Nuclear industry scrambles to avoid Euratom cliff edge

Britain’s nuclear industry is scrambling to understand the full consequences of leaving Europe’s nuclear regulation group Euratom amid growing fears that Britain may be heading towards a Brexit cliff edge.

The withdrawal from Euratom, as part of the Brexit process, threatens to leave British firms without a framework through which to navigate the tightly regulated trade of nuclear materials.

UK ministers presented a Nuclear Safeguards Bill to Parliament this week which sets up a domestic nuclear safeguards regime. Industry insiders told The Daily Telegraph that they are monitoring the Government’s efforts to replicate the Euratom standards in an attempt to maintain access to the global nuclear market, but the slow progress means urgent contingency plans are likely to be required.

The risk of a 2019 cliff edge could paralyse work building the new Hinkley Point C new nuclear project and leave nuclear fuel suppliers without stocks.

“We are facing disruption to absolutely everything,” Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industries Association, told Sky News. “Fifteen months to two years sounds like a lot of time. It’s not. The clock is ticking and it has been since the referendum and we’ve made very little progress so far.”

Nuclear giant Westinghouse, which runs the Springfields nuclear fuel plant in Cumbria, is working closely with the Government, regulators and its customers to ensure it can still import raw materials and export fuel even after leaving Euratom.

 The Springfields facility is the first plant in the world to produce fuel for a commercial nuclear power station and has supplied products and services to customers in 11 countries since 1946. Without a replacement deal the facility, which employs a workforce of 1,200, would be unable to import the uranium needed to make enriched nuclear fuel or be able to export to customers.

“As part of these discussions we will evaluate any contingency arrangements which need to be in place to ensure we continue to successfully deliver to our customers in the UK and overseas,” the spokesman said.

But for the UK’s first new nuclear power plant to be built in a generation a regulatory gap following Brexit could raise major issues securing construction materials and skilled labour.

The NIA estimates that the £20bn Hinkley Point project will source around £5bn of its component parts from European countries.

Typically the UK imports graphite components from Germany using feedstock produced in France. Stainless steel castings are also manufactured in France and stainless strips, used to manufacture certain fuels and stringer components, are imported from Sweden.

The exit will also pose problems recruiting skilled labour.

It is estimated that Hinkley Point will need 1,400 steel fixers at the peak of its construction phase. The NIA has said only 2,700 registered and certified steel fixers are based in the UK and the project will be forced to compete with other major infrastructure projects in the UK for these individuals. Many are nearing retirement with an average age of 57.

“The best outcome for the nuclear industry would be if the UK could remain within the Euratom Treaty,” said a spokesman for EDF Energy, the French state-backed developer backing Hinkley Point.

“If the UK withdraws from the Treaty, it is essential that alternative and transitional arrangements are put in place in a pragmatic fashion, and before the existing arrangements are terminated. We stand ready to assist  the development and timely delivery of the appropriate solution,” he added.

Courtesy The Telegraph

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