Evolution of International Cooperation in the field of Nuclear Law

Over the course of history, Man has depended on various sources for energy. In ancient times, they used fire woods from forests to warm and protect themselves and with the discovery of fossil fuels came a revolution in energy generation. Today, most of our power needs are fulfilled by fossil fuels derived from mines and ocean beds across the world. The problem with them being of non-renewable nature, the world is constantly looking for new energy sources.

Nuclear power is one such alternative to conventional sources of energy. Working on the mechanism of nuclear fusion nuclear reactors apart from being used for the development of weapons is being widely used all over the world to generate power.

Nuclear fusion can be simply described as when two atoms are combined or fused together, it subsequently releases energy, and this energy can be harnessed and utilised for a wide variety of purposes.

Since the discovery of Uranium in the year 1789, there was considerable scientific deliberation into its nature and properties. In the year 1896 when the radioactive properties of Uranium were discovered by Henri Becquerel, a whole field of scientific study begun in the area of Nuclear Sciences.

With Ernest Rutherford’s observation that the splitting of Lithium atoms led to a significantly high release of energy, research on nuclear energy commenced. Fast-track research pertaining to harnessing nuclear energy then started in the backdrop of induced radioactivity and other discoveries in the field of Nuclear and Quantum Sciences, i.e. the discovery of sub-atomic particles such as electrons, protons etc. The theory of nuclear fission translated into reality by the late 1930s and the first nuclear reactor came up in Chicago in the year 1942. With the unfortunate bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the year 1945, the extent of the dissipation of nuclear energy was observed globally.

The evolution of Nuclear Laws can be examined in the light of the following factors:

  • Bombings in Japan.
  • Production of electricity through nuclear fission.
  • The Nuclear Armament Race.
  • Depletion of the fossil fuel reserves.
  • Nuclear Accidents and the need for Nuclear Waste Disposal.

The potential of Nuclear Energy was deeply explored globally, and electricity was first generated in the year 1951 at the Idaho reactor in the US. In light of the depletion of exhaustible natural fuels, and the non-feasibility of renewable resources, nuclear energy was touted as a viable substitute to cater to the exponentially growing population of the world.

The commercial production of electricity by harnessing nuclear energy was debated extensively in the 1950s mostly in light of the WW-II bombings of Japan. The world feared that the normalization of nuclear reactors would lead to a larger threat of Armageddon or a global wipeout of humanity.

Nuclear laws began to govern the various aspects of nuclear energy aiming to strike a balance between the promotion of nuclear energy, and preventing the misuse of nuclear energy in form of weapons of mass destruction. The legal regime in the US began extensive de-classification of the documents pertaining to its nuclear programme to the civilian community with the Atomic Energy Act, 1954, which provided for both military and civil use of nuclear energy.

A domestic attempt by a sovereign nation (United States) was viewed as a rather small step in the direction of global peace, and international co-operation pertaining to information sharing and material supply was touted as a solution to end the hostilities among the sovereigns globally.

1955 saw the first initiative on a global scale being taken up as the International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, Geneva. Representations from 73 nations tallying more than 1400 delegates and over 1000 paper presentations marked the conference as a landmark event.

In the aftermath of the conference, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) came into being in the year 1957 with the adoption of the Statute of International Atomic Energy Agency at an International Conference in New York in 1956.

Md Sahabuddin Mondal

Junior Advocate, Calcutta High Court

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