Thursday, 6 December 2018

Nuclear fallout over Brexit continues


As the wider debate over Brexit interminably winds on in Parliament and the public sphere, some detailed aspects of the implications of Brexit get overlooked.

For example, today Rachel Reeves MP, Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has written to energy minister Richard Harrington, to call for clarity on a series of issues relating to the UK’s ongoing relationship with the EU and Euratom and the Government’s plans for civil nuclear in the event of a ‘no deal’ scenario. 



Ms Reeves commented:

"There are some encouraging indications of progress on civil nuclear issues such as nuclear safeguards and trading arrangements. Nevertheless, serious concerns persist, particularly in the event of a ‘no deal’ scenario. In the event of no deal and no transition period, the ongoing operation of the UK’s nuclear power stations could be put at risk.  The Government needs to spell out what it is doing to ensure that nuclear power stations continue to function from 29 March 2019 and whether it will seek a separate deal with Euratom in these circumstances. The Government also needs to be clearer about its plans to facilitate the building of construction of major facilities such as Hinkley Point C if restrictions on migrant labour are introduced in the future."

She added: "The UK plays an important role in nuclear research Given the UK’s proud history of innovation, it’s important the Government sets out its plans to make up for reduced access to EU R&D funding for future innovation projects beyond 2020."

(In December 2017, the BEIS Committee published its report following its inquiry “Brexit and its implications for the civil nuclear sector. The Committee’s report examined the UK’s current relationship with Euratom, the role of nuclear safeguards in trade and research, the establishment of a new UK regime, the importance of nuclear co-operation agreements in trading nuclear materials, and the impact of exit on R&D and skills.( https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/business-energy-industrial-strategy/news-parliament-2017/euratom-report-published-17-19/)

 

Rachel Reeves has herself been a long-time cheerleader for nuclear power, and seems unable to distinguish between her independent role a business and energy committee chair and her personal political prejudice to almost mindlessly back nuclear power. As a former Bank of England high-flyer, Ms Reeves should know nuclear energy has for decades been a huge drain on limited resources for RD&D and capital investment programmes, with a very high opportunity cost, as financial costs of construction  ever escalate, completion deadlines drift  into the far future, and efficiency of operation decreases, despite greater operational experience. Her call for replacing Euratom's promotional role for nuclear with a national, tax-payer  funded alternative, is ill-conceived and misplaced.

Meanwhile,  yesterday  in the House of Lords, a different  Committee also pronounced on future UK relations with Euratom. The European Union Committee reported:

Paragraph 246 “In our 2017 report on Brexit: energy security we urged the Government to seek continuing participation of the EU’s Internal Energy Market.222 The Declaration falls short of this, but does call for cooperation to support the delivery of “cost efficient, clean and secure supplies of electricity and gas, based on competitive markets and non-discriminatory access to networks”. It also calls for a technical cooperation framework between electricity and gas networks operators and organisations in the planning and use of energy infrastructure connecting their systems. This should include mechanisms to ensure as far as possible security of supply and efficient trade over interconnectors.”

European Union Committee, report on ‘Brexit: the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration’, 24th Report of Session 2017-19 - published 5 December 2018 - HL Paper 245;  https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201719/ldselect/ldeucom/245/24502.htm

The report added specifically – paragraphs 247-49 - referencing Euratom:

247.”The Declaration advocates a wide-ranging Nuclear Cooperation Agreement between EURATOM and the UK, to enable cooperation between them, including exchange of information, trade in nuclear materials and equipment, and the participation of the UK as a third country in EU systems for monitoring and exchanging information on levels of radioactivity in the environment. The UK’s intention to be associated with EURATOM research and training programmes (which include the ITER nuclear fusion research programme) is noted. The Declaration indicates that the EURATOM Supply Agency intends to reassess the authorisations and approvals for contracts for the supply of nuclear material between the EU and UK, and that there will be cooperation through the exchange of information on the supply of medical radioisotopes.223

[para.248] “We regret that the Declaration does not hold out the possibility of continued UK participation in the Internal Energy Market, but at the same time we welcome the high-level commitment to cooperation in the supply of electricity and gas to ensure as far as possible security of supply and trade over interconnectors.

[para.249] “We welcome the commitment to a wide-ranging Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, including exchange of information, trade in nuclear materials and equipment, monitoring of levels of radioactivity, and exchange of information on medical radioisotopes. While the reference to the UK’s intention to be associated with the EURATOM research and training programmes is a positive step, we call on the Government to provide further clarification of its plans in this regard.”

Former Labour Foreign Secretary Dame Margaret Beckett, MP for Derby South spoke at around 8.45 pm on Tuesday in the Brexit debate in the House of Commons, using her experience in several other ministerial posts to inform her contribution, picked out the UK role with Euratom and one of the problematic implications of withdrawal from the EU, telling MPs:

“Over 20 years ago, as the new President of the Board of Trade, my first overseas visit to a major trade partner—Japan—was dominated by the most overwhelming concern. Business and politicians alike wanted reassurance that the then new Labour Government would not be leaving the European Union. They were polite, but they were blunt. They had invested in the UK because the UK was in the European Union, and if we left, so would they. Just today, their ambassador re-emphasised their nervousness.

Over these two years, while the Government have wrangled endlessly about how to proceed, one disastrously unforeseen consequence of leaving the EU after another has been revealed. Government Members keep insisting that everyone who voted knew exactly what they were doing and what the possible consequences would be. It may be so. All I can say is, I did not.

When I heard the Prime Minister pontificating about escaping the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, it never crossed my mind that that meant leaving Euratom—the watchdog not just for cancer treatment, but for the safety of nuclear power stations. I know from ministerial experience that we have, and have had for years, a shortage of people across the world with those skills and capacities, and we are about to leave behind some of those on whom we presently rely….

“There has been a determined effort to keep people in the dark.”


Next day, the Conservative chair of the Health and Social Care select committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston, represents Totnes in Devon, pointed out:

“We know what the withdrawal agreement looks like, for example. It is a legally binding agreement with more than 500 pages, but worryingly, it has only 26 pages describing what will actually happen after the transition period. That is nothing more than a wish list of asks and it is very sketchy. We are heading for a blindfold Brexit…

…in as little as 114 days, we will be up against “Project Reality”. In the context of no deal, “Project Reality” would be very serious indeed for patients who use our national health service. We are talking about major interruptions in the supply chain of vital medicines and medical supplies. We are talking about insecurity in the supply of vital diagnostic test materials such as medical radioisotopes, which cannot be stockpiled…”


In a document published by DeXeu on 3 December, EU Exit:Legal position on the Withdrawal Agreement”, Cm 9747,  the Government said of the future nuclear relationship with the EU:

The UK’s withdrawal from the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) (Articles 79 to 85), where the UK will have sole responsibility at the end of the implementation period for its nuclear safeguards arrangements to meet international nuclear standards. The Agreement defines the UK’s responsibilities in relation to certain types of nuclear material and radioactive waste, makes provision in respect of ownership of special fissile material located in the UK and provides for the transfer of specified Euratom equipment (see also Annex V) and responsibilities to the UK at the end of the implementation period.

 


 

Backstory

On 6 December, to support ‘Industry Day’ on the Government’s campaigning grid to secure support for Brexit from MPs, BEIS published a 52 page new report, “Forging our future: Industrial Strategy - the story so far: Achievements of the Industrial Strategy one year after publication,” which includes the following material on the nuclear energy strategy:

 

NUCLEAR

The Nuclear Sector Deal (June 2018), ensures that the UK’s nuclear sector remains cost competitive with other forms of low-carbon technologies to support our Clean Growth Strategy and Grand Challenges.

`` £200m co-investment programme in emerging nuclear technologies including small and advanced nuclear modular reactors Industry has committed to stretching targets including:

`` 30% reduction in the cost of new build projects

`` 20% savings in the cost of decommissioning compared with current estimates

`` 40% women in civil nuclear by 2030 (approximately 22% today)

 

IMPROVING NUCLEAR DECOMMISSIONING

Sellafield Ltd is carrying out essential nuclear decommissioning work, using cutting edge technology enabling it to meet the highest safely standards. We want to achieve greater value for the taxpayer in the way we conduct nuclear decommissioning in the UK, and have set a target of a 20% reduction in the costs of decommissioning by 2030.

A joint government and industry review is underway to establish a national  decommissioning and waste management pipeline. This aims to create opportunities for the UK economy by reducing barriers to entry for the supply chain.

 

“As part of the High Value  Manufacturing Catapult, supported by Innovate UK, the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Rotherham is boosting the competitiveness of the UK civil nuclear manufacturing industry.”


 

Nuclear Sector Deal

S300 atom

The Nuclear Sector Deal (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/nuclear-sector-deal/nuclear-sector-deal)  builds on the government’s historical partnership with the UK nuclear sector.

It ensure that the UK’s nuclear sector remains cost competitive with other forms of low-carbon technologies to support our Clean Growth Strategy and Grand Challenge. Through adopting new construction techniques and innovative approaches to manufacturing, the deal will reduce the costs of building new reactors in a way that builds domestic supply chain capability and skills.

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