The UK government’s plans to leave the European Union (EU), and consequently the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), could threaten plans to build new nuclear reactors and decommissioning activities, as well as jeopardise energy security due to the impact on nuclear fuel supplies, according to a new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMech). The intention that the UK should leave Euratom was announced in the recent ‘Brexit Bill’, in part due to Euratom being enforced by the European Court of Justice and managed by EU institutions.
“Leaving the EU: the Euratom Treaty” says it is “crucial to highlight that leaving Euratom without the correct policy, regulatory and research framework in place, will have significant implications for the UK nuclear and radioactive waste industries”. The report calls on the government to urgently develop a suitable transitional framework before leaving the EU, and stresses the need for the UK to create new Nuclear Cooperation Agreements to enable nuclear trade deals with both EU and non-EU countries.
It points out the important role that Euratom plays:
- It enables a single market of goods and services for nuclear build, ongoing generation, research and development and decommissioning in Europe.
- It provides funding for nuclear fusion research being undertaken by UKAEA at Culham in Oxfordshire and it provides access to the European R&D community.
- It provides safeguards regime to ensure UK compliance with the non-proliferation treaty including inspection, reporting and accounting.
- It manages and develops the Nuclear Cooperation Agreements (NCAs) with non-EU countries on behalf of Euratom members.
Dr Jenifer Baxter, lead author of the report and head of Energy and Environment at IMech, said: “The UK’s departure from Euratom must not be seen as an after-thought to leaving the EU.” She points out the UK risks not being able to access the markets and skills that enable the construction of new nuclear power plants while operating plants may also potentially be unable to access fuel.
“With the Article 50 process taking just two years, the UK Government must act quickly to start the process to develop Nuclear Cooperation Agreements (NCAs) to enable international trade, for goods such as nuclear fuels and research,” she said. “Government must also make sure that the UK will be able to access sector specific skills not currently available in the UK, such as centrifuge technology expertise. There needs to be a thorough framework in place to provide assurances on nuclear safety, nuclear proliferation and environmental issues.”
Baxter warned that making the transitional arrangements would be difficult, given the short time-scale, “but if done correctly could present the UK with opportunities to speed up the process of developing new nuclear power plants and reprocessing facilities, boost UK nuclear skills as well as open up the UK to more international trade deals”.
The report makes three key recommendations:
- The government must develop a suitable transitional framework to provide the UK nuclear industry with an alternative State System of Accountancy and Control (SSAC) with the same provision as Euratom.
- The government must create new Nuclear Cooperation Agreements with Euratom and non-EU trading countries before leaving Euratom. Specific commitments for nuclear goods, services and research activities should be made as part of new trade deals with the USA, Canada, Australia, China and South Africa.
- The government through the Nuclaer Decommissioning Authority should enable innovative commercial opportunities to sell nuclear services and waste treatment technology to world trade partners.
IMech said it welcomed the opportunity to support the government and the Office for Nuclear Regulation in the development of this system and would welcome the opportunity to support the Departments for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and International Trade in developing these commitments.