UK parliament briefed on Euratom exit strategy

12 January 2018

The UK government aims to maintain as many of the benefits the country has enjoyed from its membership of the European Atomic Energy Community since joining the EU and Euratom in 1973 through a "close and effective association" in the future, Greg Clark, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy told Parliament yesterday. The UK will exit Euratom at the same time as withdrawing from the EU, on 29 March 2019.

In a written statement to the House of Commons and the House of Lords, Clark said: "Our plans are designed to be robust so as to be prepared for a number of different scenarios including the unlikely outcome that there is no future agreement at all. Our number one priority is continuity for the nuclear sector.

"Since the 1950s, when the UK launched the world's first nuclear power station, this country has been a leading civil nuclear country on the international stage, with deep nuclear research and nuclear decommissioning expertise, and with nuclear power playing a vital part in our electricity generation mix. It is vitally important that our departure from the EU does not jeopardise this success, and it is in the interests of both the EU and the UK that our relationship should continue to be as close as possible."

It is essential, he said, that projects and investment are not adversely affected by the UK's withdrawal from the EU, and can "continue to operate with certainty".

To achieve this outcome, the government's strategy is twofold, he said. Firstly, through negotiations with the European Commission it will seek a close association with Euratom and to include Euratom in any implementation period negotiated as part of the UK's wider exit discussions. Secondly, and at the same time, to put in place all the necessary measures to ensure that the UK could operate as an independent and responsible nuclear state "from day one".

This strategy is based on four principles, he said. These are: to aim for continuity with current relevant Euratom arrangements; to ensure that the UK maintains its leading role in European nuclear research; to ensure the nuclear industry in the UK has the necessary skilled workforce covering decommissioning, ongoing operation of existing facilities and new build projects; and to ensure that on 29 March 2019 the UK has the necessary measures in place to ensure that the nuclear industry can continue to operate.

The government has made good progress on "separation issues" in the last few months as part of the first phase of negotiations with the EU, Clark said. Talks have covered a set of legal and technical issues related to nuclear material and waste, and safeguards obligations and equipment. The next phase of discussions will focus on the UK's future relationship with Euratom.

Clark stated three specific objectives in respect of the future relationship. Firstly, a close association with the Euratom Research and Training Programme, including the Joint European Torus and the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor projects. Secondly, continuity of open trade arrangements for nuclear goods and products to ensure the nuclear industry is able to continue to trade across EU borders without disruption. Thirdly, maintaining close and effective cooperation with Euratom on nuclear safety.

The UK is establishing a legislative and regulatory framework for a domestic safeguards regime via the Nuclear Safeguards Bill, which will provide legal powers for the secretary of state to establish a domestic regime which the Office for Nuclear Regulation will regulate; negotiating bilateral safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency; and putting in place bilateral Nuclear Cooperation Agreements with third countries.

"As set out by the Prime Minister, the UK Government is proposing a time-limited implementation period where we continue to have access to one another's markets on current terms and take part in existing security measures," Clark said. This implementation period, which would cover Euratom too, will be subject to forthcoming negotiations, he added.

Clark said he will report back to Parliament every three months about overall progress on Euratom.

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the UK's Nuclear Industry Association (NIA), said the secretary of state's statement on Euratom was a "useful and welcome step". The UK industry and research facilities have been "consistently clear" with the government about the importance of these issues since the national referendum on EU membership in June 2016, he said.

"Given the complex nature of multilateral agreements that will need to be negotiated, the recognition of the necessity of transitional arrangements and the desire for a close future association with Euratom is welcome.

"Even with a suitable transition, there remains much work for the government to do to prevent the significant disruption that industry is concerned about.

"There is much still to do in equipping the UK's regulator to take on Euratom's safeguarding activities; agreeing a voluntary offer with the International Atomic Energy Agency; negotiating and ratifying new bilateral Nuclear Cooperation Agreements with the USA, Canada, Australia, Japan and others; agreeing new trading arrangements with the Euratom community and concluding a new funding agreement for the UK to continue its world-leading work in Euratom's fusion R&D activities. It is vital government continues to prioritise these issues in the period ahead if there is to be a successful outcome."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News