Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



Legal regimes regulating the exploitation of atomic energy follow three patterns. The pattern adopted in a particular country depends upon its social and governmental structure. In socialist states, like the Soviet Union, the state owns and uses nuclear materials and installations and is a monopolistic insurer against atomic hazards. In such states nuclear energy law is simplicity itself. It consists of instructions and regulations on the handling, transport and storage of nuclear materials, and the management of nuclear installations by administrative agencies. An important part of the regulations deals with the safety and health of the workers.

Countries in which government monopolies (including a monopoly over nuclear materials) coexist with private enterprise present a more complicated situation. In those countries private law still constitutes the foundation for legal order and economic activity. Publicly owned enterprises are under the same tort and contract regime as private business. Transport, storage, and safety laws, and special medical and sanitary supervision of nuclear materials work sites are quite similar to the socialist regime.

Finally, when the government does not have a nuclear material monopoly, controls are designed solely to prevent public or employee exposure to the dangers of radiation or atomic disaster. Property, contract, and tort concepts retain their full force and importance and are properly adjusted to meet the special dangers posed by nuclear materials.

The differences between these three regimes are clearest under private law. Presently, the nuclear laws of the United States and West Germany are in a process of final liberalization. French law, however, represents an intermediate position because of the virtual government monopoly on the exploitation of nuclear fuels.