The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) publishes today a report analysing the potential effects that the UK leaving the European Union and the Euratom Treaty is likely to have on UK nuclear energy and nuclear safety policy, and its wider impact on the proposed single energy market on the island of Ireland.
The briefing is the first of two that will consider what ‘Brexit’ and ‘Brexatom’ means for UK and European civil and defence nuclear policy.(1)
The UK Government is expected to formally invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and start the formal negotiation to leave the European Union on the 29th March. As part of this process the UK Government has also said it will commence a parallel negotiation to leave the Euratom Treaty. This Treaty governs nuclear power policy and nuclear safety arrangements in the European Union.
As the NFLA briefing notes, the UK nuclear industry is particularly worried that leaving EURATOM will complicate and delay plans to build a new generation of nuclear power stations. EURATOM has approximately 20 nuclear co-operation agreements with other countries around the world which allow trade in nuclear equipment and materials between Europe and with other countries. The UK Government has indicated it will move such arrangements under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Authority, but the briefing says considerable negotiation is required to ensure arrangements are maintained to a similar level as occurs presently.
Other issues noted in the NFLA Briefing on ‘Brexit’ and ‘Brexatom’ include:
- A quarter of all time spent on nuclear inspections by EURATOM inspectors is spent in Britain, due to the scale of nuclear fuel fabrication and waste management facilities, such as Sellafield.
- Without EURATOM the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) will 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, which use imported fuel and components. Nuclear reactors might have to shut down in the absence of international agreements when 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 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 Ireland (Eire) 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 member states towards an anti-nuclear majority – something which NFLA and its European partner group Cities for a Nuclear Free Europe (CNFE) would welcome. One assessment is that when the UK leaves EURATOM there will be 13 pro-nuclear countries and 14 anti-nuclear.
- Just as the International Whaling Commission has become an essentially anti-whaling UN agency, might EURATOM states seek to use the treaty to block, not support, the construction of new nuclear power stations in Europe? Its main role would then be to supervise the sector’s long-term decline.
- In the NFLA’s view, the UK nuclear establishment is going to have its work cut out to make sure that Brexatom does not add to the delays in its proposed new nuclear reactor programme already in prospect as a result of financial problems at EDF, Areva, Toshiba, Engie and Hitachi.
- The island of Ireland is not yet coupled in the European market. A new All-Island wholesale market arrangement is planned, and ‘Brexatom’ places some serious questions over its implementation.
This report will be considered at the upcoming NFLA All Ireland Forum seminar being held on Friday 24th March in the Council Chamber, Newry Council offices. (2)
NFLA Steering Committee Chair Councillor Ernie Galsworthy said:
This briefing outlines that the UK’s decision to leave the European Union and the Euratom Treaty could lead to a significant amount of complicated negotiation over the UK’s nuclear policy arrangements in Europe and around the world. If this negotiation is not productive it threatens the future of existing nuclear power facilities and proposed new reactors. NFLA see a real opportunity for a comprehensive reform of the Euratom Treaty to move the continent in favour of wholesale development of renewable energy. NFLA will work with the Cities for a Nuclear Free Europe to lobby for a new energy regime in Europe and in the British and Irish Isles that favours renewable, sustainable and low carbon energy alternatives.”
NFLA All Ireland Forum Co Chair Councillor Mark Dearey said:
In Ireland we know that Brexit will have a huge and quite possibly negative effect across the island. This expert NFLA briefing outlines that leaving the Euratom Treaty puts under threat the development of a single integrated energy system across Ireland and in the linking of our energy connections with the rest of Europe. I call on the Irish Government to make full representations to its UK counterparts at the upcoming UK-Ireland Contact Group on Radiological Matters scheduled for late April. Ireland’s energy needs and low carbon policies cannot be put at risk by Brexit or Brexatom. The Irish Government also now has a great opportunity to influence a fundamental shift in European energy policy and I urge it to work with Germany and Austria to promote the benefits of a renewable energy transformation across the continent.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) The NFLA Policy Briefing on Brexit and Brexatom is attached with this media release and will go on the NFLA website.
(2) NFLA All Ireland Forum, Council Offices, Monaghan Row, Newry, 24th March 11am – 1.15pm
Brexatom, the RHI energy scandal and the benefits of Mayors for Peace
- Pete Roche, NFLA Policy Advisor – Brexit, Brexatom and impacts on Ireland
- Declan Allison, Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland – the RHI funding scandal and the future for renewable heating across Ireland
- Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary – the nuclear weapons debate and the role of Mayors for Peace
To attend please email Sinead Trainor – firstname.lastname@example.org.