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After releasing a radioactive cloud over Europe, the April 1986 nuclear power plant accident at Chernobyl in the USSR sparked a chain-reaction of diplomatic negotiation that culminated in two recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conventions on nuclear accidents. The Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident (Convention on Early Notification) and the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency (Convention on Assistance) were both opened for signature on September 26, 1986 at the end of a three-day IAEA special session on the lessons of the Soviet nuclear plant disaster. In the months following adoption, sixty IAEA member-states signed the Convention on Early Notification and fifty-nine members signed the Convention on Assistance.

These conventions structure international expectations for quick response to the transnational effects of nuclear accidents. In doing so, the conventions aim to reduce the confusion immediately following such accidents by: (1) allowing more rational and effective crisis management responsive to accident-specific information; and (2) coordinating specialized national and international assistance capabilities. Although only committing signatory countries to do "what most would consider obvious and natural," the conventions nevertheless expand international legal responsibility for the extraterritorial consequences of nuclear pollution.


Environmental Law | International Law | Law