9 Mar (NucNet): The government has made substantial progress in talks with key international partners to have new bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements and ensure that arrangements are in place for continuity for the nuclear sector when the UK leaves Euratom, the minister for business and energy has said.
In a letter to Parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee (BEIS) outlining the government’s response to a December 2017 committee report on leaving Euratom, Richard Harrington said the UK remains on track to “conclude and ratify these agreements during the course of 2018, and we have built into our timetables the necessary parliamentary ratification processes both in the UK and in third countries”.
Mr Harrington said that in respect of future agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UK began formal negotiations with the agency in September 2017. He said discussions have been constructive and substantial progress has been made. “Due to the sensitive nature of these and third country discussions, we are unable to go into detail about the issues under discussion,” he said. “However… we will be reporting every three months about progress on Euratom, including these negotiations.”
Addressing the question of post-Brexit nuclear research, Mr Harrington said the exact nature of the UK’s future association with Euratom will be subject to wider negotiations with the EU. This includes the Euratom research and training programme, Joint European Torus and the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor projects.
“It is therefore impossible at this stage to set out how our future arrangements will compare with the existing Euratom associations held by Switzerland and Ukraine,” Mr Harrington’s letter said. “Switzerland and Ukraine participate in the Euratom research and training programme through an ‘agreement for scientific and technological cooperation’. Both agreements for Switzerland and Ukraine only cover research and training. These agreements do not cover nuclear safeguards activities.”
At the moment Euratom safeguards inspectors only carry out their work in EU member states and there is no precedent for them to carry out work outside EU territory.
In its December 2017 report, the BEIS said if the government is unable to secure agreement for Euratom to continue delivering the UK’s safeguards regime, it should “as a minimum” seek transitional arrangements that would extend Euratom’s existing role in UK safeguards until the UK’s regulator is ready and able to take over.
The government said it is proposing “a time-limited implementation period where we continue to have access to one another’s markets on current terms and take part in existing security measures”.
The letter is online: http://bit.ly/2FqySnh