France and the UK agree to reinforce cooperation

28 March 2008

France and the UK have agreed to greater cooperation on a range of issues, including nuclear power regulation, preventing nuclear terrorism and combating climate change.


UK prime minister Gordon Brown and French president Nicolas Sarkozy

During a visit to the UK by French president Nicolas Sarkozy, a joint summit declaration was issued by the British and French governments detailing areas for which greater cooperation had been agreed.

In the field of nuclear energy, the declaration called for improving the "efficiency and effectiveness of nuclear development projects, including in safety and pre-licensing, through our nuclear regulators working closely together to share information on nuclear safety, security and waste management." It suggested that this "action could be extended to other interested European partners (and which could include as appropriate other items of common interests)." In addition, the declaration said that France and the UK "will explore opportunities to increase the interchange of regulatory staff between the two countries."

The two countries said they would cooperate to combat the risk of proliferation of nuclear weapons. The statement said: "We will also work together towards the establishment of an IAEA-led system of nuclear fuel assurance to reduce the proliferation risks."

In order to prevent the smuggling of radioactive materials between the countries, France and the UK "will work together to combat nuclear terrorism by screening traffic, including that passing through the Channel Tunnel." A UK Home Office spokesman told the BBC that "the intention is screen traffic at all major points of entry" for "any radiological material that could be used for terrorist purposes". He added that "limited" nuclear screening is already taking place at some major ports.

With regards to climate change, the UK and France "will act to create a low carbon economy in Europe and to promote it worldwide." The statement added that, in response to European Union legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions by EU member states by setting renewable energy quotas, "the national goals … should take into account the different national circumstances, the overall share of low carbon technologies, starting points and potentials including the existing energy mix."

Meanwhile, the heads of the French and UK nuclear regulators issued a joint statement on their intent to work closely on matters relating to the regulatory assessment of Areva's European Pressurized Water Reactor (EPR). The EPR is one of the four reactor designs undergoing Generic Design Assessment (GDA) in the UK.

Mike Weightman, head of the UK Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII), and Andre Lacoste, chairman of France's Nuclear Safety Authority (Autorité De Sûreté Nucléaire, ASN), said that a "joint project approach" would be established to the regulation of the EPR, should it go on to the next stage of the GDA process. They said this will "help in better securing common high standards of nuclear safety while recognising our different regulatory systems and methods of working." The statement added that the approach would "increase the scope for enhancing safety, and for optimizing delivery of our respective regulatory processes through efficiency gains." This would involve "enhanced working together and access to each other's experts and information."

The statement noted that should the EPR be selected to proceed to the next stage of the GDA, "the joint regulatory collaboration between the French and UK regulators will not negatively impact on the assessment of the other reactors which will be going through the UK GDA process alongside the EPR."