Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Minister all in a muddle over explaining nuclear agreements to MPs

While all eyes at Parliament in Westminster last week for focused on the interminable political debate over Brexit, some MPs were dealing with the micro-management of secondary legislation being scrutinised in a series of so-called Delegated Legislation Committee (DLC) meetings.

So, on 14 January 2019, the Third  DLC met to examine the Draft Nuclear Safeguards (Fissionable Material and Relevant International Agreements) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018 (https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2019-01-14/debates/3af0ec06-de17-45c6-b2af-c13c28d8293a/DraftNuclearSafeguards(FissionableMaterialAndReleventInternationalAgreements)(EUExit)Regulations2018)

Fourteen MPs of 16 on the committee attended (with former Labour foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, and Labour MPs Stephen Hepburn and Ellie Reeves absent) to hear BEIS energy minister Richard Harrington present the arguments for the Government, under the chairmanship of Virendra Sharma MP

Harrington argued by emphasizing that the two sets of regulations are “essential to establishing our domestic regime, whether we leave the EU with a deal or not—their effect will be exactly the same in either outcome.“

He laid out how “The powers to make this secondary legislation are found in the 2013 Act, which we amended with the 2018 Act. The territorial extent and application of the regulations is to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.”

“Nuclear safeguards are accounting, reporting and verification processes designed to assure and demonstrate to the international community that civil nuclear material is not diverted unlawfully into military or weapons programmes,” he explained to MPs, stressing “ hat is not to do with nuclear safety and nuclear security.”

He also, questionably, asserted the UK “have a very good record as a responsible nuclear state” and accurately stated the UK were a founding member of the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1957. He then went on  to inaccurately characterise  the role of the IAEA claiming  it “ensures that states honour their international legal nuclear safeguards obligations in connection with the non-proliferation treaty, and basically stops civil nuclear being used for military purposes.”

It does not! It deters by the threat of detection through mandatory, intrusive verification. Bu tit does not stop diversion to military misuse

The minister then  falsely asserted “We have always voluntarily accepted two safeguards agreements with the IAEA” These agreements were very reluctantly agreed by the UK in 1977- twenty years after the UK  joined the I AEA – very much involuntary  voluntary offer agreements.

He then referred to plans to  replace the trilateral ​safeguards agreements between the UK, the IAEA and Euratom that have been in place since 1978 in order to “enable the continuity of civil nuclear trade with our international trading partners.”


Under the new so-called “voluntary safeguards agreement (VOA) signed on 7 June  2018 between the UK and the UN international  watchdog,  the IAEA, to replace the existing trilateral agreements between UK-IAEA and the EU  nuclear watchdog  body, Euratom, under Brexit arrangements, it includes in its very first article, the following exclusion:


“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)

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 agreement (in force from September 1978), which this new treaty replaces, there have been several hundred occasions when nuclear materials, including plutonium, has been withdrawn from safeguards cover.


A written answer to Green Party MP Caroline Lucas  on 17 December 2018 (200104) by foreign office minister, Sir Alan Duncan, withdrawals year by year since 1999 were as follows: in 2000 there were 6; in 2001, 18; in 2002, 11; in 2003, 20; in 2004 19; in 2005, 17; in 2006, 16; in 2007, 31; in 2008, 19; in 2009, 15; in 2010, 14; in 2011, 17; in 2012, 19; in 2013, 34; in 2014, 18, in 2015, 29; in 2016, 44 and in 2017  35 withdrawals.

We also know, by combining these to annual totals with those included in  a paper put into the House of Commons Library by ministers in July 2000, that in total withdrawal of nuclear materials form “safeguards” in the UK have taken place on more then 600 occasions.

Minister Harrington also asserted “the Government have prioritised putting agreements in place with key countries—Australia, Canada, Japan and the US—that require nuclear co-operation agreements, unlike others,” explaining that “ NCAs are legally binding treaties that allow states to formally recognise their willingness to co-operate with each other on civil nuclear matters. We have now concluded—and Parliament has now approved—the ratification of replacement bilateral NCAs with Australia, Canada and the US. We already have a bilateral NCA with Japan.”

He then reiterated the Government’s commitment to establishing, by December 2020, a regime that is “equivalent in effectiveness and coverage to that currently provided by Euratom, and that will exceed the commitments that the international community expects us to meet.”

He added “ I am confident that the fissionable regulations and nuclear safeguards regulations do that. We want to establish a regime that will operate in a similar way to the existing arrangements, taking account of best practice in our regulation making and considering the need to minimise disruption to industry, which were undertakings I gave during the passage of the Nuclear Safeguards Bill”.

Turning to the nuclear regulator, the ONR, Mr Harrington then revealed  the significant progress has made in the set-up of the domestic regime” since Parliament was updated Parliament in October, and explaine dhow “From this month—in the past couple of weeks—our domestic regime has commenced parallel running alongside Euratom, processing and checking reports received from industry through our IT system—the safeguards information management and reporting system—and producing the declarations required to enable the UK to meet its international obligations.”

 We have been running the scheme in parallel so that we have time in the next few weeks, if we need it before the end of March, to see whether any adjustments need to be made, he added

He also reported to MPs that the “ONR’s recruitment target for the first phase has been met: 16 safeguards officers are in place, which is seven more than the minimum of nine required to deliver the regime at the end of March; and four nuclear material accountants have been appointed, so 20 are in post.”

Between July and September last year, BEIS held a consultation on the content of these draft regulations and the nuclear safeguards regulations. In total, 28 formal responses were received. At the end of November we published our response. No major changes to these regulations were suggested.

This statement is totally untrue. I proposed in my personal; response  that the  clause that permits proliferation by withdrawing nuclear explosive materials from safeguards scrutiny  - as I explained above- be dropped. It was retained, to permit futur eUK proliferation from its civil nuclear material stockpile!

Responding for Labour, shadow energy minister Dr Alan Whitehead,  said inter alia:

“We had some discussion during the passage of the Bill about relevant international agreements and what had to be done. As the Minister has outlined, a number of treaties were made with third party countries and the IAEA through Euratom, of which we were a member, on our behalf. Therefore, if we leave Euratom and we are still dealing with what was treated in the Bill as a contingency, but which we are now close to, we will no longer be covered by those international treaties and we will effectively have to negotiate them anew.”

What is missing, however, is a possible treaty with Japan, he stressed, which he found  “puzzling”  because during the passage of the Bill, the Harrington had  told him:

“The Government have the power to conclude international treaties under their prerogative powers. Of course, that cannot automatically change domestic law or rights and cannot make major changes to the UK’s constitutional arrangements without parliamentary authority. That remains the case for international agreements relating to safeguards that are currently under negotiation—for example, the nuclear co-operation agreements currently being negotiated with the US, Canada, Japan and Australia, and the new safeguards agreements with the IAEA. Parliament will therefore have the opportunity to consider those agreements before they come into force.[Official Report, Nuclear Safeguards Public Bill Committee, 2 November 2017; column 56.]

 “Good progress has also been made in discussions with Canada and Japan…The UK has had”— I emphasise the tense— “a bilateral NCA in place with Japan since 1998. The UK and Japan have had detailed discussions on this, and have now commenced negotiations formally to put in place arrangements to ensure that this NCA remains operable following the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom. Given this progress, we are confident that all priority NCA arrangements will be in place to enable international cooperation in the civil nuclear sector.”

Although there appears to have been an NCA in place with Japan, it is clear, both from what the Minister said at the time of the Nuclear Safeguards Act 2018 and from what has been said in the progress document, that there are negotiations and that those negotiations are intended to end in arrangements being in place so that this NCA remains operable. There may be a very good reason why the NCA that was originally in place, but has been a subject of negotiations, is not before us now and has not gone through the process that, as I just mentioned, has now been completed for those other agreements, but it is certainly the case that there is no ​new treaty with Japan in place at the time of this SI discussion.”

In response, Richard Harrington said about the Japan agreement mystery: “A bilateral NCA between the UK and Japan is already in place. It is not like the other one. I confirm that it will remain in place following the UK’s departure from the EU. It is not necessary to conclude a new NCA with Japan. We are having detailed discussions with the Japanese on this issue and negotiations to make sure that if any adjustments are needed, they will be made. Without doubt, that the agreements remain operable after our exit from Euratom is very important, but I really am not concerned about that.


He concluded by  saying “we have a series of meetings not just with the devolved Assemblies and Governments but with all interested stakeholders. That continues on a regular basis.”


Let us hope ministers and departmental officials are more accurate – and more challenged - than Harington was before MPs last week.

NGO Forum 24 January 2018

Euratom Exit Written Update


The UK is well prepared for our departure from Euratom and we are confident that we will have all necessary measures in place to ensure that the civil nuclear sector can continue to operate safely, securely and in line with our international commitments on nuclear non-proliferation, with or without a deal with the EU. The Government’s strategy is twofold: through negotiations with the European Commission we will seek a close association with Euratom and to include Euratom in any implementation period negotiated as part of our wider exit discussions; and at the same time, to put in place all the necessary measures to ensure that the UK could operate as an independent and responsible nuclear state from day one.


As part of BEIS’ ongoing commitment to proactively engage with our stakeholders and to share key government messages on the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom, we would like to update you on recent developments.


International Agreements

To ensure that the UK continues to meet its commitments to the international community, new international nuclear safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)  are needed to replace the current trilateral agreements that include Euratom. These agreements, a Voluntary Offer Agreement and an Additional Protocol, set out the UK’s voluntary international safeguards, and nuclear non-proliferation, obligations. These new agreements were signed with the IAEA on 7 June 2018.


Additionally, to ensure uninterrupted cooperation and trade in the civil nuclear sector following our departure from Euratom, the United Kingdom needed to put in place new nuclear cooperation agreements (NCAs) with Australia, Canada and the United States. These new agreements were signed with the US on 4 May, Australia on 21 August and Canada on 2 November. The UK has had a bilateral NCA in place with Japan since 1998, which will remain in force following UK’s withdrawal from Euratom.


On 19 December 2018, the UK Parliament approved the ratification of all the new international agreements that are required:



It is the UK’s intention that these new agreements will come into force at the end of the implementation period. If, however, there is no agreement with the EU and no Implementation Period, these agreements would be brought into force on 29 March 2019, the day on which the UK leaves the EU.



Nuclear Safeguards Regime

In addition to these new international agreements, the UK has been putting in place a number of measures to ensure that the civil nuclear sector can continue to operate with certainty in any scenario, including no deal. This includes the set up of a domestic nuclear safeguards regime, to be run by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), to enable us to meet the UK’s international safeguards and nuclear non-proliferation commitments as set out in our new bilateral safeguards agreements with the IAEA.


The Nuclear Safeguards Act 2018, which gives the Government the power to establish a new nuclear safeguards regime, was passed in June 2018 and the underpinning nuclear safeguards regulations were laid in Parliament for approval in November 2018, after a public consultation running from 9 July to 14 September 2018. Responses voiced broad acceptance of the government proposals and provided valuable insights that have allowed us to make some changes to the regulations. The draft Nuclear Safeguards Regulations set out a new framework for the UK to deliver the Government’s objective to put in place safeguards arrangements that will offer coverage and effectiveness equivalent to the Euratom regime. A teleconference on this was held with NGO Forum members on 17 April 2018. As part of the Government response to the consultation, issued on 29 November 2018, Government has committed to fund the costs associated with setting up the new nuclear safeguards regime through to 2020.


Work of the Office for Nuclear Regulation

ONR is working to ensure it will have in place by 29 March 2019 the IT systems and safeguards inspectors needed to operate this new regime, meet international standards and to build, over time, to equivalent effectiveness and coverage to Euratom.


ONR estimates that it will require a minimum of 9 safeguards inspectors and 15 safeguards officers are currently in place and undergoing training to become warranted inspectors.


From January 2019, the SSAC commenced parallel running alongside Euratom, processing and checking reports received from industry through the Safeguards Information Management and Reporting System (SIMRS) IT system and producing the declarations required to enable the UK to meet its international obligations. Based on current progress, ONR will be in a position to deliver safeguards arrangements that meet international safeguards standards by 29 March 2019.


No Deal Planning

Government has also published a technical notice to stakeholders on measures that may need to be put in place in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal. The Government is well advanced in its work to address the issues that may affect the civil nuclear sector if there is no Brexit deal, and is confident that all necessary measures will be in place to ensure that the civil nuclear sector can continue to operate, with or without a deal. Government has laid, or will lay shortly in Parliament, a number of statutory instruments that address our departure from Euratom. These are:



Further ‘no deal’ guidance will be published shortly on aspects such as import licensing arrangements and the shipment of nuclear waste, spent fuel and radioactive substances.

The fourth quarterly update to Parliament of the government’s progress on the UK’s exit from the Euratom Treaty will also be published shortly.


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