UK-France nuclear cooperation

27 March 2008

French president Nicolas Sarkozy and UK prime minister Gordon Brown agreed on 27 March that Britain and France would intensify cooperation on a range of areas, including climate change and nuclear power.

Several media reports in advance of the summit between the two leaders had indicated that the deal would outline plans for construction of new reactors in the UK, but the summit declaration contains only a vague commitment to “improve the efficiency and effectiveness of nuclear development projects…through our nuclear regulators working closely together to share information on nuclear safety, security and waste management.” Such cooperation “could be extended to other interested European partners,” the declaration adds. But how this might improve on existing cooperation between European nuclear regulatory bodies through the Western European Nuclear Regulators’ Association (Wenra) was not outlined in the declaration.

Crucially, the declaration cites pre-licensing as one such project. French nuclear giant Areva’s EPR is considered to be a front-runner for new nuclear build projects in the UK but the challenge of licensing the designs proposed for new build - by a regulator that has not licensed a reactor in recent years – could cause a bottleneck in any new build programme. “We will explore opportunities to increase the interchange of regulatory staff between the two countries,” the declaration states.

These measures form a part of the declaration’s commitment to work together “to create a low carbon economy in Europe and to promote it worldwide.” Other measures aimed at tackling climate change include working towards ensuring that European Union member states’ national renewable energy targets “take into account the different national circumstances, the overall share of low carbon technologies, starting points and potentials including the existing energy mix.”

The declaration also commits the two countries to working together “towards the establishment of an IAEA-led system of nuclear fuel assurances to reduce the proliferation risks.”

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