The UK government aims to maintain many of the benefits the UK has enjoyed from its membership of the European Atomic Energy Community, the UK secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy Greg Clark said in a written statement to the UK House of Commons and the House of Lords, on 11 January. The UK joined Euratom in 1973 and hopes to maintain a "close and effective association" in the future. The UK will exit Euratom at the same time as withdrawing from the EU, on 29 March 2019.
"Our plans are designed to be robust so as to be prepared for a number of different scenarios including the unlikely outcome that there is no future agreement at all. Our number one priority is continuity for the nuclear sector,” Clark said. He noted that the UK “has been a leading civil nuclear country on the international stage, with deep nuclear research and nuclear decommissioning expertise, and with nuclear power playing a vital part in our electricity generation mix”. He stressed that it is “vitally important that our departure from the EU does not jeopardise this success”, adding that the relationship “should continue to be as close as possible”.
It is essential, Clark said, that projects and investment are not adversely affected by the UK's withdrawal from the EU, and can "continue to operate with certainty".
Through negotiations with the European Commission, the UK “will seek a close association with Euratom and to include Euratom in any implementation period negotiated as part of the UK's wider exit discussions”. At the same time, it will put in place all the necessary measures to ensure that the UK could operate as an independent and responsible nuclear state from “day one”.
Four principles underpin the strategy:
to aim for continuity with current relevant Euratom arrangements; to ensure that the UK maintains its leading role in European nuclear research;
to ensure the UK nuclear industry has the necessary skilled workforce covering decommissioning, ongoing operation of existing facilities and new build projects;
and to ensure that the UK has the necessary measures in place to assure that the nuclear industry can continue to operate.
In the first phase of negotiations with the EU, the government has made good progress on "separation issues", Clark said. Talks have covered a set of legal and technical issues related to nuclear material and waste, and safeguards obligations and equipment. The next phase will focus on the UK's future relationship with Euratom.
Specific objectives of the future relationship include: a close association with the Euratom Research and Training Programme, including the Joint European Torus and the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor projects; continuity of open trade arrangements for nuclear goods and products to ensure the nuclear industry can continue to trade across EU borders without disruption; and maintaining close and effective cooperation with Euratom on nuclear safety.
At the same time, the UK is establishing a legislative and regulatory framework for a domestic safeguards regime via the Nuclear Safeguards Bill and looking to put in place Bilateral Nuclear Cooperation Agreements with third countries. The Nuclear Safeguards Bill will provide legal powers for the secretary of state to establish a domestic regime which the Office for Nuclear Regulation will regulate, negotiating bilateral safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The London-based Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) welcomed the government’s statement. NIA CEO Tom Greatrex said the UK industry and research facilities have been consistently clear with the government about the importance of these issues since the referendum. “Even with a suitable transition, there remains much work for the government to do to prevent the significant disruption that industry is concerned about,” he said.