Liability Regime of International Space Law: Some Lessons from International Nuclear Law

AuthorLalin K. - Duangden N.
PositionPh.D. Candidate at Leiden University, The Netherlands. LL.B.(Thammasat), LL.M.(McGill). - Lecturer of Law at Mahasarakham University, Thailand. LL.B./LL.M.(Thammasat).
Liability Regime of
International Space Law:
Some Lessons from
International Nuclear Law
Lalin Kovudhikulrungsri
& Duangden Nakseeharach
Since 1960, the international community has established a plenty of multilateral
agreements on liability regime for ultra-hazardous activities, particularly in the area
of international nuclear and space law. The liability regime of nuclear damage has
imposed compensation exclusively on operators of nuclear installations whether
private or State under strict liability principle of the international conventions.
Moreover, new changes of international nuclear conventions following Chernobyl
incident reflect a significant change of liability for nuclear accidents. Although there
was similar incident, called Cosmos 954 case, with nuclear activity, international
space law has not developed and remained ambiguous in certain respects, while
imposing absolute liability on State actors. This paper, thus, studies whether States,
alone, should be liable for all damage from space activities caused by private operator,
similar to the liability scheme of international nuclear law. Moreover, vague term in
international space law, for instance, damage and other relevant concepts such as
space safety standard and international space organization have been taken into
account by comparative approach with the terms of international nuclear law.
Liability Regime, International Space Law, International Nuclear Law,
Strict Liability, Cosmos 954 Case, Chernobyl Incident
KFBJM3)3122*  291
* Ph.D. Candidate at Leiden University, The Netherlands. LL.B.(Thammasat), LL.M.(McGill). The author may be
contacted at: / Address: 131/91 St.Louis 3 Sathorn Bangkok 10120 Thailand.
** Lecturer of Law at Mahasarakham University, Thailand. LL.B./LL.M.(Thammasat). The author may be contacted at: 6/14 Chidchol Village, Gerng District, Maueng, Mahasarakham 44000 Thailand
The authors thank Professor Dr. Jaturon Thirawat, Professor Eric Lee, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful
comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. Special thanks extend to Supicha Siriwattana and Wiroj
Phattrateepakorn for proofreading the article.
I. Introduction
Both nuclear and space sectors share similar points. Even though their activities are
ultra-hazardous in character, the global community derives enormous benefit from a
peaceful use of nuclear and space technology. Each sector has a serious incident caused
by the former Soviet Union, namely, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and the
Cosmos 954 accident. Despite such resemblance, they adopted different legal regimes
with respect to liability. Due to this diversity, those injured by the Cosmos 954 space
activity case were compensated while no compensation was repaid in the Chernobyl
nuclear incident. Nevertheless, after the Chernobyl incident, the nuclear sector has
developed its legal instruments to be more effective and practical to private and State
actors, while the space sector has passed merely resolutions and not binding law. This
paper examines and compares these two sectorsregimes regarding liability.
Although there are some similarities in the nature of both nuclear and space sectors,
e.g., their ultra-hazardous activities and serious consequences arising from accidents,
there is a significant distinction between their liability regimes. The former imposes
strict liability on private operators, or so called civil liability, while the latter imposes
absolute liability on the State to pay compensatory damages even if there is no State
action. Since the Chernobyl incident, international nuclear law has rapidly been improved
and developed, respectively, by inter-governmental organizations through international
liability conventions. Conversely, the development of international space law has made
little progress not only with respect to liability, but also in defining damage, insurance,
safety standard, geographical scope, and intergovernmental space organization.
Therefore, in the light of the similar potential hazards between the two activities,
international space law would benefit by comparing it to international nuclear law.
This paper is divided into seven parts including introduction and conclusion. Part II
will analyze the general concepts and principles of liability regimes under international
law. Most liability principles under international law have been actually developed by
domestic legal systems. This part will thus explore the regime of international liability
for injurious consequences arising out of acts not prohibited by international law, which
is grouped into fault-based liability and no-fault (strict or absolute) liability. Part III will
analyze cases relating to liability, including the Cosmos 954 case and the Chernobyl
case. Part IV will discuss the international conventions regarding liability in both
international space and nuclear law. Part V will compare the liability systems of the two
legal categories. Part VI will make some recommendations for space law such as
clarifying the definition of damage and strict State liability. This part will also explore
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