UK’s Nuclear Future ‘Threatened’ By Brexit Plans

UK’s Nuclear Future ‘Threatened’ By Brexit Plans
18th February 2017 Pentag Gears

A new report, Leaving the EU: the Euratom Treaty, has suggested that the government’s plans to exit the EU could jeopardise decommissioning activities as well as plans to build more nuclear reactors in the UK.

Compiled by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), the report is calling on the government to come up with a suitable transitional framework before the departure process is complete, as well as devising new nuclear cooperation agreements to make sure that nuclear trade deals are set up with EU and non-EU countries.

In addition, it’s been recommended that the nuclear industry is provided with an alternative system for accountancy and control. Supporting commercial opportunities to sell waste treatment technology and nuclear services to world trade partners via the National Decommissioning Authority was also suggested.

Head of energy and environment at the IMechE – and lead author of the report – Dr Jenifer Baxter said: “The UK’s departure from Euratom must not be seen as an after-thought to leaving the EU. Without suitable transitional arrangements, the UK runs the risk of not being able to access the markets and skills that enable the construction of nuclear power plants and existing power stations may also potentially be unable to access fuel.”

Euratom is a research programme for nuclear research and training, intended to pursue research activities with an emphasis on improving safety, security and radiation protection in a bid to contribute to the long-term decarbonisation of the energy system in an efficient, secure and safe way.

Dr Baxter went on to note that since the Article 50 process takes only two years, the UK government will need to act swiftly to develop NCAs so as to enable international trade for nuclear fuels, research and so on. It’s also imperative that the government does all it can to make sure the UK will still have access to sector-specific skills like centrifuge technology expertise that are currently unavailable in this country.

This comes after Dr Paul Dorfman of the Energy Institute at University College London observed that leaving Euratom would be a “lose-lose” situation for all involved. The industry would become less competitive with regards to nuclear proponents and safety regulation would diminish.

Ministers confirmed at the end of January that the Brexit process would definitely involve leaving Euratom, news that has already raised questions about safety inspection processes and the country’s participation in nuclear fusion research in the future.

Dr Dorfman was quoted by the Guardian as saying: “The UK nuclear industry is critically dependent on European goods and services in the nuclear supply chain and their specialist nuclear skills. Leaving Euratom will inevitably increase nuclear costs and will mean further delays.”

Certainly, it’s likely that there will a great level of uncertainty about new nuclear power and research as a result of quitting Euratom – but as with everything at the moment, it’s a matter of playing a waiting game to see how industry in the UK will be affected.

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