UK needs five years to replace Euratom

Lib-Dem peer warns on exit timetable for European nuclear body

The UK requires more time than the two years withdrawal period outlined in the Article 50 process to set up its own nuclear safeguarding arrangements, a leading Liberal Democrat peer has warned.

Lord Wallace said in a debate last week in the House of Lords that it would take five years to train the nuclear inspectors who will be required to staff up the UK’s replacement of Euratom, the pan-European safeguarding agency that the British government has pledged to withdraw from.

The peer, a former deputy first minister of Scotland, said that the nuclear industry required some form of transitional arrangement. And he said in the long term, the government needed to stop treating as a red line the continued jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in English courts.

He said: “If we leave Euratom, the international nature of the nuclear industry means that some other form of legal arbitration in this as in so many other sectors would have to be used. Absolute sovereignty is not possible in the current global economy.”

Labour peer Lord Whitty said: “It would have been possible to argue that we could remain a full member of Euratom had it not been for the government’s obsession about the jurisdiction of the ECJ, which in practice has not often intervened in Euratom business.

The peer, who is a former general secretary of the Labour Party, pressed the government to state publicly that it wants to remain an associate member of Euratom.

Responding to the debate BEIS (business, energy and industrial strategy) junior minister Lord Prior said that the government had to quit Euratom when it tabled the article 50 withdrawal notice because the two treaties are ‘inextricably intertwined’.

He also said that civil servants from his department had met International Atomic Energy Authority officials in London and at the international body’s headquarters in Vienna.

The peer said that the officials had held ‘constructive conversations’ with the IAEA about the arrangements that the UK must put in place ahead of the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom.

They discussed the new ‘voluntary offer agreement’, which is required to replace the current one that the UK enjoys as part of its Euratom membership.

Lord Prior also said that the UK government had Government met with the Canadian government and regulators about as reach a new bilateral nuclear agreement. And he told the House of Lords that the UK government had also held similarly ‘constructive discussions’ with and Australia, Japan and the USA, which are three of the UK’s key nuclear trading partners.

And Lord Prior rejected concerns, raised by radiologists, that exiting Euratom would have an ‘adverse effect’ on the UK’s ability to source the radioactive isotopes used in cancer treatments because they are not covered by the nuclear non-proliferation rules.

He said: “Medical radio isotopes are not classed as special fissile material and are not subject to nuclear safeguards. Put frankly, you cannot build a nuclear weapon out of medical radioactive material.”