Wits University Enters Nuclear Law Pilot Partnership With International Atomic Energy Agency

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  • IAEA legal experts have delivered the agency’s first-ever short introductory course on nuclear law for university students at the Khalifa University in the United Arab Emirates. 
  • It is offered as part of the implementation of pilot partnerships concluded between the IAEA in Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, Jamaica, Wits University in South Africa and the UAE.

The initiative was launched by IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi at the Agency’s First International Conference on Nuclear Law last year. It is meant to increase educational and professional development opportunities for students and aspiring professionals in the field of nuclear law in IAEA member countries.

The short course was attended by students form different academic disciplines as well as officials and representatives of the University faculty. This is the first such course in a series – five more universities around the world will follow as hosts of the course in the coming months.

Professor Françis Foulon, Director of the Emirates Nuclear Technology Centre and Chair of the Nuclear Engineering Department at the UAE’s Khalifa University highlighted the current partnership between the Agency and University, which since 2017 has been an IAEA Designated Collaborating Centre. “Given the important role of higher education and research in supporting the nuclear power programme and deployment of nuclear energy in the UAE, we highly appreciate the IAEA’s timely and crucial support in building the university’s educational capacities in the field of nuclear law,” said Foulon.

Nuclear law changing as technology evolves 

Under the initiative the Agency will support the universities to establish a postgraduate certificate programme on nuclear law within their existing curricula. The course is open to students and professionals from a range of academic backgrounds including law, science and technology, engineering, policy and communication. This is to encourage building a bridge between professionals in legal and non-legal backgrounds.

Wolfram Tonhauser, head of the IAEA’s Nuclear and Treaty Law Section in the Office of Legal Affairs led the team of experts who visited the university. He underscored the signification of the partnership against a background of evolving nuclear technology and in the context of advancing the teaching and dissemination of nuclear law.

“I wish, especially, to stress the interdisciplinary character of the postgraduate certificate programme on nuclear law that the IAEA is supporting the university in establishing. I encourage all the participants, whether from a legal or a science and engineering background, to pursue this programme, as an opportunity to strengthen professional experience,” said Tonhauser.

The short course provided the participants with an introduction to nuclear law, including the history and work of the IAEA; and the four pillars of international and national nuclear law, namely nuclear safety, nuclear security, safeguards and civil liability for nuclear damage. It also covered the elements of comprehensive national nuclear law; the IAEA Legislative Assistance Programme; nuclear law and its relationship with other areas of law, and the impact of new and advanced nuclear technologies on nuclear law.

The initiative is being implemented within the framework of the IAEA Legislative Assistance Programme, which is supported by the Agency’s Technical Cooperation Programme.

Wits programme

Speaking when the agreement to collaborate was signed between Wits and the IAEA, Professor Imraan Valodia, Wits Pro Vice-Chancellor – who was a signatory to the agreement – explained the Agency had approached them because of their experience. “The plan is to set up nuclear law centres around the world, to promote the peaceful use of nuclear,” said Valodia.

One of the challenges the centres will try to address is how to shake off the stigma of a secretive industry that only works in the energy sector and manufacture of weapons.

Professor James Larkin, Director at the Wits Radiation and Health Physics Unit said the use of nuclear is growing all the time. “If you go for a CT scan, that is nuclear technology, you have a dental X-ray that is basic nuclear technology. If you want to protect your house and you put in smoke detectors, that is also nuclear technology. So, it is in the background and we need people to realise that it has a larger effect on our lives,” said Larkin.

Professor Tumai Murombo of the Wits School of Law said their Mandela Institute will be the implementing unit for the programme in South Africa. “We ran a course in 2018 in International Nuclear Law through the Mandela Institute, so we already have a framework for short executive education courses in nuclear law.

“With the partnership of the IAEA what we are seeking to do now is to expand that into postgraduate degree programmes,” explained Murombo.

The plan includes a bridging course to enable interdisciplinarity and access to students from non-law backgrounds. “This will bring everyone to a similar starting line,” explained Larkin.

Author: Theresa Smith 

Theresa Smith is a conference producer for Vuka Group.

This article was originally published on ESI Africa and is republished with permission with minor editorial changes.



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