Letter sent to the Guardian:
Your energy correspondent’s important report (“UK exit from EU atomic treaty under Brexit 'will delay power stations,' Guardian, 27 January; https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/jan/27/uk-exit-eu-atomic-treaty-brexit-euratom-hinkley-point-c) rightly raises an aspect of Brexit that has eluded the political discussion of Brexit complexities to date
You report an anonymous government spokeswoman as asserting that the UK wanted to see a continuity of cooperation and standards. “We remain absolutely committed to the highest standards of nuclear safety, safeguards and support for the industry. Our aim is clear – we want to maintain our mutually successful civil nuclear cooperation with the EU.”
But nuclear technology consultant John Large is more accurate in pointing out “The main burden of the UK leaving Euratom will be the need for it to cover its nuclear non-proliferation safeguards commitment and for this it will have to either set up a separate, independent agency or bring these treaty responsibilities into the Office for Nuclear Regulation.”
Indeed, this issue was raised by Green Party co-leader, Caroline Lucas MP in a written question shortly after the Brexit referendum, when she asked the business and energy secretary “what steps would be needed to replace EU Atomic Energy Community safeguards inspectors with International Atomic Energy Agency Inspectors to implement safeguards provisions on (a) UK nuclear installations and (b) nuclear material used and created at UK nuclear sites under treaties to which the UK is a party?” (Hansard, 3 August 2016)
She was told by energy minister, Jesse Norman, who responded with following evasive reply: “Until the UK leaves the EU, it is expected to remain a full member with all relevant rights and obligations. The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy will continue to work closely with stakeholders and the rest of Government during our negotiations to exit the EU to deliver energy which is secure, affordable and clean.”
What Mr Norman did not address is the fact that currently international inspection of UK nuclear plants and nuclear explosive materials to ensure the UK pledge not to divert these plants or materials to military misuse is verified, to recall Mrs May’s phrase in Philadelphia by the EU;s Euratom agency on behalf of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, under a treaty signed in September 1978 between the UK, Euratom and the IAEA.
As our nuclear regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation puts it “The UK voluntary offer safeguards agreement with the IAEA and Euratom came into force in 1978 and specifies the UKs acceptance of the application of IAEA safeguards "On all source or special fissionable material in facilities or parts thereof within the United Kingdom, subject to exclusions for national security reasons only," adding” As part of measures to strengthen the global safeguards regime, the UK has agreed an additional protocol with the IAEA and Euratom which supplements its voluntary offer safeguards agreement.((http://www.onr.org.uk/safeguards/iaeauk.htm)
This came into force in April 2004 and is implemented under the Nuclear Safeguards Act 2000 and the accompanying Nuclear Safeguards (Notifications) Regulations 2004.
It is now time energy and foreign ministers and their advisors turn their attention to what they are going to do to ensure nuclear safeguards continuity in the UK post Brexit to avoid the UK becoming a nuclear rogue state.