UK committee concludes advice on Euratom exit

29 January 2018

The nuclear power industry presents "particular challenges" in the context of Brexit, the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee says in a report published today.

In gathering evidence for the report - Brexit: energy security, looking at implications for energy supply, consumer costs and decarbonisation - the committee heard that the UK's ability to build future nuclear generation sites, including Hinkley Point C, is in doubt if access to specialist EU workers is curtailed. Failure to replace the provisions of the European Atomic Energy Community, also known as Euratom Treaty, by the time the UK leaves the EU could result in the UK being unable to import nuclear materials, it says.

EDF Energy told the committee that nuclear generation is a key component of the current and future energy mix in the UK, where eight nuclear power stations currently provide 20% of the country's electricity needs.

"Not only do nuclear power stations supply a significant amount of low-carbon electricity, but the continuity of that supply helps balance less predictable renewable sources, providing further assistance to the UK in meeting its decarbonisation objectives," the report says.

It concludes that the Euratom Treaty is currently vital to the functioning of nuclear energy generation in the UK. It says: "Failure to replace its provisions by the point of withdrawal could result in the UK being unable to import nuclear materials and have severe consequences for the UK's energy security."


Currently, the UK meets its safeguarding requirements through Euratom, as Euratom provides safeguarding inspections for more than 100 UK facilities (including non-power-producing nuclear facilities). In 2014 there were about 220 inspections, involving 1000 person-days of Euratom effort, according to the report.

"To maintain energy security it will be crucial to establish a domestic safeguarding regime that satisfies IAEA requirements by the time the UK leaves Euratom," it says. It adds, "We are encouraged" that both the government and the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) "recognise the urgency of this".

Euratom's safeguarding standards are higher than those required by the UK's international obligations, the report notes. "It will be difficult for the government to deliver on its commitment to maintain Euratom's standards at the point of withdrawal," it says. The "first priority" should therefore be to ensure compliance with the UK's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) obligations, it says.

It will be challenging for the ONR to recruit and train sufficient safeguarding inspectors by the time the UK withdraws from the Euratom Treaty, the report says. "We urge the government to provide any support possible and to consider what contingency measures may be required," it says.

The UK will need to establish new Nuclear Cooperation Agreements (NCAs) in order to maintain its existing nuclear supply chains, the report says. The UK currently trades nuclear materials with many other countries and the government should prioritise developing new NCAs with those with which nuclear trade would otherwise be illegal, such as the USA, Canada, Japan and Australia, it adds.

"It is vital that the government makes progress on developing new NCAs quickly. Given that these negotiations can only begin after the UK has satisfied the IAEA with regard to its safeguarding regime, it is essential for the Government to reach an agreement with the IAEA as soon as possible," it says.

The government must ensure that its nuclear trade agreements allow the movement of nuclear material and equipment in a timely fashion and at reasonable cost, it adds.

Nuclear R&D

The Joint European Torus (JET), located at Culham, Oxfordshire, is Europe's largest nuclear fusion device, enabling research into fusion power as an energy source. It is collectively used by more than 40 European laboratories. Its work is carried out within the framework of the EUROfusion Consortium, and it receives funding from the European Commission through the Euratom research and training programme.

JET's successor will be ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, which is under construction in France. Europe is funding nearly 46% of the construction costs, with the remaining costs being split between China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the USA.

The report says: "The UK has benefited substantially from EU nuclear research programmes, contributing to its status as a world leader in nuclear research and development. It would be to the benefit of both the UK and the EU to maintain those research connections post-Brexit. We welcome the government's commitment to continuing to fund nuclear research in the UK, whether or not EU funding is maintained."

The committee recommends that the government "looks to maintain the post-Brexit viability" of JET, and ensures that the UK is able to participate in ITER despite its withdrawal from Euratom.

Future arrangements

A form of associate membership of Euratom could be a means of maintaining nuclear research and development collaboration with the EU, the report says. However, in the form currently held by non-EU Member State Switzerland, it would not address the issues raised by the UK's departure that are critical to energy security, it adds.

"The risk posed to the UK's energy security if the safeguarding measures currently provided by Euratom are not replaced in time means that there is a distinct need to avoid a cliff-edge in relation to Euratom. It is therefore crucial for the government to ensure that contingency arrangements are in place and ready to be activated if required," the report says. "The government should engage with industry regarding such arrangements as early as possible, in order to reduce commercial uncertainty."

It also notes that the UK's membership of Euratom is "legally distinct" from its EU membership, and that in the Prime Minister's Article 50 notification letter of 29 March 2017 a separate notification was made in respect of the country's withdrawal from Euratom.

"This suggests that separate transitional arrangements may also be possible, if they are needed in order to mitigate the risk of a cliff-edge. We therefore call on the government to review and report to Parliament on the possibility of a Euratom-specific transition period separate from the wider Brexit process," it says.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News