Earlier this month, the United States and France issued a Joint Statement on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage that indicates the countries' support for establishing a global nuclear liability regime that provides compensation for victims of a nuclear accident. The principles espoused in the Joint Statement are straightforward and consistent with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Action Plan on Nuclear Safety. The statement encourages countries to have national laws that fully incorporate international principles, including channeling all liability for nuclear damage exclusively to the operator on the basis of strict liability, and implementation of best practices designed to improve compensation of nuclear damage. These goals are laudable and, for the most part, noncontroversial.
France and the U.S. committed also to coordinate their actions in encouraging adherence to the enhanced international nuclear liability instruments, including the Paris Convention or the Vienna Convention, which can be linked by the Joint Protocol, and the Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC). To some extent the Joint Statement reflects a shift in the two countries' approaches to nuclear liability, in that it suggests agreement that an initial step in creating a global liability regime is the entry into force of the CSC. Indeed, in remarks accompanying the Joint Statement, Energy Secretary Moniz states that "[t]he United States is working to bring the CSC into effect during the next twelve months." The CSC does not enter into force until at least five States with a minimum of 400,000 units of installed nuclear capacity have joined. And, to date, the U.S. is the only country with substantial nuclear capacity to have joined the CSC. But, if France joins, then the conditions for its entry into force would be satisfied. So, while the Joint Statement doesn't add much at the first glance, it may end up being an important step in the creation of a global nuclear liability regime.