A week ago the Government published a near 100-page report titled ‘The future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union’, which has provoked much public and political discussion.
But one important issue not examined in the media was the section on the future of the UK commercial nuclear sector and any future relationship with the EU nuclear agency, Euratom. (The section on Euratom is reproduced below)
1.7.6 Civil nuclear
143. The UK will seek a close association with Euratom: a new relationship that is more comprehensive and broad than any existing agreement between Euratom and a third country and would help ensure the UK’s standing as a leading and responsible civil nuclear state is maintained. This would be mutually beneficial for the UK and the Euratom Community, who will continue to share a common interest in ensuring energy resilience and security within Europe. Close cooperation on civil nuclear matters would also benefit citizens and businesses in the UK and across the EU, whether related to secure energy supplies, or the safeguarding of nuclear materials, equipment and technology.
144. The UK proposes that this new relationship should be based on a comprehensive NCA between Euratom and the UK. This should: a. establish a cooperation mechanism between the UK safeguards regulator (the Office for Nuclear Regulation) and Euratom, enabling activity such as technical information exchanges, joint studies and consultation on regulatory or legislative changes;
b. provide for UK association with the Euratom Research and Training Programme, as part of an ambitious science and innovation accord;
c. ensure continuity of contractual arrangements for the supply of nuclear material, either by allowing for existing nuclear supply contracts with the UK to remain valid after the UK’s exit, or by providing for their seamless re-approval prior to the UK’s exit;
d. minimise barriers and simplify export control arrangements in the trade and transfer of sensitive nuclear materials, equipment and technology between the UK and the Euratom Community;
e. provide for technical cooperation on nuclear safety including continued notification and information sharing arrangements on radiological events and monitoring, with the UK participating in EU systems such as the European Community Urgent Radiological Information Exchange (ECURIE) and the European Radiological Data Exchange Platform (EURDEP); and continue UK cooperation and information-sharing.
This was, however discussed at a House of Lords committee this month (‘Select Committee on the European Union- Energy and Environment Sub-Committee; oral evidence: The Office for Nuclear Regulation’s Brexit preparedness, Wednesday 11 July 2018; http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/eu-energy-and-environment-subcommittee/the-office-of-nuclear-regulations-brexit-preparedness/oral/86771.html)
One key issue raised was over how the new ‘mark-your-own-homework’ national domestic nuclear “safeguards” regime will be paid for.
Here is the exchange in the committee, with Dr Golshan, the UK nuclear regulator ( Office for Nuclear Regulation):
Q6 Baroness Sheehan: By when do you need clarity regarding the funding for your new safeguarding activities?
Dr Mina Golshan: If I may give a little background, the regulation that is out for consultation clarifies what is required to deliver the framework. The question of funding has not been addressed in the Regulation, but, as part of that consultation, the Government seek to get views from industry and other stakeholders on what the funding regime should look like. By the time we take the responsibility for regulating the safeguards, or having a safeguards regime in place in the UK, we need to know how those costs are recovered. If that date is March 2019, clearly by then we need to have clarity about how the costs are recovered. If it is a later date, then we can live with that gap.
Baroness Sheehan: So you do not have clarity at the moment.
Dr Mina Golshan: It is fair to say that we are awaiting the result of the consultation.
Baroness Sheehan: That is interesting. Thank you.
Viscount Hanworth: Do you expect the industry to bear much of the cost—people such as Euratom and others?
Dr Mina Golshan: I would expect that thorough consultation is undertaken and that the Government, as is intended, take feedback from that consultation and make the right decision.
Can I add for clarity that the cost of establishing the safeguards regime is already covered by BEIS, so there is no doubt about the recovery of our costs in relation to establishing this framework? That is already covered. It is the future costs—the running costs from the day that we take on the responsibility of safeguards—that is out for debate.
Baroness Sheehan: In a no‑deal situation, by when do you need to know that?
Dr Mina Golshan: We need to know by the end of March 2019.
Baroness Sheehan: You can wait until the eve before crashing out.
Dr Mina Golshan: In theory, but perhaps clarity before that would be helpful in the way that we arrange our finances.
Baroness Sheehan: You are content, then, to move the funding item on your risk register from a red alert to not a red alert.
Dr Mina Golshan: As to the funding in the risk register, there are two different fundings. The funding in the risk register was in relation to clarity of arrangements for ongoing funds to fund establishment costs—the work that we are doing, right up until the time we leave, to develop this framework and to develop the regime. We wanted to have security of funding, which is now being provided because the BEIS business case has received approval from the Treasury. Within that, there is a clear allocation for ONR’s costs.
Baroness Sheehan: Is the funding item on the risk register an amber or a green?
Dr Mina Golshan: Paul?
Paul Dicks: I would have to confirm that in writing afterwards. It is not red, but I do not know if it is amber or green.
Baroness Sheehan: It was updated yesterday.
Paul Dicks: I know it was updated yesterday.
Dr Mina Golshan: It is the words that help us here. I do not believe it is red, but whether it is amber or amber‑green is up for debate.
The Chairman: You can follow that up in writing.
This was subsequently followed up, with the Committee writing to BEIS Minister for Business and Industry, Richard Harrington, to ask for further clarity on the ONR's future funding arrangements, and to request regular updates between now (July 2018) and the point of withdrawal to ensure the ONR’s preparation remains on track. The Committee also asked for an update on negotiations regarding the intended Nuclear Cooperation Agreements with the USA, Canada, Japan and Australia. The letter is reproduced below.(https://www.parliament.uk/documents/lords-committees/eu-energy-environment-subcommittee/Correspondence/Letter-from-Lord-Teverson-to-Richard-Harrington-190718.pdf
Green MP Caroline Lucas was told in a written Parliamentary answer by Richard Harrington on 14 May 2018 that:“ The total estimated cost to establish a domestic nuclear safeguards regime is up to £10 million” and added this included “ any expenditure made from cash advances received from the Contingencies Fund. The Department’s applications to the Contingencies Fund were notified to Parliament on 2 February 2018 and 16 April 2018.” Nuclear Power: Inspections, Commons
BEIS published its Nuclear Safeguards Regulations for consultation on 9 July 2018.
Chapter VIII on ‘Civil Activities’ contains the following section on exemptions to safeguards coverage:
Withdrawal from civil activities
173. Regulation 33 prohibits an operator from withdrawing qualifying nuclear material from civil activities except with the prior written consent of the Office for Nuclear Regulation. This is a key obligation that the UK has undertaken though its current Voluntary Offer Agreement and will undertake in its future Voluntary Offer Agreement. (emphasis added-DL)
174. Regulation 33 requires an operator to provide the Office for Nuclear Regulation with advance notification of any proposed withdrawal from civil activities at least 14 days before the withdrawal occurs.
175. The form for advance notification of intended withdrawal of qualifying nuclear material from civil activities is set out in Part 12 of Schedule 1 to the Regulations.
176. There are only limited circumstances in which operators may be allowed to withdraw qualified nuclear material from civil activities, in accordance with UK policy on this matter. The Office for Nuclear Regulation publishes information on these withdrawals on its website, demonstrating the UK’s policy commitment to make only very limited use of our right to such withdrawals is being met.
Chapter XIV on ‘Notification to the Secretary of State’ also includes the proposals that the responsible minister may authorize the withdrawal from the provisions of the domestic “safeguards” under the following paragraphs:
232. Regulation 50 provides that regulations 47 to 49 continue to apply to a particular item in the United Kingdom until the particular item is – (emphasis added-DL)
a. no longer usable for any nuclear activity relevant for nuclear safeguards;
b. irrecoverable for processing into a form in which it is usable for nuclear activity; or
c. the subject of a written confirmation from the Secretary of State to the person holding the particular item that regulation 47 no longer applies to the particular item, with effect from a specified date, following an agreement between the UK and the Party to the relevant international agreement.
233. This reflects the provisions and requirements within the relevant international agreements.
When BEIS writes “demonstrating the UK’s policy commitment to make only very limited use of our right to such withdrawals is being met” it adopts a novel definition of limited, as there have been an admitted over 600 withdrawals of nuclear materials from safeguards since the trilateral UK-Euratom-IAEA “safeguards” agreement that is being superceded by the new proposed ‘mark-your-own-homework’ domestic arrangements.