner.  Noting that the Scientific Committee’s reports are widely used in Ukraine for long-term assessments of cancer risk following the Chernobyl catastrophe, he said that his delegation stands ready to engage actively with the Scientific Committee in updating and consolidating some of the findings and conclusions relating to its assessments of the radiological consequences of nuclear accidents.  Some successful post-accident activities undertaken by the Government include making the Unit 4 New Safe Confinement operational, he said.  Visible progress has also been made on predisposal of radioactive waste, he added, stressing his country’s recognition of the Scientific Committee’s contributions to the development of State legislation and norms in the nuclear and radiation spheres.

VITALY MACKAY (Belarus) said his country is a member of the Scientific Committee and expressed appreciation for its work in examining the medical and environmental impact of the Chernobyl accident, recalling with gratitude its recommendations on protecting the area’s population.  Recently, Belarus participated in preparations for the Scientific Committee’s report on thyroid cancers in the countries affected most by the Chernobyl disaster and became a co-author of the present report, he noted.  Belarus is interested in joint projects during the run-up to the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, to be held in 2021, he said.

DEEPAK MISRA (India) said the evaluation and reports of the Scientific Committee have been of immense benefit to the global scientific community, regulators and the general public.  Indian scientists have been carrying out exhaustive studies over four decades in Kerala State, which has high-level natural background radiation, he noted, adding that the studies suggest high-level natural background radiation has not increased the incidence of cancer mortality among inhabitants.  Indeed, there is a growing body of researchers who do not support the Linear No Threshold model of estimating health effects at low doses, he pointed out, calling for integrated international studies to collect more systematic information.  India has translated information leaflets published by the Scientific Committee into Hindi, he said, encouraging the enrolment of new members as well as active participation in its work.

JEAN LUC NGOUAMBE WOUAGA (Cameroon) said his country has not remained on the sidelines of international efforts on the effects of atomic radiation, pointing out that it established the Cameroon National Agency of Radiation Protection in 2002.  The Agency proposes standards in the area of ionizing radiation and designs guidelines for the extraction of uranium and related materials, he said, adding that Cameroon has also drafted a legislative text in the context of trafficking in nuclear weapons and materials.  As such, the Government took measures to regulate the import and export of radioactive sources and the management of radioactive waste, among other issues, he said, adding that since 2010, Cameroon has reviewed its legislation in that area in order to better align with international law.  Detailing his country’s cooperation with IAEA in terms of radiological protection, he recalled that in July, Cameroon hosted a regional course on dealing with domestic threats from radioactive materials.

MANEL ELAYOUBI (Algeria) said her country strives to limit threats and the effects of atomic radiation through national legislation and regulation, explaining that the Algeria Atomic Energy Commission oversees regulations, providing licences and training for those involved in handling nuclear materials.  Emphasizing the importance of supporting the Scientific Committee at the international and regional levels, she commended its studies and research, saying they inform the medical and academic fields.  She also welcomed the Scientific Committee’s strategy for the period 2020 to 2024 and noted with appreciation its coordination with many international and regional organizations, including the African Committee on Atomic Radiation and the Arab Committee for Atomic Radiation.

YOUSSEF EL MEZOUAGHI (Morocco) detailed the use of X-ray devices in his country, saying they have their compliance certificates as required.  Morocco’s Agency for Nuclear and Radiological Safety and Security is in charge of monitoring safeguards and non-proliferation as well as examining the effects of ionizing radiation on health, he said, adding that it is also developing a records-management system on dosage data for epidemiological studies and indicators for the study of workers exposed to radiation.  The Agency is finalizing a system for collecting data on scans and doses administered during radionuclide activity as well as on risks related to radon.  Moreover, Morocco has also been carrying out campaigns to measure radon levels, he said, noting that it has taken on a national mapping project in that regard.  He went on to explain that the national legislature requires that industrialists assess radiation doses received by workers, which allows the authorities to obtain an initial picture of exposure issues.

BERNARDITO AUZA, Permanent Observer for the Holy See, said his delegation looks forward to the new information emanating from the Scientific Committee’s updated reports.  He added that he expects the new information will help advance the technology behind methods to best contain nuclear radiation and other negative effects of nuclear power accidents.  The Scientific Committee’s ongoing work in addressing medical and occupational exposure to radiation, and the risk of cancer from low doses of radiation, cannot be underestimated, he emphasized.  He went on to state that Pope Francis will visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, sites that demonstrate the severe radiation consequences following the use of nuclear weapons.  Urging ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty by States whose ratification is indispensable for its entry-into-force, he acknowledged with satisfaction the growing number of those that have ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, encouraging States that have already signed on, to ratify it as soon as possible.  Adequate resources, in terms of personnel and funding, must be allocated to the Scientific Committee to ensure the global community has the needed information to properly deal with nuclear energy and ionizing radiation, he stressed.

Action on Draft Resolution

The Committee then took up the draft resolution “Effects of atomic radiation” (document A/C.4/74/L.6).

The representative of Australia introduced that text, noting that it highlights the Scientific Committee’s contribution to increasing and harmonizing knowledge on the effects of ionizing radiation.  It also reaffirms that body’s mandate to independently provide the scientific basis for evaluating radiation risk and establishing protective measures, she added.  Recalling that Australia was a founding member of the Scientific Committee and has chaired it four times since 1955, she said that, as such, the delegation is proud to continue that tradition by having Gillian Hirth elected Chair of the Scientific Committee for the sixty-sixth and sixty-seventh sessions.  “We are pleased that Dr. Hirth’s election brings us one step closer to achieving parity in the representation of women in high-level technical positions,” she said, pointing out that the vast majority of the Scientific Committee’s work is undertaken free of cost by hundreds of scientists all over the world.

The Committee then approved the draft without a vote.

For information media. Not an official record.