Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Plutonium title swaps and Brexit nuclear fallout

As Parliament grapples with ministers in a power struggle over disclosure of legal advice on the Brexit ‘divorce’ agreement and the sovereignty of Parliament, other Brexit–related details have been pushed into the background: but they should not be.


One such issue arose last week in a written answer by the energy minister Richard Harrington to Green Party MP Caroline Lucas (who represents the Brighton, Pavilion constituency).


Dr Lucas asked the business and energy department on 20 November, with reference to Article 83, paragraphs (1) and (2) of the Draft Agreement on the withdrawal of the UK from the EU and the European Atomic Energy Agency (dated 14 November 2018), who will own fissile materials stored at UK nuclear facilities after the UK withdraws from that agency. (‘Radioactive Materials,’ Commons


In his answer on 28 November, the energy minister stated:

“Under the current European Atomic Energy Community (“Euratom”) Treaty arrangements, special fissile material is collectively owned by the Euratom Community, but the operator with the legal title to the material has an “unlimited right of use and consumption” over it, subject to their complying with the obligations imposed on them by the Treaty. This form of supranational, or sovereign, ownership underpins the regulation of special fissile materials by the Euratom Community in accordance with the Euratom Treaty.

“The UK and EU have agreed that when the UK leaves the EU, Euratom’s supranational ownership arrangements will cease to apply in the UK. Article 83(1) removes Euratom’s ‘sovereign’ ownership and rights in relation to material held in the UK at the end of the implementation period. As Euratom ownership will cease as a result of 83(1), Article 83(2) clarifies that those operators that currently hold title to the material will be the sole owners of it, with all the rights and obligations that apply to it.”


The reply concluded: “These provisions will not have any practical impact on the day to day management and use of the material.”


This conclusion is demonstrably unsupported by the published information. Indeed, the British Government is in the process of taking title to hitherto foreign –owned  plutonium.(eg see‘Sweden wants to transfer ownership of 834 kg of separated plutonium to the United Kingdom,’ Fissile materials Blog, 18 March 2014; By David Lowry and Johan Swahn;http://fissilematerials.org/blog/2014/03/sweden_wants_to_transfer_.html

The Swedish government is set to approve the transfer of ownership of 834 kg of separated plutonium from the Swedish nuclear power company OKG to the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, NDA. OKG has applied to the government for permission for the transfer. On 14 March 2014 the regulator, the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority, announced that it supported the transaction in a consultation brief to the government (in Swedish).

The main part of the plutonium, 833 kg, comes from reprocessing of 140 tonnes of spent fuel from the Oskarshamn nuclear power plant under a contract from 1969. The spent fuel was sent to Sellafield between 1975 and 1982. It was not reprocessed until 1997 and the plutonium was to be returned to Sweden as MOX fuel to be used in the Oskarshamn 2 and 3 nuclear power plants.

The plutonium to be transferred also includes 1.2 kg of plutonium from 4.8 tonnes of spent fuel from the Swedish R-1 research reactor exported to Sellafield in 2007. The R-1 fuel was in metallic form and not considered suitable for final disposal using the Swedish KBS method for spent fuel disposition.

The Swedish MOX fuel was not produced before the shutdown of the dysfunctional Sellafield MOX Plant, SMP, in 2011. In its brief the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority considers four possible ways of managing the Swedish plutonium; waiting for a new MOX production facility to be built in the UK; the production of MOX in a third country; the return of the plutonium in separated form to Sweden; and the transfer of ownership of the plutonium to the UK. The regulator considers that the transfer of ownership to the UK is the best option as it avoids transportation of separated plutonium or MOX-fuel to Sweden.

Since 2010 the UK Government has been working on policies to manage foreign plutonium and foreign spent fuel that may never be reprocessed in Sellafield. In a policy statement in a consultation response in December 2011 the UK government stated:

“In the consultation paper we said that the UK would be open to consider the merits of taking over ownership of that foreign plutonium and to manage it with existing UK plutonium; any such change in ownership would need to be in compliance with inter-governmental agreements and subject to conclusion of acceptable commercial arrangements. For clarity, this does not include waste products from reprocessing which would be returned to the original owner of the fuel.

The UK Government has concluded that overseas owners of plutonium stored in the UK could, subject to commercial terms that are acceptable to the UK Government, have that plutonium managed in line with this policy. In addition, subject to compliance with inter-governmental agreements and acceptable commercial arrangements, the UK is prepared to take ownership of overseas plutonium stored in the UK after which it would be treated in line with this policy.

For each instance where there is a proposal for the UK to take title to overseas plutonium, the NDA will be required to demonstrate to the UK Government that there is an overall benefit to the UK in doing so. “

Since then several transactions have been made between NDA and foreign owners of plutonium in the UK to transfer ownership of plutonium. The planned Swedish transfer is one of the larger. Mainly of historical interest, the OKG reprocessing contract did not specify that the reprocessing waste be returned to Sweden.

The decision to accept the transfer of the Swedish plutonium may still prove politically contentious in the UK, because it effectively reverses a policy adopted by the UK's then Labour government in the mid-1970s, to return all radioactive products from reprocessing.

Following a political row arising from revelations in the Observer newspaper in April 1975, Mr. Benn,the UK minister responsible for the so-called return-to-sender policy, made this statement on March 12, 1976, to the UK Parliament setting out the change of policy:

The Government have given full consideration to the safety and environmental implications of accepting more work of this kind, taking account particularly of the views which have been expressed in the recent extensive public discussion of the question. They have decided that the company may, subject to the negotiation of satisfactory terms, take on further work on the basis that the contracts will include terms to ensure that the company will have the option to return residual radioactive waste and will not be obliged to retain it in this country for long-term storage; and that suitable understandings in support of the return option are reached between the United Kingdom Government and the Government of the country concerned.




Statement on the occasion of the IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Science and Technology: addressing current and emerging development challenges

Vienna, 28-30 November 2018, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland



Professor Robin Grimes, Head of the UK Delegation, Centre for Nuclear Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Department of Materials, Imperial College, London (In 2013 he was appointed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Chief Scientific Advisor and in 2017 Ministry of Defence Nuclear Chief Scientific Advisor)



Distinguished Co-Chairs,

1. I am honoured to represent the United Kingdom here today at the first Ministerial Conference focused exclusively on Nuclear Science and Technology. The UK aligns itself with the statement made on behalf of the European Union.


2. The UK is a strong supporter of the IAEA and its work in promoting the safe, secure and peaceful uses of nuclear technology. This work is unique, and its reach is truly global.


3. The IAEA’s work on nuclear science and technology makes a tangible contribution to realising the benefits of peaceful uses, as envisaged in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. This work can improve socio-economic development globally and contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.


4. The UK remains one of the biggest contributors of financial, technical and political support, across all the Agency’s Major Programmes. This includes support to the IAEA’s work on Nuclear Applications and its Technical Cooperation programme.


5. The UK continues to provide support to the IAEA’s laboratories in Seibersdorf, which I had the opportunity to visit again yesterday. We



have contributed over four-hundred thousand euros (€400,000) in extra-budgetary support to the ReNuAL and ReNuAL+ projects as well as over seven-hundred thousand euros (€700,000) to the Linac Accelerator bunker which will complete this spring. We encourage other Member States to contribute to help meet the current Renual+ shortfall for the modernisation of their laboratories.


6. This is in addition to the €3.7 million euros pledged at this year’s General Conference to the Technical Cooperation Fund for 2019.


7. I am also delighted to announce today a further contribution from the United Kingdom of €2 million euros for the development of the Seiberdsdorf site. This money will be used to build the IAEA’s in-house physical protection laboratories and thus ensure that beneficiary Member States see the full and sustained benefits of the peaceful uses of nuclear technology.


8. Taken together, this represents over €6.8 million euros of investment.



9. The UK takes its commitment to International Development seriously. We spend €15.4 billion euros on International Development globally. We are also working with the Agency to identify further areas where UK development expertise and support can be harnessed, in partnership with the IAEA, to support the development needs of Member States.


10. Another example of the UK’s commitment to this important area of work is our involvement in the Agency’s research. Currently, the UK is actively engaged in over thirty Coordinated Research Projects.



11. These include environmental issues, water resources, human health, food and agriculture. The UK provides technical expertise and access to its world leading research institutes to assist the IAEA’s research and development.


12. Nuclear science and technology cannot exist without the skills and innovation that drive it. As part of the UK’s ambitious Nuclear Sector Deal the UK is committed to enhance the skills required to ensure the nuclear sector remains competitive with other low-carbon technologies by driving innovation and improving diversity.


13. The UK continues to attach great importance to the promotion of gender equality and gender mainstreaming within the nuclear industry. By 2030 our goal is to have a nuclear industry work force that is 40 percent women.


14. The UK is pleased that Dr Fiona Rayment, the Executive Director of the Nuclear Innovation and Research Office, and a world leader in nuclear skills and innovation, will be speaking in panel session 4: The Way Forward. Dr Rayment is also a champion for Women in Nuclear.


15. Finally, on behalf of the UK delegation I thank you, Distinguished Co-Chairs, and assure you of the UK’s continued support to the IAEA and its work in promoting the responsible and peaceful use of nuclear technology.


Thank you.



European Union

Statement on the occasion of the Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Science and Technology

Vienna, 28-30 November 2018


Distinguished Co-Chairs,

1. The EU and its Member States welcome the organisation of the IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Science and Technology which provides a good occasion to engage in a dialogue on nuclear science and technologies and their application for achieving sustainable development as well as their role in addressing current and future emerging development challenges. We look forward to fruitful discussions during these upcoming days on this topic, including the importance of the Agency´s TC programme and other delivery mechanisms. The numerous topics that will be addressed throughout the conference also illustrate the diversity and the richness of nuclear applications and their possible contribution to a wide array of socio-economic development issues, thus improving the quality of life and wellbeing of society. In addition the conference will in our view contribute to increase public awareness on what the IAEA is providing to enable the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear technology.


2. We welcome the participation of other international organisations at this conference. We are convinced we stand to gain collectively by strengthening their existing partnerships with the IAEA and explore further/additional traditional and non-traditional partnerships with relevant regional and multilateral organisations, such as WHO, FAO, UNEP and others.


3. First, we would like to commend the work done by the co-chairs in ensuring a high level of consultation in the preparation of this conference, by both presenting a comprehensive, yet balanced programme that addresses a number of nuclear applications relevant matters, and also by developing a draft ministerial declaration. We welcome the attention paid in preparing the conference to achieving gender-balanced panels as well as the inclusion of a specific discussion of “Women in nuclear science and technology”. This is in the line with the importance the EU attaches to the empowerment of women and gender mainstreaming, including as a contribution to the implementation of SDG 5.


4. The EU would like to take this opportunity to underline the strong contribution of the IAEA’s work to the implementation of the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). The Agency’s work on nuclear science, technology and applications underpins the right of States Parties to the NPT to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, in accordance with Article IV of the NPT, also known as the “third pillar” of the treaty.



The Agency’s activities, inter alia, facilitate and provide assistance in the application of radiation and nuclear-related technologies to advance the goal of the eradication of poverty and hunger worldwide, and to significantly contribute to the worldwide improvement of sustainable development and human health. By demonstrating the valuable contribution of the IAEA and its Member States to this end throughout the years, this Conference will make a positive contribution to the upcoming NPT PrepCom in New York next year as well as to the ongoing review process of the NPT as a whole.


5. Our responsible use of nuclear science and technologies and their applications for peaceful purposes can only be widely acceptable if they are carried out at the highest standards in safeguards, nuclear and radiation safety as well as nuclear security.


6. We believe that the IAEA has an important role to play, including through its Technical Cooperation Programme and other delivery mechanisms in attaining the SDGs. These goals include, among others relevant to the Agency´s mandate and programmatic work, ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture, ensuring healthy lives and promotion of well-being for all. Nuclear science and technologies can also contribute to Member States’ efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, as well as to monitor its effects, for instance through the measurement of ocean acidification. All these areas are directly linked to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and this conference will provide an opportunity to further highlight the IAEA’s contribution in this endeavour.


7. Nuclear technologies play an imperative role in prevention, diagnosis and treatment of non-communicable diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases, through screening instruments and adequate treatments. In a globalised world, nuclear technologies also have a key role to play to help food traceability, healthcare and anti-counterfeiting of drugs. Hence, we encourage the Agency to remain involved, in a cross-cutting manner, and in cooperation with other relevant international organisations, to face these challenges.


8. In order to pursue a responsible development of such technologies, and thus foster their role in the achievement of SDGs as well as in other global environmental challenges, the EU and its Member States attach particular importance to the work of the Agency in supporting research and development. We strongly encourage the Agency to promote exchange of practices, research networks and projects and collaboration with technical experts and scientists from Member States involved in R&D in the field of nuclear science and technologies. The Agency’s work in training and education also contributes to this objective.


9. For instance, the EU and its Member States value the importance of Coordinated Research Projects (CRPs) in the framework of the IAEA, one of the latest one being on “Enhancing Vector Refractoriness to Trypanosome Infection”, which allowed nineteen countries to jointly study symbiotic bacteria and pathogens associated with tsetse flies. Such projects are an example of how scientists from both developed and developing countries can work together to foster exchange of knowledge, best practices and techniques.


10. Furthermore, we recognize the importance of research reactors for capacity building, research and development and their major contributions in fields such as



human health, food and agriculture. In this regard, we commend the continuing development of the ICERR (IAEA designated International Centre based on Research Reactors) programme. This growing network will play an important role in the promotion of capacity building and research, along with the Internet Research Laboratories.


11. The long-standing and successful collaboration between the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission and the IAEA has been reinforced by a practical arrangement on cooperation in nuclear science and applications for sustainable development, covering a range of different specific topics, including for example soil sciences, earth observation, food safety, food traceability and authenticity, ocean science, health, environmental monitoring and sustainable water management.


12. The IAEA’s Technical Cooperation programme, as well as its other delivery mechanisms, play a key role in delivery and transfer of nuclear technologies. In this regard, the EU and its Member States continue to be strong supporters of the TCP, including through the TC Fund and other extrabudgetary contributions such as the Peaceful Uses Initiative.


13. The effective application of IAEA safety standards and security guidance in the course of the implementation of Technical Cooperation projects that involve the peaceful uses of nuclear and other radiological material is necessary for ensuring that they are used safely and remain secure and thereby contribute to building the required public trust and confidence in the use of nuclear energy applications worldwide.


14. We also would like to express our high appreciation to the IAEA for its role in the international response to emerging threats, like the outbreak of the Zika and Ebola viruses. It is important that the Agency continues to develop its capacity in such areas. The EU and its Member States fully support the Director General's initiative on the much needed modernisation of the nuclear sciences and application laboratories in Seibersdorf (ReNuAL and ReNuAL+) as one key priority in order to ensure the ongoing ability of the Agency to respond effectively to the Member States demands in the above mentioned areas. The EU has collectively contributed with more than €5.7 million to the laboratory renovations, in addition to providing in-kind support.


Thank you, Distinguished Co-Chairs.


Ministers Adopt Declaration at IAEA Conference Underscoring Growing Importance of Nuclear Science and Technology

 Top of Form

Vienna, Austria


Opening of the Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Science and Technology: Addressing Current and Emerging Development Challenges at the Agency headquarters in Vienna, Austria. 28 November 2018. (D.Calma/IAEA) 

Nuclear science and technology have the potential to help countries meet a wide variety of socio-economic and human development needs, states a declaration adopted today by over 60 Ministers and other high-level Government representatives during a major International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conference.

The document highlights the contribution peaceful uses of these techniques can make in energy generation, industry, food and agriculture, human health and natural resources management. Recognizing the important role of science, technology and innovation in achieving sustainable development and protecting the environment, the declaration underscores “the growing need and demand for further utilization of nuclear applications worldwide.”

From sterilizing insects that threaten humans and crops to destroying tumours and measuring pollutants in water, the use of nuclear science and technology is widespread. This role, however, is not always recognized: “There is often a lack of awareness of the major contribution nuclear science and technology make to development. As a result, the full potential of peaceful nuclear science and technology is not being realised,” IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said during the opening of the conference.  “I therefore believe it is time to mainstream the use of peaceful nuclear technology at the highest level. That means raising public awareness about nuclear technology, incorporating it explicitly into national development plans, and stressing its importance to aid agencies and donors.”

The 28-30 November IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Science and Technology: Addressing Current and Emerging Development Challenges, brings together over 1 000 participants from more than 135 IAEA Member States. High-level delegates, scientists and other experts are discussing innovations that could help countries face a changing climate, growing food insecurity, rapid industrialization and a rise in chronic and infectious diseases.

“The discussions in the next days are about topics that may not first come to mind when speaking about the IAEA, but which are undoubtedly the ones with the most direct impact in the lives of people,” said Epsy Campbell Barr, Vice-President and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Costa Rica in her opening statement as co-chair of the conference. “I am pleased to see in this room people coming from all corners of the world, committed to science and knowledge for the development of their people.”

Techniques discussed at the three-day conference include, among others, advances in nuclear and radiation medicine, industrial applications, ways to better monitor ocean acidification and techniques to adapt to and mitigate the impact of climate change. The conference is also reviewing means to boost education and training in nuclear sciences, with a particular focus on women.

“Nuclear science and technology are not only about energy use,” said Kiyoto Tsuji, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan and co-chair of the conference. “They are also about the improvement of quality of life in a wide range of fields,” he said. 

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