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Engineers warn of Brexit threat to UK nuclear industry

16/02/17

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers calls for the government to make clear transitional arrangements to protect the UK nuclear industry after Brexit

A new report issued by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) today says the government needs to make sure a clear strategy is in place to safeguard the interests of the UK nuclear industry during and after Brexit.

As part of leaving the European Union, Theresa May’s government recently announced it intends to withdraw from the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), as its rules are enforced by the European Court of Justice and it is managed by EU institutions.

The engineering organisation believes this could threaten the UK’s nuclear fuel supplies, as well as plans to build new nuclear reactors and decommission older facilities. They warn it could also affect energy security.

New Nuclear Cooperation Agreements will be needed

The report – ‘Leaving the EU: the Euratom Treaty’ – urges the government to put in place a transitional framework before leaving the EU. It also emphasises the need for the UK to create new Nuclear Cooperation Agreements to enable new nuclear trade deals with both EU and non-EU countries.

“The UK’s departure from Euratom must not be seen as an after-thought to leaving the EU,” stressed Dr Jenifer Baxter, Head of Energy and Environment at IMechE and author of the report.

“Without suitable transitional arrangements, the UK runs the risk of not being able to access the markets and skills that enable the construction of new nuclear power plants and existing power stations may also potentially be unable to access fuel.”

Government must also ensure the UK can still access sector-specific skills not currently available in the domestic labour market, such as centrifuge technology expertise, the report cautions. It also calls for a thorough framework to provide assurances on nuclear safety, nuclear proliferation and environmental issues.

Opportunity could knock for UK nuclear industry

“Making these transitional arrangements will be difficult, particularly given the short time-scale, but if done correctly could present the UK with opportunities to speed up the process of developing new nuclear power plants and reprocessing facilities, boost UK nuclear skills as well as open up the UK to more international trade deals,” Dr Baxter added.

The report’s three key recommendations to the government are:

  • develop a suitable transitional framework that provides the UK nuclear industry an alternative State System of Accountancy and Control (SSAC)
  • create new Nuclear Cooperation Agreements with Euratom and non-EU trading countries prior to leaving Euratom
  • enable innovative commercial opportunities to sell nuclear services and waste treatment technology to world trade partners through the National Decommissioning Authority.

 

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