UK offers early engagement on nuclear safeguards

22 January 2018

The UK government has published initial pre-consultation draft versions of the Nuclear Safeguards Regulations to enable early engagement with Parliament, industry and other stakeholders. The draft regulations, which the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) published on 19 January, set out the nuclear safeguards regime for the UK and the powers of the BEIS secretary of state to make regulations under the Nuclear Safeguards Bill (NS Bill).

The NS Regulations will create the legal framework for a new domestic nuclear safeguards regime to operate in the UK following the country's withdrawal from European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). Publication of the pre-consultation drafts is timed to accompany the report stage of the NS Bill 2017 to 2019, which takes place on 23 January.

In explanatory notes to the two documents, BEIS said that during the House of Commons Committee Stage of the NS Bill in November last year, Richard Harrington, BEIS minister for energy and industry, had made a commitment to publish a pre-consultation draft of the regulations at the report stage.

"Although good progress has been made with the two sets of regulations, they are still being developed with the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR). Some elements are dependent on external issues, and some require further policy development," BEIS said.

"As such, the regulations are likely to change in response to this early engagement with Parliament and stakeholders and views received will inform the ongoing development of the regulations, prior to formal public consultation, which is currently planned for Spring 2018," it added.

Following this the government currently aims to lay draft regulations before Parliament before the end of this year.

IAEA and Euratom Treaty

The UK has in place two safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) - a Voluntary Offer Agreement (VOA) and an Additional Protocol to the VOA. These are trilateral agreements between the IAEA, the UK and Euratom, BEIS noted.

The UK's current safeguards obligations are primarily fulfilled through its membership of the Euratom Treaty and associated regulations, notably the European Commission Regulation (Euratom) No 302/2005 on the application of Euratom safeguards, it added.

"As a result of the UK's intended withdrawal from Euratom the UK's current trilateral agreements with the IAEA, the VOA and the AP, will become ineffective. As a result, the UK will need to conclude new bilateral safeguards agreements with the IAEA, in connection with the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which detail the UK’s future safeguards obligations," it said.

"The new NS Regulations will enable the UK to give effect to its obligations under new bilateral agreements with the IAEA and under any relevant other international agreements on civil nuclear activities which may be concluded with other states before the NS Regulations are made, including on the subject of nuclear research and development. The NS Regulations will then be amended to list those international agreements which are entered into after the NS Regulations are made," it added.

The UK has committed to ensuring that domestic nuclear safeguards arrangements can be put in place following withdrawal from Euratom and that those arrangements will be "robust and as comprehensive" as those of the existing Euratom regime, and go beyond international standards, it said.


The NS Bill also enables the Secretary of State to give the ONR additional powers to take on certain responsibilities in connection with the UK's international safeguards and nuclear non-proliferation obligations including, for example, with the IAEA under the new VOA and AP agreements which are in the process of being negotiated.

The domestic safeguards regime will primarily involve reporting and verification processes, which will enable the UK to demonstrate to the international community that civil nuclear material is not diverted into military or weapons programmes, BEIS said.

The NS Regulations place legal obligations on UK operators of qualifying nuclear facilities and, together with many of its existing enforcement powers in the Energy Act 2013, provide power to the ONR to enforce these obligations, it said.

Nuclear safeguards are distinct from nuclear safety (the prevention of nuclear accidents) and nuclear security (physical protection measures), which are the subject of their own regulatory regimes.

The majority of the NS Regulations will come into force on the same date. However, it is currently anticipated that the commencement date for certain regulations may be later to allow operators and the ONR to develop suitable approaches to delivering and enforcing new requirements that go beyond the safeguards obligations currently in operation. The policy on this is being developed.


An operator will be required to declare the basic technical characteristics to the ONR using the questionnaire set out in the NS Regulations, and to provide the ONR with an annual outline of its programme of safeguards-relevant activities for the upcoming year.

"Acting on the basis of the technical characteristics, the ONR may impose particular safeguards provisions on an operator in relation to a qualifying nuclear facility," BEIS said.

An operator will be required to maintain a system of accountancy and control of qualifying nuclear material, which includes keeping accounting and operating records and providing reports to the ONR. The schedule concerning the accountancy and control system "draws upon, but will not totally replicate", it said, the European Commission recommendation of 11 February 2009 on the implementation of a nuclear material accountancy and control system by the operators of nuclear installations.

An operator will be required to send accounting reports to the ONR, including an initial book inventory and an inventory change report. In the case of a qualifying nuclear facility, which includes a reactor, the inventory change report must include information on nuclear transformations.

In addition, an operator will be required to provide the ONR with a material balance report in respect of each material balance area, and a physical inventory listing.

An operator will be required to submit a special report to the ONR in the event of an unusual incident or a change in containment or where, following exceptional circumstances or an incident, an operator has been informed that qualifying nuclear material may have been lost.

International agreements

It is anticipated that, in addition to new Safeguards Agreements with the IAEA, the UK will also enter into new bilateral nuclear co-operation agreements with other States, which will include nuclear safeguards obligations, including, for example, with Australia, Canada, Japan and the USA.

It is intended that the Nuclear Safeguards (Civil Activities, Fissionable Material and Relevant International Agreements) Regulations will list those international agreements, which have already been entered into before those regulations are made and that those regulations will be amended, as appropriate, to include any relevant international agreements which are entered into by the UK in the future, BEIS said.

These international agreements may impose safeguards obligations on the UK in relation to the supply of qualifying nuclear material. As a result, the ONR may need to share certain information, which it receives from operators, not just with the IAEA, but also with certain other States, it added.

"It is anticipated that the NS Regulations will enable the ONR to do this by requiring operators to provide information relevant to these additional obligations alongside the information already required by the NS Regulations to be provided, in respect of qualifying nuclear material, in the initial book inventory, inventory change report, material balance report and physical inventory listing and in respect of intended imports and exports," it said.

The NS Regulations will also: set out the weight units and categories of qualifying nuclear material to be used in the notifications which are required under the regulations; provide for the removal of any derogation applied to any qualifying nuclear material when it is stored with any qualifying nuclear material which does not benefit from a derogation; require an operator to provide the ONR with advance notification of exports and shipments; require an operator which is an ore producer to comply with certain reduced safeguards requirements and to inform the ONR of ore exports; and require an operator to submit an initial stock list and accounting records for waste and to inform the ONR of transfers of conditioned waste. They will also prohibit an operator from withdrawing qualifying nuclear material from civil activities except with the previous written consent of the ONR.

Role of the ONR

The NS Regulations provide for the regulatory role of the ONR in nuclear safeguards. In general, their activities are governed by the Energy Act 2013, but the regulations set out some additional provisions including inspections, publication of information, provision of information to the IAEA, communication with the IAEA on the issue of derogations, and the characterisation of material, for example, as waste.

The ONR said today that it has worked with BEIS in the development of the draft regulations, and will continue to do so as the regulations are developed further. ONR said it will engage with stakeholders to discuss the operation of the future domestic safeguards regime in the coming months.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News