The 7th of June was a busy day in terms of the nuclear preparations for Brexit. Two significant events occurred:
Firstly, the UK government finalised the draft text of the Nuclear Safeguards Bill. Following the rejection of the original Bill by the House of Lords, the House of Commons has suggested an alternative formulation of the Lords’ proposed amendment. The Bill has now passed successfully through the House of Lords, and awaits Royal Assent to pass it into law as an Act of Parliament. The amendment requires that if all of the necessary international agreements have not been and/or will not be put into place by the end of March 2019, that the UK government must request the European Council to continue EURATOM safeguards until the new agreements enter into force. The date of Royal Assent for the Bill is not yet known, but is a formality, and it is now expected that the Bill will pass into law in its current form.
Secondly, the UK signed a new Voluntary Offer Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Voluntary Offer Agreements are agreements between the IAEA and the Nuclear Weapons States to allow IAEA safeguards to take place in a designated set of facilities chosen by the country. The UK’s new voluntary offer is a first step in preparing a new safeguarding regime outside of EURATOM.
Both of these stories were reported on by World Nuclear News: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP-UK-on-track-with-post-Euratom-preparations-11061801.html
Nuclear-21 members were in attendance last week at the Global Nuclear Investment Summit in London (organised by the Financial Times and Ocean Nuclear). One of the speakers at the event was The Viscount Hanworth, Professor David Pollock, who has been active in the debate of the Nuclear Safeguards Bill. Viscount Hanworth described what he sees as the challenge for the UK to be ready to carry out its own nuclear safeguarding activities from March 2019, saying that the Office for Nuclear Regulation will need to double its number of inspectors by this date, and then triple its numbers by 2021, and that the time taken to train and qualify a nuclear inspector will make this target effectively unreachable.
He also reiterated points he made during the second reading of the Nuclear Safeguards Bill in the House of Lords, regarding the costs of preparing to carry out safeguarding activities outside of EURATOM. He stated that the cost of purchasing and installing the necessary equipment will be at least £150 million, with an annual ongoing cost of carrying out safeguarding of at least £10 million. In the ViewPoint, we estimated the share of the total EURATOM safeguarding budget as applied to the UK, and found that “the proportionate share of the UK contribution to the EURATOM safeguards budget would amount to €2.25 million”. This is equivalent to ~£2 million, meaning that the ongoing costs of UK safeguarding outside EURATOM will be approximately fives times the costs of safeguarding within EURATOM, with an upfront investment of £150 million.
Viscount Hanworth also discussed the issues he foresees not only with nuclear trade, but in particular the international movement of nuclear-skilled people following Brexit. He is concerned that the industry’s access to skilled workers will be impacted, causing delays to new nuclear power plant projects. The UK has several ongoing major infrastructure projects in addition to Hinkley Point C, including HS2, the Thames Tideway and Crossrail. All of these projects, and future new nuclear projects, will require access to skilled construction workers, such as welders, steel-workers and concrete pourers. Currently at Hinkley Point C, approximately 20% of staff are not British nationals. Following Brexit, new UK government immigration policies may prevent such workers from entering or working in the UK, and training British workers to the same level or gaining exceptions to allow the migration of such workers from other countries will take time.
It seems all may not be going as planned with regards to preparing the UK for an exit from Euratom. Sky News claims to have seen leaked documents which suggest that several key requirements for the UK to take over safeguarding are at high risk of being missed, including the set-up of a new IT system, recruitment and training of inspectors, the handover of equipment from EURATOM, and funding.
See the original story from Sky News here: https://news.sky.com/story/red-warnings-for-uks-post-brexit-nuclear-safeguards-11374097
The UK Government has confirmed that it will seek to participate in EURATOM research and development programmes as an associate country following Brexit. Such programmes include Horizon 2020, the largest ever EU Research and Innovation initiative. The UK would make financial contributions to such research programmes, and would expect to receive influence in the direction of the related research efforts as a result. Tom Greatrex, Chief Executive of the UK Nuclear Industry Association, welcomed the news, but said that many other topics covered by the EURATOM framework still need to be addressed.
More details are available from World Nuclear News: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP-UK-industry-welcomes-clarity-on-Euratom-RD-23051801.html
The President of the United States, Donald Trump, has sent to congress for review a proposed bilateral agreement for nuclear cooperation between the USA and the United Kingdom. The proposed Section 123 agreement would allow for nuclear co-operation between the two countries after Brexit.
More details are available from:
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has warned that the UK civil nuclear industry will experience “significant damage” if it leaves EURATOM. A new report, entitled Smooth Operations, published on 11 April 2018, strongly recommends that the UK remain a member of, or at least aligned with, EU and EURATOM regulations.
The new report was discussed in Utility Week magazine: https://utilityweek.co.uk/civil-nuclear-industry-faces-significant-damage-outside-euratom/
The UK Government has issued a statement to say that they are making good progress in negotiations for a new bilateral safeguards agreement with the IAEA. The new agreements are of a similar format to those under the current trilateral arrangement. The UK expects to ratify these agreements during 2018.
Tom Greatrex, Chair of the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA), has said that the UK Government still has much to do in order to prepare for Brexatom:
“The process of ratification for NCAs [Nuclear Co-operation Agreements] is unpredictable, and whilst the government suggests these key agreements will be in place by March 2019, this is more hopeful speculation than definitive statement.”
The Nuclear Industry Association is the UK trade body for the nuclear industry.