October 25, 2019
Statement on the Effects of Atomic Radiation

Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See
Seventy-fourth Session of the United Nations General Assembly
Fourth Committee Agenda Item 48: Effects of Atomic Radiation
New York, 24 October 2019

Mr. Chair,

The Delegation of the Holy See wishes to commend the continuing work of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), as evidenced by their 66th annual meeting this past June in Vienna.

At that meeting, UNSCEAR approved reports dealing with health issues related to radiation exposure and with the consequences of exposure to radon in relation to lung cancer.  Moreover, it continued its work in updating its 2013 report on the radiological consequences of the Fukushima nuclear accident, an event that has underlined the potentially catastrophic impact of such accidents resulting from unanticipated disasters, such as the earthquake and the tsunami that caused the Fukushima accident.

My Delegation looks forward to learning from the important new information that the update will provide, in particular with regard to the state of health of those who have been exposed to radiation resulting from the accident as well as a greater understanding of the long-term effects of exposure to radiation. Moreover, we expect that the update will contribute to advancing the technology on how best to contain nuclear radiation and other negative effects in case of a nuclear power accident, as well as on the safest designs possible for nuclear electric power generation.

Likewise, the importance of the on-going work of UNSCEAR in addressing medical and occupational exposures to radiation and the risk of cancer from low doses of radiation cannot be underestimated.   

Mr. Chair,

The media continues to draw our attention to and generate interest in the use of nuclear reactors to power spacecraft or facilities on the moon, or even missiles or torpedoes.  These reports bring home the reality that the risks from atomic radiation remain and may in certain circumstances even increase.  Such risks do not even come anywhere near to the severe radiation exposures that would follow any use of nuclear weapons. We are painfully aware of the radiation consequences of the nuclear explosions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which will be visited by Pope Francis next month. There, he will encourage the international community to reflect deeply on the horrendous human suffering caused by nuclear weapon use, as well as the devastating effects on the environment, the likes of which must never happen again.

Then there are, of course, the consequences following nuclear weapon testing, especially in the atmosphere, in the Pacific and downwind from test sites. Nuclear tests involve the uncontrolled release of radioactive materials directly into the environment. They have resulted in the largest cumulative dose of man-made radiation unleashed thus far upon populations and the global environment. The non-proliferation framework therefore must work tirelessly for a comprehensive nuclear-test ban as it does for nuclear disarmament.

In this regard, the Holy See urges the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) on the part of States whose ratification is indispensable for its entry into force. The Holy See acknowledges with satisfaction the increasing number of States who have ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), and encourages those States who have already signed it to ratify it as soon as possible. The TPNW is a result of the efforts of many States and other stakeholders to promote greater awareness and a deeper understanding of the serious humanitarian consequences and environmental disasters that would ensue from the use of nuclear weapons.

Finally, to ensure that the global community has the information it needs to deal properly with nuclear energy and with ionizing radiation, it continues to be of great importance that adequate resources be allotted to UNSCEAR, both in terms of personnel as well as the funding needed to accomplish its work.

My Delegation extends its best wishes for success to Ms. Borislava Batandjieva-Metcalf as she assumes her responsibilities as the new Secretary of the Committee, as well as the officials of this year’s and next year’s Committee sessions.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.