Nuclear Law Research Guide

By Linda Tashbook

Linda Tashbook is the Foreign International Comparative Law Librarian at the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law's Barco Law Library, a Fulbright Senior Specialist, and an attorney in private practice.  Prior to becoming the foreign and international librarian, she was the Barco Law Library's Electronic Services Librarian.  Before law school, she worked as a public librarian. Her Juris Doctor and Master of Library Science degrees are from the University of Pittsburgh.

Published October 2011

Read the Update!

An atom is the smallest unit of any element.  The core of an atom is its nucleus, which is a combination of particles called protons and neutrons.  Protons are positively charged particles and neutrons are neutral. Spinning around the outside of the nucleus are electrons; electrons are very small negatively charged particles.  The particular combination of protons, neutrons, and electrons in the atoms of an element provide the element’s identity. 

Two elements, plutonium and uranium, have variations (isotopes) which, when hit with an extra neutron that moves slowly, will split-- sending their neutrons crashing into other atoms causing those to split.  All of this action, called fission, generates energy.  Since it happens in the nucleus, the energy is called nuclear energy. 

This fast chain reaction of spare neutrons from broken atoms hitting and breaking other atoms can be controlled by the addition of certain other elements or else it can be allowed to continue until so much energy builds-up that it causes an explosion.  In other words, the process that generates safe nuclear energy is the same process that generates dangerous nuclear weapons.

Nuclear law regulates the possession, transportation, storage, and distribution of the plutonium and uranium isotopes that are prone to nuclear fission and it also regulates the ways fission has to be controlled.  All of the following types of resources contain useful information about the existence, meaning, application, or enforcement of international nuclear law.


Table of Contents

Ready Reference
International Organizations
National Laws
Case Reports

Ready Reference
When researchers need a fundamental factual understanding about nuclear energy or nuclear weapons, such as definitions, abbreviations, or basic statistics, consult the following authoritative sources:

International Organizations

There are numerous agencies responsible for the layers of communication, regulation, and enforcement associated with nuclear resources.  Note that this list identifies IGO’s working on official information sharing, safety and security.  It does not include the many NGO advocacy and education organizations that may have information of interest to legal researchers, but which are not directly involved in making or enforcing international law.


A. Information Sharing

1.     Committee on Nuclear Regulatory Activities (OECD)
Senior representatives from national nuclear regulatory offices “exchange information, review developments, and review current practices and operating experiences.”  Resources include policy papers and research reports re operating nuclear facilities.

2.     European Atomic Energy Community
Known as EURATOM, this body “helps to pool knowledge, infrastructure, and funding of nuclear energy.”  Resources include EU commission documents and links to all relevant EU laws, evaluations, studies, and standards.

3.      “The Global Nuclear Safety and Security Network (GNSSN)  is a portal to “existing networks and information resources i.e. internationally accessible information and data sources, whether open or password protected that critical knowledge” established so that “experience, and lessons learned about nuclear safety and security are exchanged as broadly as they need to be.”

4.     International Nuclear Law Association
The INLA facilitates “studies and knowledge of legal issues related to the peaceful utilization of nuclear energy, with a focus on protecting persons, property and the environment; the exchange of information between members of the Association; and scientific co-operation with other organizations having similar objectives.”

B. Safety
When nuclear science is used in medicine, energy generation, and manufacturing, safety standards and regulations seek to assure that all supplies are accounted for and that accidents do not happen.

1.     Asian Nuclear Safety Network
Pools, analyzes and shares nuclear safety information, existing and new knowledge and practical experience among Asian countries… facilitates sustainable regional cooperation and creates human networks and cyber communities among the specialists of those countries.”

2.     Committee on the Safety of Nuclear Installations (OECD)
Assists OECD member countries “
in maintaining and further developing the scientific and technical knowledge base required to assess the safety of nuclear reactors and fuel cycle facilities.”  Resources include much technical instruction.

3.     European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (EU) 
Comprised of senior nuclear officials in the EU member states, this group works to assure safe nuclear installations, safe management of spent fuel, and safe decommissioning of nuclear installations.  Resources include internal documents about the group’s work and also some good clear factual explanations about nuclear safety and radioactive waste disposal.

4.     International Atomic Energy Association (UN)  Safety Standards page- “The Global Nuclear Safety and Security Framework (GNSSF) is a basic conceptual structure and a set of guiding principles for achieving and maintaining a high level of safety and security at nuclear facilities and activities around the world.” (IAEA)

5.     International Commission on Radiological Protection
Since 1928, ICRP has developed, maintained, and elaborated the International System of Radiological Protection used world-wide as the common basis for radiological protection standards, legislation, guidelines, programs, and practice.”  Resources include hundreds of reports on radiation in medical settings, airplanes, commercial products, etc…  Though not involved with law development or legal enforcement, the ICRP would be a good source for trial facts and expert witnesses.

6.     Nuclear Energy Agency (OECD)
assist its member countries in maintaining and further developing, through international co-operation, the scientific, technological and legal bases required for the safe, environmentally friendly and economical use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”  Resources include country reports and an ongoing series of policy papers specifically on the topic of nuclear regulation.

C. Security
International security measures prepare governments to handle nuclear accidents and intentional nuclear destruction.

1.     Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization
Really a preparatory commission, readying for the day when the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty goes into effect, this organization works to prevent countries from testing prospective or actual nuclear weapons.  Resources include explanations of the different types of nuclear weapons tests, descriptions of countries’ testing programs, and resources about the verification regime used to ascertain when and where nuclear explosions occur.

2.     International Atomic Energy Association—Nuclear Security
The IAEA serves to “review the general status of measures that protect against nuclear terrorism and identify ways to improve a broad spectrum of nuclear security activities.”  Resources include security guidelines, fact sheets, periodicals, and training materials.

3.     Nuclear and Radiological Terrorism - Project Geiger (Interpol).
Project Geiger maintains a database about illegal trafficking in nuclear and radiological materials.  Resources include a monthly news journal, fact sheets, and authoritative reports about trafficking activities, but these publications are only available through Interpol’s National Central Bureaus.

4.     United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs
fosters disarmament measures through dialogue, transparency and confidence-building on military matters, and encourages regional disarmament efforts.”  Resources include occasional papers, studies, several databases (including the resolutions and decisions database and the database of military expenditures), the Disarmament Yearbook, materials for educators, and a forthcoming repository of information provided by nuclear weapon states.

5.     UN Security Council 1540 Committee
Security Council Resolution 1540, from the year 2004, “
imposes binding obligations on all States to establish domestic controls to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and their means of delivery, including by establishing appropriate controls over related materials. It also encourages enhanced international cooperation on such efforts, in accord with and promoting universal adherence to existing international non proliferation treaties.” Resources include the original and related resolutions, a database of national laws demonstrating compliance with the resolution, and reports on implementation.

6.     Zangger Committee
This group of national representatives, “
formed following the coming into force of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to serve as the ‘faithful interpreter’ of its Article III, paragraph 2, to harmonize the interpretation of nuclear export control policies for NPT Parties.”  Resources include committee meeting documents and UN documents about exports of nuclear materials and goods having nuclear potential.

This treaty listing includes some guidance documents, such as codes of conduct, which are not strictly treaties because they arise more from the work of international organizations than from collective government negotiation.  However, because of their informational role in standardizing expectations and advising regulatory development, these documents will be useful to researchers alongside treaties.

Although the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb in 1945, it was not until 1963 that the first nuclear weapons treaty, The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, was enacted.  Read about the history of treaties on nuclear issues here or here.   

Master Nuclear Treaty Lists are available from:
EISIL - nuclear energy and  nuclear weapons

Treaties about Handling & Transportation of Nuclear Materials

Treaties about National Cooperation on Nuclear Matters

Treaties about Waste Management


Treaties about Nuclear Weapons


Treaties about Nuclear Damage


National Laws on Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Weapons

Sites that can lead researchers to nuclear agencies and policies:


Examples of national law:

Nuclear Legislation  (Browse by year and click on “find” for “nuclear.”)
Regulatory Agency:
China  Atomic Energy Agency

See Legifrance for legislation.  Use search term: “nucleaire”
Regulatory Agencies
Agence nationale pour la gestion des déchets radioactifs (ANDRA)
Autorité de sûreté nucléaire 
Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique


Nuclear Legislation
Regulatory Agencies
Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency

Regulatory Agency:
Federal Service for Environmental, Technical, and Nuclear Supervision

Regulatory Authority—Turkish Atomic Energy Authority

United States

Nuclear Legislation
Regulatory agencies:
Nuclear Regulatory Commission


Case Reports
The International Atomic Energy Agency is responsible for monitoring national compliance with international nuclear agreements.  When that agency has reason to believe that a country is violating international agreements, it informs the UN Security Council, which can issue resolutions, statements, and sanctions. Here are Resolutions and Statements relevant to nuclear issues.  These efforts typically rally national governments to cease certain aspects of trade with the non-compliant country or to freeze assets, etc…   National governments themselves, individually or collectively, can seek advice or action from the International Court of Justice.  Victims harmed by inadequate or failed nuclear safeguards can sue in domestic court or bring claims in human rights tribunals.  Most of the regional human rights tribunals have not dealt with nuclear issues, but there have been some nuclear cases in the European Court of Human Rights.  

Here are some of the most well known international nuclear cases:


Books about Nuclear Law
International nuclear energy law books might be classed in various places within the US Library of Congress’s  K3600-3990 call number range, but nuclear energy regulation specifically falls in K3986-K3990.
Nuclear Law: The Law Applying to Nuclear Installations and Radioactive Substances in its Historic Context by Stephen Tromans
The Oceans in the Nuclear Age: Legacies and Risks by Edited by David Caron and Harry N. Scheiber
International Comparison of Nuclear Power Plant Staffing Regulations and Practice 1980-1990
Edited by B. Melber, et al.
Nuclear Energy Law After Chernobyl  Edited by Peter Cameron, et al.
Updating International Nuclear Law Edited by Heinz Stockinger, et al.

Nuclear Weapons Law is amidst other use of force materials in the US Library of Congress’s KZ 5600’s, and 6300’s-6400’s.
ASEAN, the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone and the Challenge of Denuclearisation in Southeast Asia : Problems and Prospects by Bilveer Singh
The use of nuclear weapons and the protection of the environment during international armed conflict by Erik Vincent Koppe
Nuclear Weapons and Contemporary International Law by Nagendra Singh and Edward McWhinney

Canadian Military Journal

Energy Law Journal

International Journal of Nuclear  Law

Military Law Review

Nuclear Law Bulletin (Nuclear Energy Agency)

Nuclear Regulation