Brexit plans cause fuel concerns

22 February 2018

The UK does not yet have new rules in place which will be needed to supply fuel for nuclear power plants after leaving the European Union (EU), according to Angela Hepworth, Electricite de France’s (EDF’s) EDF’s corporate policy and regulation director. There is very little time to replicate vital aspects of the European Atomic Energy Community treaty before Brexit in March 2019, she said on 19 February. “Having a hiatus isn’t an option. Having a time when the UK has no access to fuel isn’t an option.”

Through its membership in Euratom, the UK has become a leading manufacturer of reactor fuel and a key participant in EU-led nuclear research projects. Euratom governs everything from the transport of radioactive materials to reactor fuel, medical isotopes and commercial reactor technology. Without membership of Euratom, the UK government will have to negotiate new treaties with third-party countries which will each have their own ratification processes. Hepworth said it would be “tight” to get all the agreements in place in time.

If key benefits under the Euratom treaty are not continued “we’re not going to be able to move nuclear fuel or goods in and out of the country,” Hepworth added. If EDF loses access to components needed to maintain its reactors, the company would need to halt operations until the parts could be sourced, she said. For EDF to complete the newbuild Hinkley Point C project, the company will need to expand its workforce by 67% to 5000 jobs and will need to access skilled employees from other European countries, she noted.

A domestic safeguards system

The UK government published a nuclear safeguards bill in October as a fallback plan, and that would create a post-Brexit domestic regime of checks and inspections.

Earlier in February, the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy announced its intention to see an advance of almost £2.3 million from the contingencies fund to enable the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) to establish a new domestic civil nuclear safeguards regime.

ONR intends to develop and deliver a UK State System of Accountancy for and Control of Nuclear Material (SSAC) by 29 March 2019. ONR notes that a key aspect of the UK SSAC will be a Safeguards Information Management and Reporting System (SIMRS), without which the ONR would not be able to effectively deliver Nuclear Material Accountancy.

The government launced a procurment process for SIMRS, which runs runs until 7 March. The contract award is expected on 1 May.

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