British pledge to go it alone on safeguards implementation

by David Lowry

"As part of preparations for EU Exit, the UK is establishing a domestic nuclear safeguards regime to ensure that the UK continues to maintain its position as a responsible nuclear state and that withdrawal from Euratom will not result in the weakening of our future safeguards standards and oversight in the UK", Greg Clark, UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said in a written statement to the UK Parliament on 14 September (Commons HCWS137).

The UK 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 (see IPFM Blog post).

The UK claims it "is seeking to conclude new agreements with the IAEA that follow the same principles as our current ones," arguing 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".

Whatever the outcome of those discussions, the UK asserts it 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".

On August 28, 2017, the UK BREXIT department issued a related policy paper Technical note on spent fuel and radioactive waste, which included this important explanation of the UK position:

The UK would expect reciprocal assurance that spent fuel and radioactive waste generated in a Euratom Member State, and present on UK territory on the date of withdrawal, will remain the responsibility of the relevant Euratom Member State. This is the current position set out under Euratom Community Law in accordance with Article 4 of Council Directive 2011/70/Euratom establishing a Community framework for the responsible and safe management of spent fuel and radioactive waste. This principle should apply equally to any radioactive waste recovered as a by-product from the treatment or reprocessing of this spent fuel and radioactive waste.

It adds:

The UK would also expect assurance that spent fuel and radioactive waste generated in a Euratom Member State, and transferred to UK territory following the date of withdrawal as part of contracts or agreements concluded prior to the date of withdrawal, will similarly remain the responsibility of the relevant Euratom Member State.

The technical note provides further information on spent fuel and radioactive waste to support the UK's position published on July 13, 2017, in the UK's position paper on nuclear materials and safeguards.

Meanwhile, Angela Hepworth, Corporate Policy and Regulation Director for EDF Energy (UK) speaking at a House of Lords parliamentary hearing jointly with Dr Mina Golshan, Deputy Chief Inspector at the UK Office for Nuclear Regulation on the impact of Brexit on Britain's energy security, on September 13, 2017, said:

If we fail to have a safeguard regime in place and if we fail to have nuclear cooperation agreements in place from key third countries, we wouldn't be able to share nuclear components.

The forthcoming UK talks with the European Union on Euratom are scheduled to take place in the last week of September 2017.