Nuclear liability protocols ratified to strengthen compensation rights

21 December 2021

Protocols to amend two international instruments strengthening the rights to compensation for those affected by nuclear energy accidents have been formally ratified and will enter into force on 1 January.

OECD NEA Director General William D Magwood, IV during the ceremony on 17 December (Image: OECD NEA)

The Protocols to amend the Paris Convention on Third Party Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy and the Brussels Convention Supplementary to the Paris Convention were ratified on 17 December at the Paris headquarters of the OECD. The protocols have been ratified by all of the contracting parties, with the exception of Turkey, which has approved ratification but not yet deposited its instrument.

Nuclear operators are liable for any damage caused by them, regardless of fault. Liability is limited - both in terms of time and amount - by both international conventions and national legislation. Operators generally take out third-party insurance to cover their limited liability, beyond which the state accepts responsibility as insurer of last resort.

The revised conventions will mean that those suffering damage resulting from an accident in the nuclear energy sector will be able to seek more compensation, the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency said. Operator liability under the Paris Convention will be at least EUR 700 million (USD789 million), complemented by up to EUR1.5 billion from public funds provided under the Brussels Supplementary Convention. This is up from the previous respective amounts of SDR5 and 125 million - worth about EUR 6 million and EUR155 million - as of 13 December 2021). (SDR are Special Drawing Rights, a unit of account defined by the International Monetary Fund).

The revised Paris Convention also provides now for a minimum of EUR 70 million and EUR 80 million in case of accidents at low-risk installations and during transport of nuclear substances, respectively.
The amended protocols will mean that claims may be filed over a longer period of time - 30 years following a nuclear accident, instead of 10 years - for personal injury or loss of life, and for a wider range of damage suffered, such as economic loss, the cost of preventive measures and of measures of reinstatement of impaired environment. It will also have a broader geographic scope so that affected persons in certain countries that are not parties to the Convention will be able to make claims if they suffer damage or loss as a result of ionising radiation emitted from an accident in a nuclear installation or a transport of nuclear substances, that are under the responsibility of a nuclear operator situated in a Paris Convention State.

This will become the international nuclear liability regime that provides the highest guaranteed amount of compensation available in case of nuclear accident, the OECD NEA said. Some parties to the Paris Convention have already amended their national laws to increase the nuclear liability amounts to the required minimum or beyond, it added.

In total, 16 countries will be parties to the amended Paris Convention: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and the UK. Between them, these countries account for nearly a quarter of the world's operating reactors. Thirteen of those countries are also parties to the amended Brussels Supplementary Convention: Greece, Portugal and Turkey are not.

Other international treaties on nuclear liability include the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage, the Protocol to amend the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage and the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, all of which are under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency. 

Researched and written by World Nuclear News