BEIS task force to execute Euratom exit

New team will negotiate controversial divorce from European nuclear body

The government has set up a new team to spearhead the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom, a senior official said this morning.

In a speech at a Nuclear Industry Association conference this morning, Matt Clarke of the civil nuclear and resilience directorate at the department for business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS) said the new team had been set up within the department.

He told delegates at the Nuclear New Build conference that the team would be involved in negotiations with the EU about establishing a nuclear co-operation arrangements with key partner states and establishing a new domestic nuclear safeguarding arrangements.

Last week’s Queen’s Speech contained a bill to create a domestic nuclear safeguarding regime to replace the existing pan-European arrangements provided by Euratom.

Clarke said: “Exit [from Euratom] does not affect the government’s aims of maintaining close co-operation on civil nuclear safety with Euratom members and the rest of the world.”

He also tried to reassure the conference that the government remains committed to its small modular reactors (SMRs) competition despite a lack of progress since its launch last March.

Clarke said: “The government recognises the pot of SMRs. There are a number of potential benefits in terms of providing a secure, low carbon energy source as well as broader industrial benefits and high value jobs.”

He said that BEIS had met the companies which had submitted entries to the competition and would be “communicating next steps in due course.”

He added that deciding how SMRs fit into the government’s wider industrial strategy was one of the “key questions” being addressed by NIA chair Lord Hutton, who is leading work on shaping a tailored “sector deal” for the nuclear industry.

Lord Hutton, in his keynote speech at the conference, said the government’s bill to create new nuclear safeguarding arrangements as a “welcome first step”.

But he said it did not go far enough.

“To ensure important technical and practical issues are not lost or ignored in the high stakes of negotiations with the European Commission, government also needs to step up to the plate.

“It needs to take industry concerns seriously and understand that it is not a minor issue or one that can be left for another day.”
But he urged ministers not to give up on the possibility of maintaining Euratom membership.

“Of course, given both the UK and the EU want to ensure the same nuclear safeguards standards and equivalent arrangements to apply after the UK leaves, then perhaps there is scope – even at this late stage – for consideration to be given to retain our membership of Euratom.

“If the government’s approach is more pragmatic and less dogmatic, then such an outcome would both be preferable for the industry across Europe, but also enable the UK government to focus their attention on the most difficult of Brexit issues they have to negotiate.

“We all know that the clock is ticking towards March 2019, and without equivalent new arrangements in place or a transitional arrangement to allow them to bed in, there is real concern that the economic growth potential of the UK’s nuclear programme could be damaged.”