The article on nuclear liability (January 2003 Legal Report ) was unduly alarmist. When assessing the effectiveness of the various nuclear liability regimes, it is also important to balance such consideration with the following factors:

  • The existing legislation in the UK and overseas fulfils some of the most basic purposes of liability law; it provides a pre-determined financial compensation on a strict liability basis to victims, and through this mechanism also provides a financial incentive for operators to prevent accidents and therefore to minimise damage to third parties

  • The international treaties, the dependant national legislation and relevant legal definitions are under constant review with the objective of achieving more clarity or instigating improvements

  • The 1960 Paris Convention has just undergone such a revision, which incorporates improvements that ensure greater financial compensation will be available to more victims for a broader range of damage

  • Terrorism damage, in particular, was confirmed as falling within the scope of the convention, that is to say the operator is still strictly liable

  • Governments and other international agencies are also keeping under review the level of financial compensation available from insurance, the site operators and government. Greater international harmonisation of liability regimes and higher financial compensation levels are likely to be enacted in the short to medium term.

  • While it is always good drama to talk up the prospects and consequences of a nuclear terrorist act, the reality is likely to be a good deal less exciting. Physical security of the plant and surrounding area has always been taken very seriously both at the plant design phase and in day-to-day operations. Critical buildings are designed to withstand enormous external and internal forces and represent a small part of each site. The transportation of nuclear materials is similarly safeguarded.

    I would contend that nuclear site operators (and their insurers) have constructed a robust regime that will respond effectively for the victims of a nuclear catastrophe. Everyone in the nuclear community is aware of the consequences of a catastrophic accident and this has provided the incentive for ever- improving trends in levels of nuclear safety, international regulation and plant performance.

    I would suggest that the search for inadequate compensation should focus elsewhere and that the nuclear industry should, instead, be recognised, applauded and emulated for what it has achieved.

    M G Tetley
    General manager
    British Nuclear Insurers

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