Book Reviews: Nuclear Law - The Law applying to nuclear installations and Radioactive substances in its Historical context


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This is an important and timely book. Not so very long ago the future of nuclear energy appeared to be a matter principally of decline, decommissioning and waste disposal. While these are all still features of considerable importance, the past few years have seen a remarkable transformation in the fortunes of nuclear energy. With zero emissions of greenhouse gases in operation, the attractions of nuclear power stations for governments struggling to meet CO, targets are obvious. The UK - in common with' a number of other European countries which had either imposed moratoria on new build or otherwise stepped back from constructing further nuclear power stations (such as Italy, Sweden and Switzerland) - is now displaying renewed enthusiasm, even if the economics of nuclear new build remain uncertain. Elsewhere similar enthusiasm has already been translated into action, such as in Finland, France and, most notably, China. If anyone is in any doubt as to the potential future scale of nuclear power generation, they need look no further than the overview of planned developments globally in the opening chapter of this book. This chapter also provides the context for the rest of the book in terms of technical, historical, economic and political issues.

From that opening chapter, the reader derives a clear impression of the international reach of nuclear issues, not least, of course, as a result of the potential for transboundary problems associated with any accident. International legal instruments accordingly underpin a great deal of what happens at the domestic level and permeate the discussion throughout the book. Chapter 2 lays the foundation in this regard by introducing the institutions and regimes concerned with nuclear energy (and indeed radioactive substances more generally) at the international level, including the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Chapter 3 discusses the implications for EU Member States of the Euratom Treaty, which insofar as it seeks to encourage the peaceful use of nuclear energy has proved controversial during periods when this objective seemed to be at odds with the prevailing public and indeed political mood, but which once again appears to offer a platform for the safe expansion of nuclear energy in the context of climate change.

The next two chapters cover matters that are of particular importance given the increased likelihood of there being new nuclear power stations in the UK in the years ahead. Chapter 4 considers the question of licensing, including the Generic Design Assessment approach now adopted by the Health and Safety Executive, while Chapter 5 discusses new build more directly, not least the developments in England and Wales as a result of the Planning Act 2008. Depending on one's point of view, these legal innovations are either timely responses to the looming energy gap or attempts to fast-track controversial decisions.

The reality of nuclear accidents, discussed in the opening chapter of the book, has made the question of liability one of the most important in the field of nuclear law. Chapter 6 very comprehensively covers both the international treaties (the Paris. Brussels and Vienna Conven-tions) thai have progressively responded to this issue and the UK position notably under the Nuclear Installations Act 1965.

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