New Zealand Considers Nuclear Ban in the EEZ


In what would be a dramatic challenge to the transit of nuclear weapons and radioactive materials globally, the New Zealand Parliament is now considering legislation submitted by the Green Party which would extend New Zealand’s current legislation prohibiting the entry of nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered ships into their ports.

The New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone Extension Bill would amend the current legislation to include the transit of high level radioactive materials (nuclear waste, reprocessed fuel, plutonium and highly enriched uranium), and extend the scope of the nuclear free zone to include the 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The Law of the Sea obliges coastal States to permit the right of innocent passage through territorial waters (12 miles from the coastline) and freedom of navigation in the high seas and EEZs. However, coastal States have some powers to prevent threats to the marine environment in their EEZ and to prevent non-innocent passage in territorial waters or navigation in their EEZ which fails to comply with international law.

Proponents of the Bill argue that the high risk of trans-generational contamination by radioactive materials shipments and nuclear-powered ships give coastal States rights to prevent their transit. They also argue that the deployment of nuclear-armed warships violates international law in light of the International Court of Justice affirmation of the illegality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons, and can thus be prohibited in the EEZ.

Maritime States have opposed any attempts to curtail their legal rights to transit EEZs, although some have voluntarily exercised non-transit of some EEZs for political purposes. If the Bill is adopted, it would set a precedent for other coastal States, and for that reason the nuclear-weapon-States and nuclear-materials-transport-States are likely to challenge it and possibly take retaliatory measures against New Zealand.

The Bill is currently before a parliamentary select committee and could return to parliament for debate and a vote early in 2001.

- Alyn Ware


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