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  • Writer's pictureSwaha Chakraborty

Taking Notes from Nuclear Regulations

Note that while the nuclear bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed a total approximately 90,000 Japanese civilians, COVID 19 has killed close to 7 million people worldwide. This difference in magnitude again conveys the importance of relevant regulations for GOFROC and how robustly they should be enforced, particularly in comparison to nuclear and atomic regulations.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is the international agency in charge of developing safety guidelines and safety protocols for its Member States. Nuclear safety is defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as "The achievement of proper operating conditions, prevention of accidents or mitigation of accident consequences, resulting in protection of workers, the public and the environment from undue radiation hazards". The IAEA defines nuclear security as "The prevention and detection of and response to, theft, sabotage, unauthorized access, illegal transfer or other malicious acts involving nuclear materials, other radioactive substances or their associated facilities".

To draw a parallel, regarding GOFROC, the corresponding agency can be the World Health Organization (WHO) or a sub-division of WHO.

At the national level, each country that uses nuclear power for civilian purposes has its own specialized regulatory body. For example:

  • United Kingdom: The Office for Nuclear Regulation is the UK’s independent nuclear regulator for safety and security.

  • Canada: The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission regulates the use of nuclear energy and materials to protect health, safety, security, and the environment.

  • USA: The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was created as an independent agency by Congress in 1974 to ensure the safe use of radioactive materials for beneficial civilian purposes while protecting people and the environment. The NRC regulates commercial nuclear power plants and other uses of nuclear materials, such as in nuclear medicine.

  • India: The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board was constituted on November 15, 1983, by the President of India by exercising the powers conferred by the Atomic Energy Act, 1962 to carry out regulatory and safety oversight under the Act.

  • Australia: The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) is the Federal body that monitors solar radiation and nuclear radiation risks in Australia.

Like the case of nuclear regulation at the national or country level, each country with BSL-4 laboratories, or engaging in GOFROC, should have their specific agencies that formulate and enforce relevant rules and regulations.

Finally, it is important to highlight that many of the regulations related to atomic energy and related operations developed following tragic events such as World War II (DURC) and accidents at Three Mile Island or Chernobyl (accidents). In the Three Mile Island accident, Unit 2 reactor, near Middletown in Pennsylvania partially melted down in March 1979. In case of Chernobyl (in Ukarine), on April 26, 1986, a sudden surge of power destroyed Unite 4 of the nuclear power station. This resulted in a massive fire that released huge quantities of radioactive material into the environment.

The Three Mile Island incident led to “permanent and sweeping changes” in how nuclear plants are regulated and operate in the US, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Council. These changes have made nuclear plants safer and better. Among the changes are upgrading and strengthening of plant design, mandate to immediately notify the NRC by plants of any serious events and expanding safety inspections.

Consequently, it is very important that any biosafety or biosecurity issues arising from GOFROC should be brought to light and discussed with transparency. Only then will gaps in existing regulations be identified, and there can be public policy debate around closing the gaps and even deciding on whether GOFROC should be performed at all.

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