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IMechE: UK’s break from EU could threaten nuclear fuel supplies and new reactor build

16 February 2017

UK Government must establish clear transitional arrangements to leaving EU nuclear treaty according to a new report

The UK Government’s plans to leave the EU, and consequently the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), could threaten plans to build new nuclear reactors and decommissioning activities, as well as jeopardise energy security due to the impact on nuclear fuel supplies, according to a new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

The ‘Leaving the EU: the Euratom Treaty’ report calls for Government to urgently develop a suitable transitional framework before leaving the EU, and for the need for the UK to create new Nuclear Cooperation Agreements to enable new nuclear trade deals with both EU and non-EU countries.

Dr Jenifer Baxter, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and Lead Author of the report, said:

“The UK’s departure from Euratom must not be seen as an after-thought to leaving the EU. Without suitable transitional arrangements, the UK runs the risk of not being able to access the markets and skills that enable the construction of new nuclear power plants and existing power stations may also potentially be unable to access fuel.

“With the Article 50 process taking just two years, the UK Government must act quickly to start the process to develop Nuclear Cooperation Agreements (NCAs) to enable international trade, for goods such as nuclear fuels and research. Government must also make sure that the UK will be able to access sector specific skills not currently available in the UK, such as centrifuge technology expertise. There needs to be a thorough framework in place to provide assurances on nuclear safety, nuclear proliferation and environmental issues.

“Making these transitional arrangements will be difficult, particularly given the short time-scale, but if done correctly could present the UK with opportunities to speed up the process of developing new nuclear power plants and reprocessing facilities, boost UK nuclear skills as well as open up the UK to more international trade deals.”

The report makes three key recommendations:

The UK Government must develop a suitable transitional framework that provides the UK nuclear industry an alternative State System of Accountancy and Control (SSAC) creating the same provision as Euratom prior to leaving the EU and Euratom treaties. The Institution would welcome the opportunity to support the UK Government and the Office for Nuclear Regulation in the development of this system.

The UK Government must create new Nuclear Cooperation Agreements with Euratom and non-EU trading countries prior to leaving Euratom. Specific commitments for nuclear goods, services and research activities should be made as part of new trade deals with the USA, Canada, Australia, China and South Africa. The Institution would welcome the opportunity to support the Departments for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and International Trade in developing these commitments.

The UK Government through the National Decommissioning Authority enables innovative commercial opportunities to sell nuclear services and waste treatment technology to world trade partners.

The intention that the UK should leave Euratom was announced in the recent ‘Brexit Bill’, in part due to Euratom being enforced by the European Court of Justice and managed by EU institutions.

To read the full report, please click here
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