Between Prosperity and Destruction: A Modern Interpretation of the Right to Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy in Light of the Protection of Human Rights and Future Generations

by Daniel Rietiker


This chapter takes a new approach to the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The pros and cons of nuclear energy will be assessed in light of human rights standards, whereby civil as well as economic, social and cultural rights will be equally taken into account. Contrary to environmental law, the relevance of international human rights law has not yet fully been recognized in the assessment of nuclear energy. This is surprising since the welfare and development of the human being was one of the driving forces behind the inclusion of the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy in the NPT. It will be demonstrated that the appropriate use of nuclear energy can, indeed, contribute to the enjoyment of human rights, in particular through electricity production and its practical applications in agriculture, industry, medicine, biology and hydrology. Special attention will be paid to the right to development, the right to health, the right to a good standard of living, including adequate food and drinking water, as well as the right to life and the right to respect for private life. In these domains, States are under a positive obligation to pursue actively the fulfillment of these rights.

The right to use nuclear energy is nevertheless not unlimited and essentially the same human rights set certain limits. For instance, they constitute a significant barrier to an unfettered exploitation of uranium, causing grave pollution of ground water by which miners and local populations, in particular indigenous communities, are equally affected. Further, radioactive waste disposal constitutes a huge challenge for the present and future generations. Finally, accidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima have shown the destructive nature inherent in nuclear activities. States enjoy a wide margin of appreciation in the decision whether or not to embrace the nuclear avenue—the present Chapter does not purport to offer definitive solutions, but is rather meant to give some guidance and food for further reflexion.


Environmental law Human rights Peaceful uses of nuclear energy Radioactive waste disposal

Published in: Nuclear Non-Proliferation in International Law – Volume III, Legal Aspects of the Use of Nuclear Energy for Peaceful Purposes, Editors: Black-Branch, Jonathan L., Fleck, Dieter.
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