Switzerland achieves majority in favour of improving the Convention on Nuclear Safety

A majority of the Contracting Parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS) has supported Switzerland’s proposal to amend the Convention and have expressed their will to discuss it at a Diplomatic Conference. The Swiss proposal will serve as a basis to further improve the safety of nuclear power plants around the world.

In the aftermath of the reactor accident at Fukushima, the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI) has submitted a proposal to amend the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS).
In the aftermath of the reactor accident at Fukushima, the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI) has submitted a proposal to amend the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS).

Switzerland’s proposal will now be discussed in detail within the scope of a Diplomatic Conference. The Conference will be organised by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and has to take place within one year.

“We haven’t crossed the finishing line yet”, emphasises Hans Wanner, Director General of the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate ENSI. “It is nonetheless a significant success in view of the difficulties associated with amending the Convention.”

During the 6th CNS Review Meeting held in Vienna from the end of March until the beginning of April 2014, the Swiss delegation, in close cooperation with other Contracting Parties in favour of the Swiss amendment proposal, worked specifically towards initiating a Diplomatic Conference.

A Diplomatic Conference provides an opportunity to formulate a text that is acceptable to as many Contracting Parties as possible. It needs to be approved by at least two thirds of them.


Main lessons learned from the accident in Fukushima

The content of the Swiss proposal met with widespread agreement during the various bilateral discussions held with other Contracting Parties to prepare and initiate the vote of last week, says Hans Wanner. “All Contracting Parties have agreed that the proposal includes one of the most important lessons learned from the accident in Fukushima.

Switzerland's Proposed Amendment to the CNS

“Nuclear power plants shall be designed and constructed with the objectives of preventing accidents and, should an accident occur, mitigating its effects and avoiding releases of radionuclides causing long-term off-site contamination. In order to identify and implement appropriate safety improvements, these objectives shall also be applied at existing plants”.

“There was, however, some resistance to the idea of amending the Convention despite a basic degree of consent. That’s why it was so important to inform the hesitant Contracting Parties about the different steps in the process in order to reduce the reluctance of making changes”, says Hans Wanner in describing the efforts undertaken by the entire Swiss delegation, which was strongly supported by representatives of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

It was made clear to all that the Convention already provides rules to initiate a potential amendment process. “The technology of nuclear power plants is also subjected to continuous development and improvement”, pointed out ENSI’s Director General. Furthermore, amending international treaties in the light of new developments is in fact the norm rather than the exception.

Process for Amending the CNS

The process to amend the CNS is a stepwise approach, as defined in its Article 32.

The first step involved is seeking a consensus among the Contracting Parties concerning the proposed amendment. This was not achieved at the 6th Review Meeting of the CNS, as some of the Contracting Parties were against amending the Convention and achieving a consensus is dependent on the consent of all parties.

In  a second step,  the Contracting Parties had the option to submit the amendment proposal to a Diplomatic Conference  where the proposal can be discussed in greater detail.

Reaching  a Diplomatic Conference requires a two-thirds majority of the Contracting Parties present and voting.

For the next months,  the main objective for Switzerland and the Contracting Parties  having supported the amendment proposal is to to find a suitable text that can achieve consensus at the Diplomatic Conference.

If a consensus cannot be reached during the Diplomatic Conference, the parties have the option to vote on the proposal.

A two-thirds majority of all Contracting Parties of the Convention is required; otherwise the proposal will be shelved.

In the event the parties consent to an amendment to the Convention, the change will come into force once it has been ratified by three quarters of the Contracting Parties.