Despite a draft Nuclear Safeguards Bill that will go some way towards addressing the new licensing requirements for nuclear fuel, equipment and radioactive material after Brexatom – as the UK’s departure from the European Atomic Energy Community has come to be known – the UK is nonetheless struggling to find a successor arrangement to the Euratom Treaty.
Euratom and the Euratom Treaty of 1957 that governs it were founded to promote nuclear power in Europe. The Euratom Treaty covers most aspects of nuclear fuel supply in Europe and has other technical and regulatory functions.
The UK has said it will leave Euratom at the same time the country leaves the European Union in March 2019, following the UK’s vote in a referendum June 23, 2016, to leave the EU.
The expression “falling off a cliff edge” is being used in the UK to describe the outcome that could result for the country’s nuclear sector if the UK left Euratom without an alternative treaty in place to govern nuclear trade with European countries.
The Nuclear Industry Association UK — the trade association for the country’s nuclear sector – has repeatedly called for a transition arrangement after the UK leaves Euratom.
Tom Greatrex, the chief executive of NIA UK, says that the “clock is ticking and there is still time for the government to review their exiting Euratom position and explore the alternative options available, including associate membership or at the very least a transitional period to avoid the cliff edge scenario both the government and industry want to avoid.”
On July 13, the UK government produced a position paper on “Nuclear Materials and Safeguards Issues” after the country left Euratom. The paper firstly argued that the UK had to leave the Euratom Treaty at the same time as it left the EU because “the Treaties of the EU and Euratom are uniquely legally joined.”
The position paper further noted that the “unique and important nature of the civil nuclear sector means that there is strong mutual interest in ensuring that the UK and Euratom Community continue to work closely together in the future,” adding that it was the UK’s “ambition” to maintain a close and effective relationship with the Euratom Community.
Beyond these platitudes, however, the position paper offered few concrete solutions. The draft Nuclear Safeguards Bill is slated to go through the approval process in the 2017-19 Parliament, along with a host of other Brexit-related legislation.
This bill will go some way to address the void left by the UK’s departure from Euratom, but the UK will need to still negotiate a host of bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements with countries such as the US, Japan and Canada.
The nuclear industry is so far unimpressed about the UK government’s efforts to resolve the issues posed by Brexatom. An industry executive told S&P Global Platts in an interview in August that “right now, we are increasingly looking at a situation where one day it will be business as usual and the next we will be unable to operate.”
The executive, who declined to be identified as he is not authorized by his company to speak to the media, added that, “If I was the government, this is an area in which I would really be very concerned at this point.”
The industry fears that key projects like the 3,200 MW Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in southwest England, currently being built by EDF Energy, would be stopped in their tracks if the UK were to leave the Euratom Community in March 2019, without either a transition or succession arrangement fully in place.
If this were to happen, everything from the right to transport key pieces of construction equipment into the UK from elsewhere in Europe, to the right of non-UK construction workers and engineers to continue work in the UK nuclear sector could be suddenly halted.