Brussels Convention on the Responsibility of Operators of Nuclear

Brussels Convention on the Responsibility of Operators of Nuclear Ships


a convention accepted in 1962 at a special session of a diplomatic conference dealing with maritime law. Convened by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the International Maritime Committee, the conference was attended by participants representing 50 countries (among them the USSR, Ukrainian SSR, Byelorussian SSR, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria). Accepted by 28 votes (ten votes against and four abstentions), the Brussels Convention was ratified by Belgium, India, Liberia, Ireland, Panama, the Philippines, Monaco, Indonesia, Portugal, the United Arab Republic, Yugoslavia, and other countries.

The most important principles established by the Brussels Convention are largely similar to the principles in the Vienna Convention of 1963 on civilian responsibility for nuclear damage: absolute responsibility of the accused parties (the victims are not required to prove guilt or negligence on the part of the accused); the concentration of liability on the operator of the nuclear ship, the person empowered by the corresponding state to operate the nuclear ship; and limitation of responsibility in dimension and in time.

The operator bears responsibility for any nuclear damage if it is proven that the damage was caused by a nuclear incident connected with nuclear fuel and radioactive products or radioactive waste of the ship. The operator is relieved of responsibility if the damage is connected with an incident caused directly by war, military activities, civil war, or insurrection. In regard to a single nuclear incident, the convention limited the liability of the ship’s operator to the sum of 1.5 million gold francs (US $100 million); the convention also established a ten-year claim period (as a rule, if the victim does not present a claim in the course of this period, beginning at the moment of the nuclear incident, he loses the right to do so in the future).

The convention established alternate (plural) jurisdiction. This means that claims arising from the causation of damage by a nuclear incident may, at the choice of the claimant, be processed either in the courts of the state which licensed the nuclear ship’s use or in the courts of a state (when a party to the convention) on whose territory the damage was caused. Only military nuclear ships are excluded, because the jurisdiction of foreign courts does not extend to them.

The Soviet representatives voted against the Brussels convention on the following grounds: the convention extends to military ships, which in effect legalizes the use of nuclear energy for military purposes; an unclear resolution is presented for problems of jurisdiction in the convention, which in practice can lead to the acceptance of nonobjective decisions; and the effect of the convention extends to state-owned ships, which are usually covered by immunity from the jurisdiction of foreign court organs.


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