The government should accept a continued nuclear safeguarding role for Euratom after the UK leaves the EU because its own arrangements will not be ready in time, a House of Commons inquiry has concluded.
The report into the UK’s post-Brexit civil nuclear regime, published by the BEIS (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee) today (13 December), calls on the government to maintain as close as possible an association with the EU-wide atomic Energy Community in order to minimise disruption to the transport and trade of nuclear materials.
Euratom is currently responsible for the safeguarding of the fuel and other materials essential to the running the UK’s nuclear power stations.
The committee casts doubt on whether the government’s plans to hand these functions over to the Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) will be ready for the March 2019 due date of the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom.
The report says: “Establishing a UK-operated safeguards regime by the time of our departure will be difficult, and is likely to be costly. It is highly doubtful that it will be possible to implement Euratom-equivalent safeguards by March 2019, and even the less stringent requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency will be challenging to deliver.”
“It is clear that any UK-operated safeguards regime will not be able to maintain Euratom-equivalent safeguards from the point of our departure, unless transitional arrangements are agreed to delay the handover-date.”
“The government should honour its commitment not to reduce existing safeguards regulation. As far as we are aware, the only viable route to achieve this aim is for Euratom to continue managing and operating safeguards in the UK, for the short term at least.”
It recommends that if the UK assumes ultimate responsibility for international nuclear safeguards, it could contract out delivery of these functions to Euratom.
If the government is unable to secure agreement for continued delivery of the UK’s nuclear safeguards regime by Euratom, it should seek transitional arrangements for the European umbrella body to retain its existing role until the ONR is ready to take over.
And the MPs urge ministers to establish by early 2019 whether an extension to any transitional arrangements is possible if the UK needs longer than two years.
The committee recommends the government should seek to negotiate a continued role for Euratom “as soon as possible” in order to avoid wasting money on the rushed establishment of alternative domestic arrangements.
And it says the government should provide the House of Commons with a detailed timeline setting out its progress on establishing an alternative UK safeguards regime. This should be furnished before the next stage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which is being debated this week.
The report urges the government to commit to providing further updates on a quarterly basis up to March 2019.
However, the committee, says the government is “right” to press ahead with establishing alternative arrangements as quickly as possible.
The committee’s chair, Rachel Reeves, said: “We now face the prospect of setting-up our own nuclear safeguarding regime in its place which falls short of Euratom standards. This requires us to set up our own bureaucracy, which comes at a cost of millions, with very real doubts that it will actually be ready in time.
“The government should, as a matter of urgency, be seeking to retain as close as possible an association with Euratom and secure its ongoing delivery of existing safeguards requirements in the UK. Any delay will increase investment in contingency arrangements which may ultimately not be required.”