The other Brexit has been forgotten. This parallel drama faces an equally dramatic cliff-edge in less than two years. It too is fraught with fissile hazard. We are told almost nothing. The Conservative Party Manifesto does not mention Britain’s exit from European Atomic Energy Community(Euratom), which must automatically take place in conjunction with Brexit. There is no outline of how the UK will seek to replace this arrangement, or what the emergency plan might be if we crash out of the system with no treaty access to nuclear fuel, services, and research. In such circumstances, Britain will cease to come under the international safeguards regime that makes nuclear business possible. It will struggle to acquire the isotopes used in medical radiation. In a political sense this sounds implausible. In strict legal terms the UK will have the status of a pariah state under nuclear sanctions until the technicalities are sorted out. If Britain has not locked in an alternative treaty structure or transition accord by March 2019, it will be cut adrift from the global nuclear industry. Nobody will be allowed to deal with us. The House Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee muddied the waters in a report earlier this month by suggesting that Downing Street is needlessly pulling out for ideological reasons, in order to escape the jurisdiction of the European Court (ECJ). It cited testimony from Manchester University professor Grace Burke – an expert on nuclear materials – stating that leaving Euratom is “ill-informed, irresponsible and unnecessary”. The report said the Government had “failed to consider the potentially disastrous ramifications of its Brexit objectives for the nuclear industry. Ministers must act as urgently as possible. The repercussions of failing to do so are huge.” This is a misunderstanding, typical of all discussions over Brexit. The European Commission’s legal services have concluded that Britain must leave Euratom under the Article 50 process. Leaked Brexit documents from Brussels state that the EU will wash its hands of all responsibility for the radioactive waste imported from Germany and other EU states that is stored at Sellafield on Euratom’s behalf. This makes our problem yet bigger. The fissile material has a radioactive half-life of tens of thousands of years. It is treated as a liability on Government books. There have been plans from time to time – and still are such plans – to bury it at huge cost thousands of feet below ground. Yet we could turn this headache into a bonanza. With the right technology, the plutonium residue can be harnessed as a fuel. “In the long-term it is incredibly valuable. It would be crazy to bury it,” said Dame Sue Ion. A generation of small modular reactors (SMRs) is on the horizon that promise to use up much of this fissile material safely, potentially generating power at a far lower cost than Hinkley Point. The process also renders what remains unusable in nuclear weapons. GE Hitachi ‘s PRISM project is another SMR variant, a 600 megawatt sodium-cooled reactor that could be built at Sellafied. “PRISM plants could meet all of the UK energy needs for the next 100 years,” says Hitachi. Britain’s Moltex aims to slash costs with a molten-salt design that uses a convection process, cutting corrosion and overcoming the sorts of metallurgy problems that have bedeviled past ventures. It too could in principle use up Sellafield’s waste. “It is a fantastic fit for Britain. It solves so many problems, and it is so much cheaper. We think that the levelized cost of electricity would be £40 a megawatt/hour once we get to the second and third reactors,” said Dr Scott. Hinkley’s inflation-linked tariff is already above £100 per MwH. The Government announced an “ambitious” £250m competition in 2015 to identify the SMR reactors offering best value, but the scheme has stalled. “Every deadline has been missed,” said Dr Scott.
Telegraph 29th May 2017 read more »