The government’s decision to quit the Euratom treaty has put the future of the UK’s nuclear industry at risk, the House of Lords has been warned. Speaking during an upper house debate on the Parliamentary bill triggering the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, former trade and industry secretary Lord Hutton described parallel moves to pull out of Euratom as a potential “catastrophe”. Lord Hutton warned his fellow peers that it will not be possible for the UK to continue trading in nuclear materials and services unless it is able to replace the arrangements laid out in the Euratom treaty. “We face this rather grim and desperate situation where we might find ourselves without any internationally recognised nuclear safeguards operating in the UK.”
Utility Week 2nd March 2017 read more »
Perched on a remote stretch of coastline in north-west England is Europe’s most dangerous building. Inside the innocuous-sounding Product Finishing and Storage Facility at the Sellafield nuclear plant is enough plutonium for about 20,000 nuclear bombs. It is the world’s largest stockpile of civilian plutonium – one of the most toxic substances on the planet – accumulated from decades of reprocessing nuclear fuel from power stations not only in the UK but also Germany, France, Sweden and other countries. When Britain voted to leave the EU last June few voters contemplated what the decision would mean for this deadly stash of radioactive material. Yet, as officials in Whitehall and Brussels prepare to negotiate Brexit, regulation of nuclear energy is emerging as one of the most difficult and pressing issues to resolve. One senior negotiator simply called it “a nightmare”. Britain’s plutonium stockpile is overseen by inspectors from Euratom, the pan-European body that regulates the use of nuclear energy. The organisation has a permanent presence at Sellafield and owns the cameras, seals and testing laboratory used to monitor Europe’s largest nuclear facility. Brexit threatens to upend this decades-old arrangement because the UK’s departure from the EU will require withdrawal from Euratom, a separate legal entity but one governed by EU institutions. At stake is not just the safeguarding of Sellafield but also critical pillars of UK energy security, scientific research and even medicine. All trading and transportation of nuclear materials by EU countries, from fuel for reactors to isotopes used in cancer treatments, is governed by Euratom. The UK now faces a scramble to assemble a new regulatory regime to uphold safety standards, while negotiating dozens of international agreements needed to maintain access to nuclear technology. Rupert Cowen, a nuclear specialist at Prospect Law, a London law firm, told a parliamentary hearing this week that the UK was “sleepwalking” to disaster. “If we do not get this right, business stops,” he said. “If we cannot arrive at safeguards and other principles which allow compliance [with international standards] no nuclear trade will be able to continue.” The potential consequences of failure – from the shutdown of nuclear power stations to the loss of radiotherapy for cancer patients – seem implausible, but coming up with a fix will not be easy. New nuclear projects involve foreign technology from companies such as EDF of France and Hitachi of Japan and Mr Cowen said the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom would plunge them into doubt. “Those that are building new nuclear reactors want to be sure they can get their fuel, their components and their people. When you come out of Euratom, if you have not put transitional arrangements in place, we will not be able to do any of those things.” Critical to replacing the Euratom regime will be a bilateral deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which oversees global nuclear safety and security. Euratom reports into the IAEA on behalf of its members and the UK would need to replicate this relationship. One option would be for IAEA inspectors to replace those of Euratom in the UK, although industry leaders questioned whether the global body would want its resources diverted from its non-proliferation monitoring in places such as Iran.
FT 2nd March 2017 read more »