The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) notes that the UK Government’s ‘Position Paper’ on leaving the European Union seeks to reassure the nuclear industry and MPs, but essentially satisfies neither.
The Position Paper by the Department for Exiting the European Union (1) confirms that the UK will leave the Euratom Treaty as part of its plans to formally leave the European Union. Euratom has been the principal regime by which the UK cooperates with the EU on civil nuclear matters. Euratom includes 107 different agreements that will need to be considered within the negotiation.
The Government’s paper argues it will seek to negotiate a ‘smooth transition’ to a UK nuclear safeguards regime that will ‘provide certainty and clarity to industry and others wherever possible’. It will also seek to collaborate on areas of wider interest to support ongoing nuclear research and development.
Key arrangements it will seek to agree upon to ensure this smooth transition include:
- A Voluntary Offer Agreement with the IAEA setting out the UK’s primary nuclear safeguards arrangements in international law.
- Taking responsibility for meeting the UK’s safeguards obligations in agreement with the IAEA.
- Negotiating with the US, Canada, Australia and Japan to uphold safeguards obligations.
- The new UK regime would seek close cooperation with the Euratom community after ‘Brexit’.
The tepid response from the Nuclear Industry Association (2), noting the huge complexity of leaving Euratom is symptomatic of real concern over disentangling from a long-operating treaty. Political opposition in Parliament is also likely given Jeremy Corbyn’s comments in Brussels yesterday where he said: “I would like us to stay in Euratom. I suspect there are complications around that but there’s got to be an agreed form of regulation for the nuclear industry for obvious issues of nuclear power and nuclear fuels and reprocessing — but crucially also for medical treatment.” (3)
However, given the UK’s decision – as part of invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – to decide to leave the Euratom arrangements makes staying within it very difficult unless there is a fundamental change to the Government’s position on ‘Brexit’ in general. As the legal expert David Allen Green wrote this week in the Financial Times: “If the government accedes to a demand from MPs that the UK not now leave Euratom, there seems no alternative but for the country formally to attempt to revoke or amend the Article 50 notification. A process started formally would have to be rescinded with equal formality. There is no obvious way this could be fudged. The die has been cast.” (4)
In March, the NFLA published a detailed briefing on the implications of ‘Brexit’ and ‘Brexatom’, and the key issues raised are quite relevant to this discussion. They include:
- A quarter of all time spent on nuclear inspections by Euratom inspectors is spent in Britain, due to the sheer scale of nuclear fuel fabrication and waste management facilities, such as Sellafield. These will have to be replicated by a new structure under the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR).
- Without Euratom the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) will also need to undertake many more inspections in order to meet IAEA requirements. This will put the nuclear regulator under severe pressure at a time when it is assessing a number of complicated new nuclear reactor designs.
- New trading arrangements will also be essential for the existing fleet of power stations, all of which use imported fuel and components. Nuclear reactors might well have to shut down in the absence of international agreements when the existing fuel runs out.
- It is important to note that the UK has little experience of negotiating nuclear agreements. For example, it took four years of “lengthy and difficult” negotiations in the 1990s to agree an upgrade to the Euratom-US co-operation agreement, which was due to lapse.
- In terms of the issue of nuclear liability in the event of an accident, there remains a real risk in respect of claims brought by claimants who are domiciled in non-convention states, but who suffer damage as a result of a nuclear incident in the UK bringing claims in their home country courts. For example, a claimant in the Republic of Ireland who suffers damage from a nuclear incident occurring in the UK could bring a claim in the English courts under the Paris Convention regime.
- The UK Government has been one of Europe’s most active supporters of nuclear power. Brexit could potentially tip the balance of EU member states towards an anti-nuclear majority. At such a time it is quite appropriate for a fundamental review of Euratom, which was last considered when the Lisbon Treaty was agreed upon in 2007. At that time Germany, Austria, Ireland, Sweden and Hungary suggested the pro-nuclear lobbying that takes place through Euratom should be reviewed. It is now high time to reconsider the role of Euratom in its entirety.
- If such reform took place, Euratom could be used to block, not support, the construction of new nuclear power stations in Europe, and rather manage Europe’s heavy radioactive waste legacy.
- In the NFLA’s view, the UK nuclear industry will be under great pressure to stop ‘Brexatom’ adding to the extensive delays in the proposed new nuclear reactor programme which is already under severe pressure. (5)
NFLA Steering Committee Vice-Chair Councillor David Blackburn said:
“The UK Government’s Position Paper on leaving the Euratom Treaty will require major and complicated negotiation in a comparatively short time and require a major expansion of staffing and budget to the nuclear regulator at a time when it is struggling to recruit new staff for existing work. The UK also becomes a sole state responsible for its own nuclear safeguards with some limited IAEA oversight, which is not particularly that much different to the likes of North Korea at present. This is one important area of the myriad difficulties in leaving the European Union. NFLA see great difficulties ahead for the nuclear industry. It also hopes as well that there can be a fundamental change in the Euratom arrangements in the rest of the EU to start moving Europe away from nuclear power and towards embracing the renewable and decentralised energy revolution.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 0161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) UK Government, Position Paper on Nuclear Materials and safeguards issues, 13th July 2017 http://www.gov.uk/government/publications/nuclear-materials-and-safeguards-issues-position-paper
(2) Nuclear Industry Association, 13th July 2017 http://www.niauk.org/media-centre/press-releases/nia-reaction-government-position-paper-euratom
(3) Politico, 13th July 2017 http://www.politico.eu/article/uk-should-pay-its-legally-obliged-brexit-bill-says-labour-leader-jeremy-corbyn/
(4) Financial Times blog, 11th July 2017 https://www.ft.com/content/0f57f69d-305d-3f9f-834f-90e43e3f2633
(5) NFLA Policy Briefing 157, 22nd March 2017 https://www.nuclearpolicy.info/briefings/nfla-policy-briefing-157-brexit-brexatom-and-nuclear-policy-major-changes-ahead/