UK prepares to leave Euratom

16 October 2017

The UK on 11 October published draft legislation to create a domestic nuclear safeguards system to replace provisions under the Euratom treaty after Britain leaves the European Union (EU).  The bill became necessary after the government said it could not withdraw from the EU without also leaving Euratom, which currently regulates everything from the transport of nuclear fuels to cancer treatments. No timeline has been set for the passage of the law through Parliament, but it will need to be enacted before the UK’s scheduled departure from the EU and Euratom in March 2019. 

Euratom’s main function is to account for nuclear material and to ensure it is used only for peaceful purposes. 

The bill gives the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) the legal powers to deliver a domestic safeguards regime that meets UK international obligations. It directs ONR to "determine the amount of payment" needed to comply with international nuclear safeguards. 

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the London-based Nuclear Industry Association, said the publication of the bill is just one part of the "incredibly complex and time-consuming process to replicate existing legislation." The UK will also have to negotiate an inspection agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency and held an initial discussion with the IAEA on a new accord in September.

Greatrex said, "The UK industry's primary concern remains the risk of significant disruption if we cease to be members of Euratom without new arrangements being in place."

After Brexit, the UK will also no longer be covered by agreements that Euratom has with a range of non-EU countries including Australia, Canada, Japan, Kazakhstan, South Africa and the USA. The UK will have to negotiate its Nuclear Cooperation Agreements (NCAs) with these countries as well as the EU. 

Foratom, which represents the European nuclear industry, warned in a position paper that without a new safeguarding arrangement, an NCA between the EU and the UK or another similar arrangement normal nuclear business and supply chains would inevitably be disrupted. 

The future of UK nuclear research is also uncertain as the UK hosts the EU’s nuclear-fusion Joint European Torus (JET) project, which brings in €56m ($66m) a year directed from the Euratom research budget. After 2019, the UK will have to negotiate access to this scientific network with the EU, which requires non-member countries participating in its research programmes to make a financial contribution. 

Foratom said future R&D it is important to ensure the world-class expertise and cooperation between the UK and the EU is not damaged nor decades of progress put at risk. 

Meanwhile, UK Energy Minister Richard Harrington said in a statement: “We are bringing forward the UK’s first new nuclear power plants in a generation, and it is in our mutual benefit to maintain the successful working relationship we have now with Europe and the rest of the world on nuclear matters.” 

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