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New Partnership Academic Programme on Nuclear Law

- Wits University

Wits is one of five universities to partner with the International Atomic Energy Agency to promote the safe use of the peaceful application of nuclear science.

Wits University has reached an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency to collaborate in establishing a Partnership Academic Programme on Nuclear Law.

It is the first of its kind in South Africa and Wits will be joining five other universities around the world that will be partnering with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The practical arrangements agreement, which was signed between Wits and the IAEA on April 29, has several aims.

The first of these is building awareness of nuclear law and its role in providing the safe use of the peaceful application of nuclear science among faculty, students and the nuclear industry.

The agreement also sets out to expose young professionals to nuclear law in practice at national, regional and international levels.

Another aim is to build capacity among the University faculty to teach nuclear law, while also creating and identifying opportunities for education and development.

“So this comes out of an initiative by the Director General of the IAEA to develop this kind of expertise,” says Professor Imraan Valodia, the Pro Vice-Chancellor at Wits, who was one of the signatories of the agreement.
“The IAEA came to us, because of our expertise.”

The plan is to set up nuclear law centres around the world, to promote the peaceful use of nuclear. The IAEA is promoting the original motto: “Atoms for Peace”, which aims to advance peaceful uses and application of nuclear technology.

One of the challenges of nuclear which these centres will have to address is shaking off the stigma of a secretive industry that is only involved in the energy sector and manufacture of weapons.

"Basically our use of nuclear is growing all the time," explains Professor James Larkin, Director at the Radiation and Health Physics Unit at Wits University. He was involved in setting up the agreement.

"If you go for a CT scan, that is nuclear technology, you have a dental X-ray that is basic nuclear technology. If you want to protect your house and you put in smoke detectors, that is also nuclear technology. So, it is in the background and we need people to realise that it has a larger effect on our lives.”

With the agreement in place, the plan now is to develop courses.

“The idea is to integrate several disciplines, from law, international relations, public policy, science to engineering. From that perspective, we need to look at the university's policies and explore how best promote multi and even trans-disciplinary programmes,” says Professor Tumai Murombo, of Wit's School of Law, who too was involved with setting up the agreement and a co-cordinator of the programme at Wits with Professor James Larkin. The Mandela Institute in the School of Law is the implementing unit for the programme.

The way forward is to first introduce short courses that could become available by the first quarter next year.

“We ran a course in 2018 in International Nuclear Law through the Mandela Institute, so we already have a framework for short executive education courses in nuclear law,” says Murombo.

“With the partnership of the IAEA what we are seeking to do now is to expand that into postgraduate degree programmes.”

The time frame for the degree programmes is longer, says Murombo and could stretch into 2024. 

“If we move fast by February or March next year we could have the degree curriculum in place for consideration by the various committees. However in the short term by 2023 we will have developed short executive courses to lay the foundation for degree courses,” he adds.

The plan will also involve offering a bridging course to enable interdisciplinarity and access to students from non-law backgrounds.

“This will bring everyone to a similar starting line,” explains Larkin.

While other universities are yet to join the initiative, the University of the West Indies has already approached Wits for possible collaborations with the framework of the IAFA partnership.

“Their law faculty has reached out to us in terms of possible collaboration around this IAEA programme. So, these are the types of networks that would enable student exchanges or even academic exchanges or the hosting of joint events,” says Murombo.