Saturday, 1 December 2018

Nuclear safeguards hypocrisy ‘black hole’ down which post-Brexit Britain is about to disappear



Imagine the British Foreign Office response if North Korea and Iran said they would comply with their nuclear safeguards and verification inspection obligations, but would conduct the inspections themselves!


But this week, this is just what the British Government has said to the world about its own new  ‘mark-its-own-homework’ safeguards  arrangements it has developed as part of Brexatom, the UK exit from the EU’s nuclear watchdog  body, Euratom. (“Nuclear Safeguards Regulations Consultation: summary of responses received and government Response,” 29 November 2018;


Green MP Caroline Lucas explored the consequences of this proposed self-policing arrangement in a question she posed to the Foreign Secretary, asking in the context of the 585 page Brexit plan:


“with reference to Articles 81 and 82 of the Draft Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community, dated 14 November 2018, what bodies external to the UK will verify compliance with UK obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).”


Junior Foreign Office minister responsible for disarmament affairs,  Sir Alan Duncan, answered asserting:

“The NPT does not require (emphasis added) the UK, as a nuclear weapons State, to agree safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Since 1978, the UK has voluntarily accepted the application of safeguards in the United Kingdom in connection with the NPT through tri-lateral nuclear safeguards arrangements between the UK, the IAEA and Euratom – a Voluntary Offer Agreement (VOA) and, later, an Additional Protocol (AP). On 7 June 2018 the UK and the IAEA signed a new VOA and new AP to replace the existing trilateral agreements that include Euratom. The new VOA and AP were presented to Parliament for ratification on 12 November. The new VOA and AP ensure that the IAEA retains its right to inspect all civil nuclear facilities, and continues to receive all current safeguards reporting, thus ensuring that international verification of our safeguards activity continues to be robust.

(‘Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’,Commons

193427, 28 November 2018)


The preamble to this VOA sates, inter alia,

“the United Kingdom…has stated that at such time as international safeguards are put into effect in non-nuclear-weapon States in implementation of the provisions of the Treaty, it would be prepared to offer an opportunity for the application of similar safeguards in the United Kingdom subject to exclusions for national security reasons only” ( emphasis added) and noting “that the United Kingdom has declared its intention to continue to accept the application of safeguards by the Agency, subject to exclusions for national security reasons only.”


The very first substantive article one spells this out further:


(a) The United Kingdom shall accept the application of safeguards, in accordance with the terms of this Agreement, on all source or special fissionable material in facilities or parts thereof within the United Kingdom, subject to exclusions for national security reasons only, with a view to enabling the Agency to verify that such material is not, except as provided for in this Agreement, withdrawn from civil activities (emphasis added)


Whenever the United Kingdom withdraws nuclear material referred to in paragraph (a) of this Article from the scope of this Agreement for national security reasons, it shall notify the Agency in accordance with the provisions of this Agreement.


Lest anyone thinks this is simply an enabling option, very unlikely to be  implemented, we know from Parliamentary answers and annual publications by the UK nuclear regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, under the predecessor trilateral UK-IAEA-Euratom safeguards treaty ( in force from September 1978) which this treaty replaces over 600 notifications across forty years  were made by the UK  Government of withdrawal of nuclear materials from safeguards for national  security reasons, as is now  provided for under Article1 of the 2018 treaty.

Just imagine if Pyongyang or Teheran were to try to do that!

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