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 law 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 May/June 2021
- 1. Background
- 2. Ready Reference
- 3. International Organizations
- 4. Treaties
- 5. National Laws on Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Weapons
- 6. Case Reports
- 7. Books about Nuclear Law
- 8. Journals
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, very small negatively charged particles. The particular combination of protons, neutrons, and electrons in the atoms of an element provides the element’s identity.
Two elements, plutonium and uranium, have isotopes (variations) which, when hit with a slow-moving neutron, will split. This causes these atoms to send their own neutrons crashing into other atoms, which in turn causes 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.
The following sources provide fundamental facts about nuclear energy or nuclear weapons:
- Glossary of Nuclear Terms (World Nuclear Association)
- IAEA Safety Glossary: Terminology Used in Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection
- World Nuclear Statistics (Nuclear Energy Institute)
- Nuclear Data Bank (OECD) - mainly scientific data
- PRIS—Worldwide Database of Nuclear Power Plant Characteristics & Performance (International Atomic Energy Association)
- Nuclear Weapons Primer (Forbes)
- Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What at a Glance (Arms Control Association)
- Country Resources (Arms Control Association) - a country-by-country roster of nuclear treaty participation, weapons practices, proliferation record, and other arms control activities
- Discovery and history of nuclear fission (Nuclear Archive)
There are numerous agencies responsible for the layers of communication, regulation, and enforcement associated with nuclear resources. Note that this list identifies IGOs 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 are not directly involved in making or enforcing international law.
- 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.
- European Atomic Energy Information - This plain English legal compilation is organized into categories including “decommissioning nuclear facilities,” “safeguards to avoid misuse,” “radioactive waste and spent fuel,” and more. Explanations about these work areas have embedded links to EU commission documents and all relevant EU laws, evaluations, studies, and standards.
- 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.”
- Online Information Resource for Radioactive Waste Management (NEWMDB) - Browse or search through reports and profiles about each IAEA Member State’s disposal program in this extensive and accessible compilation that aims not only to disseminate current information, but also to serve as the international memory for international standards and national practices regarding nuclear waste.
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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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.
- Nuclear Energy Agency (OECD) “assist[s] 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.
- World Association of Nuclear Operators “assesses, benchmarks, and improves” nuclear operations by publishing best practices, performance indicators, and various other safety-related industry publications.
International security measures prepare governments to handle nuclear accidents and intentional nuclear destruction.
- 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 perspective 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.
- 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.
- INTERPOL -Nuclear and Radiological Terrorism – INTERPOL offers “training and expertise to help countries counter the threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism.” Its Geiger database “collates law enforcement data on incidents involving radiological or nuclear material. It is used for analyzing patterns and trends, risks and threats, routes and methods, weakness and vulnerabilities, and contributes to the publication of INTERPOL notices and the CBRNE Bi-Monthly Digest.” 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.
- United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) “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.
- 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 nonproliferation treaties.” Resources include the original and related resolutions, a database of national laws demonstrating compliance with the resolution, and reports on implementation.
- Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) works “with leaders, partners, and citizens from around the world to develop policies to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, prevent their use, and end them as a threat.” Resources include reports; testimony from government hearings; transcripts of speeches, interviews, and expert panels; and articles.
- 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.
- Missile Control Technology Regime – Committed to maintaining “vigilance over the transfer of missile equipment, material, and related technologies usable for systems capable of delivering WMD,” the MCTR primarily coordinates national export controls by which countries prevent missile components from being sold for use in weapons of mass destruction.
This treaty list 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. See Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, History.com (Nov. 9, 2009 and updated on Aug. 21, 2018); Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, JFK Presidential Library and Museum; Test Ban Treaty (1963), ourdocuments.gov; and Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), United Nations.
Master Nuclear Treaty Lists are available from:
- Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources and Supplementary Guidance on the Import and Export of Radioactive Sources
- Convention Related to Civil Liability in the Field of Maritime Carriage of Nuclear Material
- Guidelines for Nuclear Transfers (NSG)
- Guidelines for Transfers of Nuclear-Related Dual-Use Equipment, Materials, Software, and Related Technology
- Code of Conduct on the Safety of Research Reactors (IAEA)
- Agreement Between the Republic of Argentina, the Federative Republic of Brazil, the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials and the IAEA for the Application of Safeguards
- Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual Use Goods and Technologies
- Nuclear-Related Transfers and Activities (Procurement Channel - Resolution 2231 – regarding Iran)
- Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material
- Standard Basic Assistance Agreement between the UN Development Program and Member States
- Supplementary Agreement Concerning the Provision of Technical Assistance by the International Atomic Energy Agency (for governments that have concluded the Standard Basic Assistance Agreement)
- Supplementary Agreement Concerning the Provision of Technical Assistance by the International Atomic Energy Agency (for governments that have not concluded the Standard Basic Assistance Agreement)
- African Regional Co-operative Agreement for Research, Development and Training related to Nuclear Science and Technology (AFRA)
- Cooperation Agreement for the Promotion of Nuclear Science and Technology in Latin America and the Caribbean (ARCAL)
- Cooperative Agreement for Arab States in Asia for Research, Development and Training related to Nuclear Science and Technology (ARASIA)
- Regional Cooperative Agreement for Research, Development and Training Related to Nuclear Science and Technology for Asia and the Pacific (RCA)
- Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action –a.k.a. The Iran Nuclear Deal (See also: factsheet)
- UN Resolution 2231 Regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
- Code of Practice on the International Transboundary Movement of Radioactive Waste
- Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management
- Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (London Convention)
- Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
- Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water
- Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
- Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
- U.S. –USSR Strategic Offensive Reductions (START) (1991); (START II 1993)
- New START (2011)
- Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT)
- Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism
- African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty (Pelindaba Treaty)
- Cairo Declaration
- The Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America (Treaty of Tlatelolco)
- South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (Rarotonga Treaty) and Protocols 1 and 2
- Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (Treaty of Bangkok)
- Treaty on a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in Central Asia (Semipalatinsk Treaty)
- Antarctic Treaty (Prohibiting nuclear explosions in Antarctica)
- Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space, and Under Water
- Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
- Convention on Third Party Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy (Paris Convention) (includes 1964 & 1982 Protocols)
- 2004 Protocol to Amend the Paris convention on Third Party Liability
- Brussels Supplementary Convention on Nuclear Third Party Liability
- 2004 Protocol to Amend the Brussels Supplementary Convention on Nuclear Third Party Liability
- Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage
- Protocol to Amend the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage
- Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage
- Joint Protocol Relating to the Application of the Vienna Convention and the Paris Convention
- Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident
- Convention on Assistance in the Case of Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency)
- National Legislations’ Priority Rules on Nuclear Damage (neither a treaty nor official, but related)
Sites that can lead researchers to nuclear agencies and policies
- WorldLII’s List of National Energy Authorities
- Nuclear Legislation in OECD Member Countries
- Handbook on Nuclear Law (IAEA)—Volume I informs national legislatures of the domestic legal requirements set forth in international agreements. Volume II presents narrative summaries, model provisions, and other practical information to help national governments compose and implement nuclear legislation.
- National Source Documents compiled by the Nuclear Threat Initiative
- World Nuclear Association’s Emerging Nuclear Countries
Examples of National Law
Keep an eye on the Global Legal Monitor for emerging nuclear law developments around the world.
- Nuclear Legislation (Enter “nuclear” in the search box.)
- Regulatory agencies:
See Legifrance for legislation. Use search term: “nucleaire.”
- Regulatory agencies:
- Regulatory agencies:
- Regulatory agency:
- Legislation (in Turkish)
- Regulations (in Turkish)
- Nuclear Regulatory Authority (responsible for safety)
- Turkish Atomic Energy Authority (responsible for policy recommendations, research, and waste disposal)
- Turkish language PDF of nuclear legislation
- Nuclear Legislation
- State Department Office of Arms Control and International Security
- Regulatory agencies:
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, for example, are Resolutions and Statements relevant to nuclear issues in Iran. 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:
- Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal (This is a report about personal injury claims by residents of the Marshall Islands who suffer harm resulting from U.S. nuclear testing)
- Obligations concerning Negotiations relating to Cessation of the Nuclear Arms Race and to Nuclear Disarmament (Marshall Islands v. Pakistan) (ICJ)
- Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons (ICJ)
- Legality of the Use by a State of Nuclear Weapons in Armed Conflict (ICJ)
- Nuclear Tests (Australia v. France) (ICJ)
- Nuclear Tests (New Zealand v. France) (ICJ)
United Nations Monographs
- IAEA Handbook on Nuclear Law
- Other IAEA publications on regulatory matters
- Securing Our Common Future: An Agenda for Disarmament - "a set of practical measures across the entire range of disarmament issues, including weapons of mass destruction, conventional arms and future weapon technologies”
- Assessing Our Common Future - “background and examples of effective policies and parliamentary actions on a wide range of disarmament issues”
- International Nuclear Law: History, Evolution and Outlook (OECD) - “an overview of the international nuclear law instruments, their background, content and development over the years and to present an outlook on future needs in the field of international nuclear law”
- Nuclear Regulation Series (books published by OECD)
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. Examples include
- Nuclear Law: The Law Applying to Nuclear Installations and Radioactive Substances in its Historic Context by Stephen Tromans
- International Comparison of Nuclear Power Plant Staffing Regulations and Practice 1980-19 90 Edited by B. Melber, et al.
- The Oceans in the Nuclear Age: Legacies and Risks Edited by David Caron and Harry N. Scheiber
- 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 5600s and 6300-6400s. Examples include
- Interpreting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by Daniel Joyner
- Nuclear Weapons, Justice and the Law by Elli Louka
- ASEAN, the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone and the Challenge of Denuclearisation in Southeast Asia: Problems and Prospects by Bilveer Singh
- The law of arms control and the international non-proliferation regime: preventing the spread of nuclear weapons by Tom Coppen
- Iran's nuclear program and international law: from confrontation to accord by Daniel H. Joyner
- 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