Transnational Shipments of Nuclear Materials by Sea: Do Current Safeguards Provide Coastal States a Right to Deny Innocent Passage?


The maritime transport of nuclear materials has created a conflict between two international law regimes: the United Nations International Law of the Sea, and the developing customary law of the 'precautionary principle' in international environmental law. This conflict became apparent in recent years when several coastal states denied passage to ships transporting nuclear materials arguing the shipments posed an environmental threat. This conflict has raised an issue which is currently unresolved: Do coastal states have a right to prohibit innocent passage to ships carrying nuclear materials if these ships fail to fulfill the requirements of the precautionary principle? This review finds the current nuclear safeguard regime does not require shipping states to provide notice to or authorization from transit states. Thus, coastal states have no legal basis to deny innocent passage. The safeguard regime, however, is evolving and may adopt a precautionary approach in the future.


Energy and Utilities Law | Environmental Law | International Law | Law of the Sea | Transportation Law

Date of this Version

September 2006