The government has recruited just over half of the staff it will need to police the UK’s nuclear safeguarding regime once the UK leaves Euratom.
The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy [BEIS] department published its first quarterly update on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU umbrella nuclear co-operation agreement on Monday.
It says the Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has recruited 13 safeguarding officers so far to take over the responsibilities currently discharged by Euratom.
Each of these officers is currently undergoing training to be nuclear safeguards inspectors by 29 March 2019, the formal date for the UK’s departure from the EU, according to the update.
The inspectors are responsible for policing the safeguarding arrangements, designed to prevent the proliferation of nuclear materials, which is currently overseen by Euratom.
The ONR has estimated that a total of 20 to 25 staff will be required to meet the UK’s international obligations, including nuclear material accountants, information management and reporting specialists as well as safeguards inspectors.
The ONR estimates that at least nine inspectors will be required to meet the UK’s international safeguarding levels.
The update also reveals that the government has just notified the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that the UK is taking back legal responsibility for its own nuclear safeguards regime.
The agency was notified last Thursday that the UK is seeking its final agreement to a new Voluntary Offer Agreement (VOA) and accompanying Additional Protocol for the UK, which verifies that civil nuclear material is being used for peaceful activities.
The update also says the government is ‘on track’ to sign nuclear co-operation agreements (NCAs) with Britain’s key atomic power partners by next March, a timeline which was described as over-optimistic by peers when ministers’ Euratom withdrawal plans were debated in the House of Lords last week.
Commenting on the update, Tom Greatrex, chief executive of Nuclear Industry Association said the document showed the amount of work that the government needed to do to get the UK’s safeguarding regime up to scratch in time for Brexit.
He said: “While there has been some welcome progress, including on the transitional period including most aspects of Euratom, there is still much the UK government needs to do by the end of 2020.
“The UK still needs to: conclude its negotiations with the IAEA on a VOA and Additional Protocol; conclude negotiations and ratify new bilateral (NCAs) with the USA, Canada, Australia, Japan and others; and reach agreement on a comprehensive and new funding agreement for the UK to continue its world-leading work in Euratom’s fusion R&D activities.
“The process of ratification for NCAs is unpredictable, and whilst the government suggests these key agreements will be in place by March 2019, this is more hopeful speculation than definitive statement.
“There must be a continued focus and priority given to negotiations with the IAEA, Euratom and third countries to ensure new agreements are in place before we cease to be party to Euratom arrangements.
“The UK government needs to ensure that the UK regulator has the right number of people, with the appropriate equipment and level of training, to undertake the safeguarding inspections that are the foundation of our successful and economically beneficial civil nuclear trade.”
The government’s withdrawal agreement with the EU, signed last Friday, says that Euratom will be covered by the wider Brexit transitional agreement, which ceases at the end of 2020.