Nuclear Safeguards Bill (UK)

The Nuclear Safeguards Bill was given its First Reading on 11th October, and its Second Reading (a debate stage) will take place on Monday. This Bill is found here

[please note, amendments could be made to this Bill, most notably to the way in which regulations will be enacted]

When enacted, it will :

(1) put in place the legal framework for a nuclear safeguards regime to operate in the UK. This domestic regime will replace the current legal framework provided principally by the UK’s membership of the European Atomic Energy Community (“Euratom”). Nuclear safeguards arrangements enable the UK to meet international nuclear safeguards standards and engage in certain international civil nuclear activities, including trade and research and development.

Nuclear safeguards primarily involve reporting and verification processes by which the UK demonstrates to the international community that civil nuclear material is not diverted into military or weapons programmes. Nuclear safeguard procedures can include accountancy and reporting on civil nuclear material holdings and development plans, verification (including inspections of nuclear facilities by international inspectors), containment measures and surveillance (including cameras in selected facilities). Nuclear safeguards are distinct from nuclear safety (the prevention of nuclear accidents) and nuclear security (physical protection measures), which are the subject of independent regulatory provisions.

(2) amend the Energy Act 2013 to replace the existing nuclear safeguards purposes of the Office of Nuclear Regulation (“ONR”). The ONR is the UK’s nuclear regulator. The ONR has five purposes which define its areas of responsibility and where it will be able to exercise functions. Currently, the nuclear safeguards purposes of the ONR is defined by reference to Euratom and existing agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (“IAEA”) (which also depend on membership of Euratom). The new nuclear safeguards purposes of the ONR will require it to ensure compliance with regulations on nuclear safeguards made by the Secretary of State and to ensure compliance of the United Kingdom with international agreements relating to nuclear safeguards.

(3) provide powers to the Secretary of State to make nuclear safeguards regulations, which will set out the detail of the domestic regime for nuclear safeguards. The regulation‐making power can also be used to implement the new international agreements the United Kingdom envisages concluding (for example, with the IAEA).

(4) provide a regulation‐making power to the Secretary of State to amend certain legislation (including primary legislation) which make reference to parts of existing agreements on nuclear safeguards between the IAEA and the United Kingdom. These references will need to be updated when the existing agreements with the IAEA are replaced with new ones (which are currently being negotiated).

NOTE

Following its notification to the European Commission, the Government set out its intention to legislate to put in place a domestic safeguards regime operated by the existing nuclear regulator, the ONR. The ONR currently performs inspections on United Kingdom nuclear facilities for a range of purposes safety and security (and it has a complementary role supporting Euratom’s and the IAEA’s work in respect of nuclear safeguards).

The new domestic safeguards regime will replace the current regime operated by Euratom that will cease to have effect in the UK in 2019. The Queen’s Speech on 21 June 2017 included a Nuclear Safeguards Bill. 

The detail of the current European safeguards regime is set out in Commission Regulation (Euratom) No. 302/2005 of 8 February 2005 on the application of Euratom safeguards (“the Euratom Regulation”), made under the Euratom Treaty. The Euratom Regulation imposes the detailed technical requirements on those holding civil nuclear material and takes effect automatically in United Kingdom law by virtue of the European Communities Act 1972 (without specific domestic implementing legislation).

The Energy Act 2013 established the ONR as the United Kingdom’s independent nuclear regulatory body in 2014 (with certain functions having rested with the Health and Safety Executive). The Energy Act 2013 currently sets out the purposes of the ONR, which define the five areas of regulatory responsibility: those relating to nuclear safety, nuclear health and safety, nuclear security, nuclear safeguards, and transport of radioactive material. In addition to this section 74 of the Energy Act 2013 provides for the Secretary of State to make regulations (known as “nuclear regulations”) for four of the ONR’s purposes, including the nuclear safeguards purposes.

Under section 72 of the Energy Act 2013 the “nuclear safeguards purposes” means the purposes of (a) ensuring compliance by the United Kingdom with the safeguards obligations and (b) the development of any future safeguards obligations. “The safeguards obligations” is then defined by section 93(2) of the Energy Act 2013 by reference to the European Euratom system. 

As a result, the UK’s safeguards regime generally, and the ONR’s nuclear safeguards purposes specifically, are fundamentally underpinned by the United Kingdom’s membership of Euratom. Euratom is a party to the United Kingdom’s two main agreements with the IAEA (and many of the United Kingdom’s obligations to the IAEA are discharged by virtue of membership of Euratom). As such, the United Kingdom existing nuclear safeguards regime will become ineffective on the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the Euratom Treaty.

This Bill confers a regulation‐making power which will enable the Secretary of State to put in place the detailed requirements that are necessary for a nuclear safeguards regime, including by imposing obligations on those who hold nuclear materials. The regulation‐making power can be used to implement the new international agreements the UK envisages concluding (for example, with the IAEA). The power can also be used to impose domestic standards.

The ONR’s nuclear safeguards purposes are amended to reflect the fact that the obligations it will be responsible for ensuring compliance with will be contained within domestic regulations and new international agreements (rather than the Euratom Regulation). The ONR, rather than the European Commission, will become the regulator.

The nature of safeguards regimes is such that the substantive provisions are detailed and technical in nature. This will be the case for the domestic safeguards regime put in place under the powers in the Bill. The majority of this detail will be laid out in regulations which will, on first use, be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. These regulations will place obligations on those responsible for “qualifying nuclear material”, “qualifying nuclear facilities” and “qualifying nuclear equipment”, including in respect of: record‐keeping and accounting, the provision of information, inspection and monitoring, imports and exports, the design of qualifying nuclear facilities or equipment and the production, processing, use, handling , storage or disposal of qualifying nuclear material or equipment.

In addition to the provisions of the Energy Act 2013 there are additional pieces of legislation (i.e. the Nuclear Safeguards and Electricity (Finance) Act 1978, the Nuclear Safeguards Act 2000 and the Nuclear Safeguards (Notification) Regulations 2004) that implement the United Kingdom’s existing nuclear safeguards obligations. These will not operate properly after the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from Euratom due to their detailed references to provisions of the United Kingdom’s existing nuclear safeguards agreements with the IAEA. The consequential amendments necessary to these pieces of legislation will depend on new safeguards agreements between the United Kingdom and the IAEA that are currently being negotiated; as such the United Kingdom will need to maintain flexibility to ensure these future agreements can be implemented in domestic legislation. A power to allow this legislation to be amended in this way is taken in clause 2 of the Bill.

MONEY

Establishing and operating the new regime by the ONR in line with the regulations that will be made under the powers in the Bill will require public expenditure. The costs to set up a UK domestic safeguards regime (which are not finalised) are potentially up to £10m. This would include procurement of a new IT system, recruitment and training of a large number of inspectors and strengthening institutional capacity to deliver the project. This cost can be met from within BEIS’s Spending Review allocations. The cost of any equipment currently in the UK but belonging to Euratom is a matter currently under negotiation with the European Union. The regime is also likely to involve an ongoing cost of around £10m a year, which is in line with the UK’s current cost of Euratom safeguards activity in the United Kingdom.

Cardinal Environment EHS Legislation Registers contain the Euratom rules on radiation health impacts in OHS Register 601 – this Bill will be added the Brexit Law List that subscribers will begin to notice added to their systems shortly. Earlier Blog posts refer to this Cardinal Brexit Law List. 

UPDATE : see related Blog post in Nuclear Safety Standards (Euratom/EU)

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