UK government responds to report on Brexit impact

09 March 2018

The UK must be able to operate as an "independent and responsible nuclear state" as soon as it leaves the European Union in March 2019, the government has said in its response to a parliamentary report about the impact of Brexit on the country's nuclear industry.

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee is appointed by the House of Commons to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The BEIS Committee published its second report of Session 2017-19 - Leaving the EU: Implications for the civil nuclear sector - on 13 December. That report had urged the government to agree "as close a relationship as possible" with Euratom to minimise unnecessary expenditure and provide greater certainty for the nuclear industry. The government's response was received on 2 March and published yesterday.

"The report and its recommendations are a valuable contribution to the overall programme of work that the government is delivering in respect of its departure from the EU and Euratom, covering negotiations and domestic preparations," the government said in its response.

"There is a clear common interest for the UK and the EU27 in maintaining close and effective cooperation on nuclear issues and the government is confident that it will reach the right agreement with our European partners."

UK government

Whilst negotiations continue on the UK's exit from the EU and Euratom, and its subsequent relationship with it, the government said it is "putting in place all the necessary measures to ensure that the UK can operate as an independent and responsible nuclear state from day one".

The government said it has "made good progress on Euratom separation issues in the last few months" during its negotiations with the European Commission. These negotiations have covered a set of legal and technical issues related to nuclear material and waste, and safeguards obligations and equipment. The next phase of discussions will focus on the UK's future relationship with Euratom.

"We believe that it is of mutual benefit for both the UK and the EU to have a close association with Euratom," the government noted.

It added, "Whatever the outcome of the negotiations with the European Commission, it is vital that government pursues all options for providing certainty for the civil nuclear industry that it will be able to continue its operations."

The government said it is working closely with the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) to ensure that it will be in a position to take on the role and responsibilities required to ensure the UK's future domestic civil nuclear safeguards regime meets international standards and nuclear non-proliferation standards when Euratom safeguards arrangements no longer apply in the UK.

It said it is confident the UK will be in a position to deliver a domestic regime to international standards by March 2019. However, it is committed "to going further, supporting the ONR to achieve standards equivalent to those delivered by Euratom in effectiveness and coverage as soon as possible".

Meanwhile, UK officials are in negotiations with the USA, Canada, Japan and Australia to have bilateral Nuclear Cooperation Agreements (NCAs) in place so that cooperation and trade can continue uninterrupted when the UK leaves the EU and Euratom.

The government expects that drafting the NCAs will be finalised this summer and that ratification in all four countries will be completed by the end of this year.

"The ratification procedures vary between countries and will finish at different times; however, we are confident that we will be in a position to exchange notes from the beginning of 2019 and for the agreements to be able to enter into force in March 2019," it said.

The nuclear industry remains of "key strategic importance" to the UK, the government said. "We want to ensure that projects and investment, like Hinkley Point C, are not adversely affected by the UK's withdrawal from Euratom. The UK remains open to accessing the talent we need from Europe and the rest of the world in the nuclear industry, but this needs to be managed so that our immigration system serves the national interest."

The government also said the UK's withdrawal from Euratom "in no way diminishes our nuclear research and development ambitions". Maintaining and building on the country's "world-leading" fusion expertise and finding new paths into international fusion R&D projects is a "key objective" in respect of the UK's future relationship strategy with Euratom.

"There is a clear common interest for the UK and the EU27 in maintaining close and effective cooperation on nuclear issues and the government is confident that it will reach the right agreement with our European partners," it said.

Industry welcomes response

The government's response to the report was welcomed by the UK's nuclear industry.

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said: "The UK government's decision to leave Euratom has been consistently contested by the industry, since it was announced in early 2017. It has already proved a time-consuming and unpredictable process, and we are still at the early stages. The key milestones outlined by the government are welcome, indicating the progress made towards a successful relationship post-March 2019, and those areas yet to be resolved."

However, he noted that the UK must still conclude its negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency on a Voluntary Offer Agreement and Additional Protocol, as well as conclude negotiations and ratify new bilateral NCAs with the USA, Canada, Australia, Japan and others. In addition, the UK must reach agreement on a comprehensive and new funding agreement for the country to continue its participation in Euratom's fusion R&D activities.

"This must all be agreed on and implemented by the time we leave Euratom," Greatrex said. "It is therefore essential, as part of the overall Brexit negotiations, Euratom remains a priority for the government in seeking a comprehensive transitional agreement with the European Union. Successful and timely conclusion to these negotiations is vital, to prevent significant disruption to the UK's nuclear industry."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News