Policy & regulation

Hopes fade for alternative nuclear co-operation framework after committee hearing

Creating new arrangements to allow the trade and movement of nuclear materials once the UK leaves the Euratom treaty will not be possible within the government’s two-year timetable for quitting the EU, MPs have been warned

Presenting evidence this morning (28 February) to the business, energy and industrial strategy committee inquiry into the energy and climate change post-referendum, a battery of experts raised concerns over the consequences of the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom.

The government announced last month in its Brexit white paper, that it would be leaving the framework, which forms the basis of the common nuclear safety and standards regime across the EU.

Responding to questioning over whether a new nuclear co-operation framework could be established within the two year Article 50 process timetable, Dame Sue Ion, chair of the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board, said: “I don’t think it’s possible for nuclear co-operation arrangements that enable trade and movement of materials.”

David Senior, director of assurance, policy and International at the Office for Nuclear Regulation told the committee that a two-year timetable for concluding new arrangements would be “challenging”.

Amongst the difficulties that he identified was putting in place a system for managing the transfer of nuclear materials across national boundaries.

Rupert Cowen, senior commercial and nuclear energy lawyer at Prospect Law, warned that the UK ‘s nuclear industry would be “crippled” if it was unable to secure a transitional deal that would safeguard the transfer of labour and materials.

But he expressed concern that the government risked “sleepwalking” into this situation.

Cowen said: “Unlike any other arrangements that the committee is discussing, if we don’t get this right business stops, there will be no trade. If we can’t arrive at safeguards that allow compliance, nuclear trade will not be able to continue.”

“To move materials around, we would have to strike a plethora of treaties and arrangements with every state we do business with that would mirror what we have in place with Euratom.”

Cowen also queried the government’s argument that the UK must withdraw from the Euratom treaty in order to escape the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

“There is no reason not to stay in Euratom if there is the political will,” he said, adding that a legal case to test this stood a good chance of success.

His comments resonate with those made to Utility Week earlier this month by former energy secretary Sir Ed Davey.

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association told the committee that it would be difficult to ringfence negotiations on the UK’s relationship with Euratom from horsetrading over wider issues surrounding withdrawal from the EU, such as freedom of movement of labour.

Greatrex said: “There is a potential for there to be a very hard two-year deadline during which there are lots of other things the government will have to deal with.”

In this environment, he fears energy and nuclear industry considerations may be sidelined.


What to read next