The future of the UK’s power supply is being threatened by Brexit and urgent government action is needed to resolve the problem, an influential group of MPs warned on Tuesday (May 2).
The Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee said leaving the European atomic power treaty without other comprehensive deals in place would “severely inhibit nuclear trade and research and threaten power supplies”.
The government has said the UK will leave the atomic treaty, along with the single market, customs union and other European institutions, as part of Brexit and will replace them with new agreements in Europe and abroad.
However the cross-party group of MPs said they were concerned that a new nuclear deal will take longer to arrange than the two years allocated for negotiations.
They urged the government to postpone exit from the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) or to arrange transitional deals that may have to extend beyond the three years set out by the European Parliament.
Euratom ensures there is uniform nuclear safety standards across the EU as well as regulating research and cooperation.
Committee chair, Iain Wright, said, “The impact of Brexit on Euratom has not been thought through. The government has failed to consider the potentially severe ramifications of its Brexit objectives for the nuclear industry.
“Ministers must act as urgently as possible. The repercussions of failing to do so are huge. The continued operations of the UK nuclear industry are at risk.”
The MP’s report was similar to warnings from nuclear energy lawyers, who said that leaving Euratom without a deal could result in the trade in atomic fuel stopping completely and could force the UK’s nuclear power stations to shut down. On Tuesday, a Lords committee also said the UK could lose access to markets and skills upon leaving Euratom.
Wright said, “The prime minister has made it politically unfeasible to remain in Euratom long term. The government now has a responsibility to end the uncertainty hanging over the industry and ensure robust and stable arrangements to protect trade, boost research and development, and ensure safeguarding of the highest level.”
The committee’s intervention was followed by a plea from the nuclear industry itself for the government to avoid a “cliff edge” scenario that would cause “major disruption to business across the whole nuclear fuel cycle”, including at Hinkley Point C and other new power stations.
Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) chief executive, Tom Greatrex, said, “The industry has been and is clear to government we are ready to do what we can – but it needs the government to get on with this and engage now, regardless of all the other issues they have to deal with.”
An NIA report given to the government makes clear that exiting Euratom means that Britain will need a new Atomic Energy Agency inspection regime to replace Euratom inspectors or risk widespread disruption.
Crashing onto World Trade Organisation rules would also risk breaching international nuclear law, the NIA said.
Additionally, the NIA said that new nuclear cooperation agreements would need to be signed with major nuclear nations outside of the EU, including Japan, the US and Australia. However, this can only happen once a safeguarding and inspection system is put in place.
The NIA report stated, “Leaving the Euratom treaty without alternative arrangements in place would have a dramatic impact on the nuclear industry including the UK’s new build plans, existing operations and the waste and decommissioning sector which all depend, to some extent, on cooperation with nuclear states.”
The NIA said the government should give “strong consideration” to remaining a member of Euratom if no deal has been reached by the end of the two year negotiations.
A government spokesperson said, “The government is working to ensure effective arrangements remain in place for nuclear co-operation with both Europe and the rest of the world.”
Unite national officer for energy Kevin Coyne said leaving Euratom with no deal in place will endanger the job security of Unite members in the nuclear industry as well as threatening Britain’s energy supply.
“Brexit will have a profound effect on Britain’s nuclear industry. The government needs to take action now to prevent serious disruptions to the nuclear supply chain, including for crucial infrastructure like Hinkley C and other new power stations,” Coyne said.
“The UK’s energy security is at stake, but unfortunately we have a government set on a destructive hard Brexit that will put us out of Euratom despite no feasible alternative being in place. Swift and decisive action is needed if the Tories are not to jeopardise the nation’s electricity supply.”