Report examines future of UK nuclear energy

| Global Environmental Processes

IMechE report proposes future development path for the post-Brexit UK nuclear energy industry.

The UK should focus on developing Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), including at Trawsfynydd in Wales, to secure the country’s future nuclear industry post Brexit according to a new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Following the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee report into the risks to the nuclear industry posed by Brexit, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers has outlined possible pathways the UK Government could take to leaving the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) regarding key issues such as safeguarding, Nuclear Co-operation Agreements, Research and Development (R&D) and regulation.

The ‘Leaving the EU, the Euratom Treaty Part 2: A Framework for the Future’ report says SMRs could present the UK with key export opportunities and return the country to the international nuclear reactor supply arena. The Institution is also calling for the UK to develop its own Safeguarding Office, to ensure the country conforms to international rules on safety and non-proliferation, but says the UK should remain an associate member of Euratom for the specific purpose of R&D.

Dr Jenifer Baxter, Head of Energy and Environment and Lead Author of the report, said: “The BEIS Select Committee was right to highlight the significant risks posed to our nuclear industry by Brexit. The UK’s departure from the EU and Euratom is likely to be complicated and difficult, but it also presents the country with an opportunity to reshape its nuclear industry and once again become a world-leading innovator in nuclear technology. Political parties need to outline their vision for the future of the UK nuclear industry as part of their manifestos.

“In the 1950s the UK was the first country to develop a civil nuclear programme, but we have since fallen behind countries such as China, France and Canada. Pushing ahead on the demonstration and commercialisation of SMRs would be a key way for the UK to once again become a world leader in the field. This would not only help to meet future energy demand, but also to develop skills, local employment and build future export business.

“In order to secure the future the UK nuclear industry, the Government must look to replace mechanisms currently provided through Euratom which allow for international trade and provide assurances on nuclear safety, nuclear proliferation and environmental issues.

“UK Government should set up a new UK Safeguarding Office to ensure the country conforms to international rules on safety and non-proliferation. The UK however should look to remain as an associate member of Euratom for the specific purpose of R&D to secure the future of projects such as the Joint European Torus (JET) project in Oxfordshire.”

The Institution report makes four key recommendations:

* That the UK Government adopts the framework approach to safeguarding, Nuclear Co-operation Agreements, Research & Development (R&D) and regulation for the nuclear industry, replacing mechanisms lost as a result of the UK’s departure from Euratom.

* That the UK works towards developing a new nuclear Safeguards regime, through the development of a UK Safeguarding Office, to ensure the country conforms to international rules on safety and non-proliferation.

* That the UK Government remains an associate member of Euratom for the specific purpose of research & development activities in the nuclear sector. The exact detail of this associate membership should be arranged before the deadline for exiting the EU.

* That the UK Government should include within the UK’s nuclear sector strategy a long term commitment to nuclear R&D programmes including, a pathway for developing Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). This should be achieved through the SMR competition, followed by opportunities for demonstration and commercialisation. The UK Government, in collaboration with the Welsh Government, should support making the existing nuclear licensed site at Trawsfynydd in North Wales available as a potential location for the building and demonstration testing of an SMR following a comprehensive site selection process.

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