Nuclear safeguards bill committee hears from the industry

The Nuclear Safeguards Bill Committee took oral evidence today as part of its scrutiny of the Bill prior to going through the text line by line.

The Committee first heard from Mina Golshan, Deputy Chief inspector at the Office for Nuclear Regulation. The members were keen to hear from Dr Golshan what extra resources the ONR would need to replicate the provisions of Euratom and whether it could meet the Brexit timescales.

Dr Golshan said that so far 4 extra senior staff members had been recruited and to replicate the safeguards regime a further 10-12 inspectors would be needed. However, on top of that to provide full replications of Euratom standards another 20 staff would be required on top. She also pointed out that this would not be straight forward as the ONR would be fishing in a limited pool of expertise.

In terms of timing Dr Golshan thought that it was possible to replicate the safeguards regimes to meet IAEA requirements by March 2019 (although she recognised the timing was tight). However, she thought that it would be impossible to fully replicate all Euratom standards by then so a transition period would be very helpful to the industry.

This was followed by a panel consisting of Tom Greatrex, Chief Executive of the Nuclear Industry Association; Rupert Cowan of Prospect Law; and Jonathan Leech, Senior Commercial Lawyer.

They all expressed concern that the Bill may not be able to deliver a regime in time to prevent disruption to the industry. This was both in terms of regulatory regime with Euratom but also in terms of the bilateral relationships that would need to be negotiated with countries such as the USA, Korea and Japan.

They also maintained the position that has previously been expressed that the Government is wrong to say that the UK has to leave Euratom as it leaves the EU. However, they did note that our options to stay were now limited as the UK had given specific notification of intention to leave Euratom as part of the Article 50 notice.

The afternoon session featured three sets of witnesses. The first was Angela Hepworth, Corporate Policy and Regulation Director, EDF Energy. She told the Committee that it was vital that the change in regime was carried out rapidly enough to ensure no interruption in the cross-border supply of fuel and parts. For EDF it was not important if the safeguards regime was under the UK or Euratom just that there was no interruption. Similarly, the timing of agreements with third parties was important.

The other key concern was the need for the continuation of free movement as this is needed for continued operations and research but also for building Hinkley C.

As with other contributors Ms Hepworth said that EDF remains of the view that remaining in Euratom is the best option and that an association agreement would still leave the industry with some problems in terms of movement of fuel.

This was followed by the unions with Sue Ferns, Deputy General Secretary, Prospect Union, and Kevin Coyne, National Officer for the Energy & Utilities Sector, Unite the Union giving evidence. Unsurprisingly the witnesses were most concerned about the effect of the Bill on the industry’s workforce. As with other witnesses they were concerned with the timing of getting the new regime in place. They also highlighted threats to JET especially and also that freedom of movement of workers needs to remain to protect these jobs.

They also highlighted the extra staff that will be required for the new safeguard regime and pointed to a lack of suitably qualified staff being available.

The final witness was Professor Juan Matthews, Visiting Professor, Dalton Nuclear Institute. Questions about whether Brexit made it a good time to be working in the industry due to new jobs being available Prof Matthews pointed out that the extra roles in safeguarding sat alongside a lot of opportunities across the industry especially as Hinkley C was now under construction. Therefore, it was important to train more people and that current UK capacity at doctoral level was only about 50 per year and that was not enough. Germany was a good source of qualified workers prior to Brexit due to their contracting industry but this supply was now drying up due to Brexit.

Professor Matthews thought that it is unlikely we will have a full safeguards regime in place by March 2019 and so without a transition deal Springfields and Capenhurst would have to cease operations followed soon afterwards by Sellafield. Operational nuclear power stations would also run out of fuel over time.

Richard Harrington, the Energy Minister who is a member of the Committee, consistently asked witnesses to say if they backed the Bill which they did. It can be expected this will be used as an argument by the Government in any contentious votes to come. However, it should be noted that all witnesses said it would be best to stay in Euratom, and this will no doubt be raised by the Government’s opponents.