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Luxembourg Passes Law on Nuclear Liability

In July 2020, Luxembourg eventually adopted a statute on Civil Liability for Harm related to a Nuclear Accident. The statute imposes strict liability on operators of nuclear installations for any damage that a nuclear accident might cause.

There is, however, no nuclear installation in Luxembourg, and there will not be anytime soon. A constant source of disagreement and discussion between the Grand Duchy and France is the French nuclear power plant of Cattenom, which sits a few kilometers away from the border (France has the curious habit of sitting its nuclear plants on the border with neighbouring states). In other words, the new Luxembourg law is solely concerned with foreign nuclear facilities, and indeed essentially with the one in Cattenom (there are also nuclear plants in Belgium, but farther from the border with Luxembourg).

Cattenom: A view from Luxembourg (Picture: Paperjams News)
1960 Paris Convention

The first question arising from the adoption of this statute is why luxembourg did not join instead the 1960 Paris Convention on Nuclear Third Party Liability (Luxembourg signed the Convention, but did not ratify it). The Luxembourg lawmaker explained that it felt that the goal of the Convention was only to limit the liability of nuclear operators, and that it was therefore not in the interest of a country which did not have any nuclear facilities to join the Convention.

In particular, the Luxembourg lawmaker wanted to avoid the numerous limitation of the liability of nuclear operators laid down by the Convention (maximum amount for compensation, time limits, limitation to certain types of losses), but also the exclusive jurisdiction of the court of the place of the operation of the nuclear facility, which would obviously exclude the jurisdiction of Luxembourg courts.

The Luxembourg lawmaker noted that Austria had also adopted its own legislation, and that the goal was to follow this path. It also noted that major nuclear powers such as the U.S., Russia or Japan never joined the 1960 Convention anyway.

Jurisdiction

Article 5 of the statute provides that Luxembourg courts have jurisdiction to entertain

actions related to nuclear losses resulting from nuclear accidents insofar as the Luxembourg territory, Luxembourg residents or person on Luxembourg territory at the time of the torts are concerned.

Parliamentary procedure in Luxembourg includes a review of bills by an independent body, the Council of State (Conseil d’Etat). In its opinion, the Council of State remarked that the Brussels I bis Regulation applied, and therefore requested (but did not demand) that the provision clarifies that it would only apply subject to the Regulation. The opinion of the Council was not followed.

It is likely that the Regulation would grant jurisdiction to Luxembourg courts anyway on the ground of the place of the damage, but only if direct damage was suffered in Luxembourg. The first draft of the bill expressly provided that it would apply to “losses caused directly or indirectly” by nuclear accidents, but, after the Council of State pointed out that this would be hard to reconcile with the concept of causation under the Luxembourg law of torts (which would apply: see below), the referrence was eventually omitted.

This being said, it is a bit problematic that the Brussels Ibis Regulation could limit the power of a Member State to develop its nuclear policy. This was the goal of the exclusion of public matters from the scope of the Regulation, but in this context it seems quite narrow. The Rome II Regulation allows Member States to adopt overriding mandatory provisions, but who will apply them if the Member States may not grant jurisdiction to their courts to apply them?

Of course, the Regulation would not apply if the defendant was domiciled in a third state (say, Ukraine…).

Picture : Les Echos
Applicable Law

Article 6 of the statute provides that “In case of nuclear accidents, actions for civil liability are governed by Luxembourg law“.

Unlike jurisdiction, the Rome II Regulation expressly excludes from its scope nuclear liability. Even if it had not, the statute could certainly have qualified as an overriding mandatory provision.

Enforcement of Luxembourg Judgments Abroad

The statute is silent on the enforcement of Luxembourg judgements abroad. Quite obvious, isn’t it? How could Luxembourg possibly think about regulating enforcement of judgments abroad?

Not as obvious in Luxembourg, it seems. The bill initially included an additional provision stating that “Any judgment from a Luxembourg court which is res judicata cannot be reviewed on the merits“. Fortunately, the Council of State explained in its opinion that it understood that the purpose of the provision was to bind foreign courts, and formally opposed its adoption on the ground that it would violate the sovereignty of foreign states and public international law.

Sovereign Immunity

The statute is silent on sovereign immunity. The initial bill was silent as well, but defined “operators” as including “international organisations” and “states or any other public authority”. The Council of State wondered what was the goal of the drafters of the bill, and whether they genuinely intended that foreign states could be sued in Luxembourg courts and their nuclear policy challenged, and if so on which basis. These express references were eventually omitted from the statute, which defines operators as any person who has a power of decision with respect to, or benefits economically from, a nuclear facility.

Irrespective of whether the final definition of operators excludes states and international organisations (the Nuclear Energy Agency?), it is easy to imagine that private operators could be closely linked to states, and thus appear as emanations of states and benefit from sovereign immunities.

Conclusion: Preparing Future Negotiations?
Source: antiatomnetz-trier.de

France and Luxembourg established a Franco-Luxembourg Commission on Nuclear Safety in 1994 which has met 18 times since then. In the last meeting in February 2020, France made clear that Cattenom would not be closed before 2035. The Luxembourg government has long expressed its disagreement with the facility being further maintained in operation.

The Luxembourg press has reported that some Luxembourg politicians hope that the law will increase the costs of neighbouring states, including insurance premiums, to operate nuclear facilities near Luxembourg. Will this change the dynamics of future negotiations between France and Luxembourg?

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