x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Who is liable for victims of a disaster?

The UAE has yet to sign on to an international agreement on liability in the case of a nuclear disaster.

Japan is facing the prospect of paying billions of dollars to compensate victims of the disaster at its Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The scale of the accident - and the projected government bill - has forced countries around the world to re-evaluate laws that help to determine who is held liable for such disasters, and to what extent.

Among them is the UAE.

Officials are in the process of writing the local laws that would work in conjunction with an international agreement such as the International Atomic Energy Agency's Vienna Convention on civil liability for nuclear damage.

"It would be great to have it locked down in advance and have it ready, but as a practical matter there's really no possibility of nuclear liability until we actually import nuclear material," said David Scott, the director of economic affairs at the Executive Affairs Authority of Abu Dhabi.

"What you don't want to do is sign up to the convention and not have the legislation in place.

It's a matter of making sure the domestic legislation is prepared and able to take effect when the obligations of the international conventions become binding."

The Vienna Convention is one of a few international agreements on nuclear liability, and it helps nations answer questions such as how many years victims will have to make claims, which can become pivotal for those suffering radiation exposure.

"It leaves open a lot of things for the country to decide: the amount of money available; what sort of damage is it going to cover; and who's entitled to claim," said Paige Crewson, a lawyer at Baker Botts in Dubai.