UK plans domestic nuclear safeguards regime

15 September 2017

As part of preparations for its exit from the European Union, the UK is establishing a domestic nuclear safeguards regime to ensure that it "continues to maintain its position as a responsible nuclear state and that withdrawal from Euratom will not result in the weakening of its future safeguards standards and oversight in the UK", Greg Clark, the UK secretary of state for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, announced yesterday.

The UK announced it intends to leave the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) in explanatory notes to a bill the government published on 26 January authorising Brexit. The notes state the bill empowers the prime minister to leave both the European Union and Euratom.

The peaceful use of nuclear energy within the EU is governed by the 1957 Euratom Treaty. The Euratom Community is a separate legal entity from the EU, but it is governed by the bloc's institutions.

The planned regime, announced yesterday, will be managed by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and require new agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In a written statement to the House of Commons, Clark said: "This government believes that it is vitally important that the new domestic nuclear safeguards regime, to be run by the Office for Nuclear Regulation, is as comprehensive and robust as that currently provided by Euratom. The government has therefore decided that it will be establishing a domestic regime which will deliver to existing Euratom standards and exceeds the standard that the international community would require from the UK as a member of the IAEA.

"International oversight will be a key part of the future regime. The UK is seeking to conclude new agreements with the IAEA that follow the same principles as our current ones. This will ensure that the IAEA retains its right to inspect all civil nuclear facilities, and continue to receive all current safeguards reporting, ensuring that international verification of our safeguards activity continues to be robust."

Discussions with the European Union are on-going, Clark noted. "We will be exploring a number of options for smooth transition from the current Euratom regime to a domestic one. The unique and important nature of the civil nuclear sector means that there is strong mutual interest in ensuring that the UK and Euratom Community continue to work closely together in the future.

"The UK's ambition is to maintain a close and effective relationship with the Euratom Community and the rest of the world that harnesses the UK's and the Euratom Community's expertise and maximises shared interests. By maintaining our current safeguards and standards we are providing the best possible basis for continued close cooperation with Euratom in the future.

"Whatever the outcome of those discussions, the government is committed to a future regime that provides at least the existing levels of assurance. The legislation to provide for this was announced in the Queen's speech and will be brought forward in due course. This policy statement provides important context both for parliamentary consideration of that Bill, and for the forthcoming talks with the European Union, which take place in the last week of September."

ONR said the secretary of state's statement confirmed that the government "intends to establish a domestic safeguards regime seeking to deliver to existing Euratom standards, going beyond what is required to achieve compliance with international obligations".

It added: "We're still assessing what this will mean practically for ONR, and this will no doubt be influenced by the government's ongoing negotiations with Euratom and the IAEA. ONR will continue to work closely with the government on policy and legislation regarding the detail of the proposed future safeguards regime."

ONR Chief Nuclear Inspector Richard Savage commented on Clark's statement during the World Nuclear Association's Symposium today. He said: "Currently we're looking at options for a smooth transition from the current Euratom regime to a domestic regime. At a practical level, there is a lot to be determined. My organisation is very actively engaged with government and with stakeholders to determine the model and capacity capability to deliver that effectively."

ONR became a statutory public corporation in April 2014 and Savage stressed he is not is not therefore a government representative, and was commenting as part of an independent regulatory authority.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News