The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) publishes today its model response for member authorities responding to the proposed creation of a nuclear safeguards regime to replace the current arrangements under the Euratom Treaty. (1) The arrangements are a core part of changes to nuclear policy as part of the decision of the UK electorate to leave the European Union.
Despite real misgivings made by both members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, as well as large parts of the nuclear industry, the Government has managed to narrowly pass the Nuclear Safeguards Bill through Parliament. The legislation creates a domestic nuclear safeguards regime operated by the UK nuclear regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR).
The UK Government is currently consulting on the operation of this new regime, the timings in its implementation and how nuclear material operators will report to the ONR. Separately, the UK Government is holding bilateral discussions with the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia on arrangements in the trade of nuclear fuel and other materials outside Europe.
In the view of the NFLA, the technical part of the existing Euratom arrangements have generally assisted in ensuring safe monitoring of nuclear facilities around the EU. NFLA has though been consistently opposed to the way the Euratom Treaty regime has also been used for the promotion of nuclear energy within the EU, often at the expense of renewable energy alternatives. It calls on the EU to now also consider a full review of Euratom and take the opportunity to recognise that most EU states are moving away from nuclear power and rather embracing renewables.
NFLA is concerned that there may not be enough time to implement all these profound changes, and it also puts real and unnecessary pressure on the ONR. NFLA remains concerned that a move from a highly regulated European regime to a self-regulated internal regime will struggle to engender the same level of trust at the international level.
In reference to the consultation, the NFLA’s core conclusions are:
- Any funding mechanism, other than cost recovery from the nuclear industry, would amount to an unwarranted subsidy for nuclear power. Energy markets are distorted by subsidies, so these should only be offered to new clean technologies for a period of time whilst the technology is developed and made ready for market.
- It is hard to see how the new regime based on ONR inspections can meet the requirement for a truly ‘independent’ inspection system.
- Without some sort of continuous verification by a trusted UN body like the IAEA, the UK could begin to be seen by other countries as a ‘rogue’ nuclear state. ONR could ensure this is avoided by removing any opt-out clause to ensure no legal diversion on nuclear materials or facilities can take place in the UK in future.
- The timetable for introducing a new IT system is challenging. Whether ONR and the Government has a contingency plan is unknown. Without it the regime could collapse, which is highly alarming.
- Training for new safeguards officers takes between 12 and 18 months, so it looks unlikely enough of them will be ready by March 2019, when the UK is supposed to be leaving the EU.
- NFLA believes the best way to ensure international trust in the UK’s commitment to non-proliferation is to announce a plan to an early phase-out of nuclear power and nuclear weapons.
- In the NFLA view nuclear material should only be withdrawn from safeguards if it has been declared a waste and is to be processed and packaged as such.
- ONR should be given the power to encourage and eventually force civil plutonium to be immobilised and declared a waste.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair, Councillor Ernie Galsworthy said:
“NFLA is greatly concerned that the profound changes decided by the UK Government in leaving the Euratom Treaty and establishing a domestic nuclear safeguards regime are likely to be rushed and may not provide the level of trust and independence that needs to be strived for. I am particularly concerned that there will inevitably be, at least in the short term, a reduction in the quality of the safeguards regime compared to its current operation. The nuclear industry also has a great deal of complicated and bureaucratic changes to resolve in a comparatively short time. Serious questions still remain over whether the ONR has enough, qualified staff ready for such a profound change in the nuclear safeguards regime, and it could all collapse overnight if a complicated IT system does not work. Above all, moving from a European regulated system to self-regulation has to be trusted by the international community and NFLA remain to be convinced that this will be the case. Of course, the straightforward answer is for the UK to give up its nuclear weapons programme and seek a phase-out of nuclear energy in favour of renewable alternatives.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) NFLA Policy Briefing 178, ‘Responding to the UK Government consultation on developing a domestic nuclear safeguards regime’, August 2018 is attached with this media release and will be on the homepage of the NFLA website – http://www.nuclearpolicy.info.