The BREXIT threat to UK nuclear plants and fusion power plan that could “save globe”

Report UK January 27, 2017

Theresa May yesterday confirmed the government”s plan to leave the European atomic energy community (Euratom), the body which ensures the safe use of nuclear energy across the continent.

The decision to leave the organisation set up in 1957, and governed by European Union institutions, was buried in the explanatory notes to the five-paragraph bill to authorise Brexit that was released yesterday.

Industry experts fear the planned Euratom exit will have negative implications for Britain’s new wave of around 20 planned new nuclear power plants funded by other countries and research into energy from nuclear fusion.

Membership of Euratom means Britain receives funding for and hosts the world”s largest nuclear fusion experiment at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) in south Oxfordshire.

The Joint European Torus project, which is underway at the centre, seeks to create clean and safe energy from fusion by 2050.

Fusion, once mastered, will create an unlimited supply of energy with no greenhouse emissions and no long-lived radioactive waste.

It is the process that heats the Sun and other stars, whereby atomic nuclei collide together and release energy.

Fusion scientists and engineers are developing the technology to create artificial fusion in future power stations.

According to the centre”s website, the ongoing experiments are crucial to ensuring the world”s first fusion power plant is up and running by the 2040s, and fusion electricity supplying homes by 2050.

But, it is currently jointly funded by Euratom and the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The centre says by 2050 an “expected rise in global population from seven billion to ten billion, and better living standards, could lead to a two to threefold increase in energy consumption.”

It says this demand will not be met without the introduction of fusion energy, meaning it is vital to the future of the planet, and could one day supply a fifth of the world”s total power.

An explanation of why fusion is needed on the website says: “Fusion is expected to become a major part of the energy mix during the second half of this century.

“With adequate funding, the first fusion power plant can be operating in the 2040s.”

But, it also spells out the importance of Euratom, adding: “CCFE is working with its counterparts around Europe to implement this plan, which would see fusion power on the grid by 2050.

“Fusion, therefore, could have a key role to play in the energy market of the future, with the potential to produce at least 20 per cent of the world”s electricity by 2100.”

It is expected the departure will also slow up plans for planned new standard nuclear power planet in the UK.

These include Japan-led schemes Horizon and Nugen which are developing planet at Anglesey and Cumbria respectively, and the EDF Energy Hinkley Point C power station.

It will trigger a series of negotiations with the EU, Euratom and other countries across the globe that currently have agreements with the UK to fund nuclear plants over here.

This is because safeguards for the plants will still have to meet Euratom approvals.

Dr Paul Dorfman, honorary senior researcher at the Energy Institute at University College London, said: “I know for a fact that the nuclear industry really doesn’t like it.

“It’s bad news for the industry, bad news for opponents and critics of the industry as well.

“It’s a lose-lose situation, whereby the industry becomes less competitive and less safe.

“The UK has current bilateral nuclear co-operation agreements in place that are predicated on Euratom safety regimes — and all of this has taken a lot of time to put in place.

“You’re talking about key safeguards and assurances and that might have serious implications for UK new-build installations, the nuclear fuel cycle and the UK’s enormous waste and decommissioning liabilities.”

Vince Zabielski, specialist nuclear lawyer at the law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, said: “None of the current new-build projects in the UK are British designs, and most are reliant on foreign technology that is accessible only via the existing bilateral treaties through Euratom.

“If the UK leaves Euratom before new stand-alone nuclear cooperation treaties are negotiated with France and the United States, current new build projects will be placed on hold while those stand-alone treaties are negotiated.

“To avoid delays, the best path forward for the UK and its nuclear trading partners would be a controlled exit from the European Atomic Energy Community after Brexit.

“While the exit procedures under Article 106a the Euratom treaty parallel those in Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, they are nonetheless independent.

“As part of the Brexit negotiations, the EU and the UK could agree that the notification procedures of the Euratom Treaty would be triggered, for example, three to five years after the notification under Article 50 is triggered.

“Such an approach would maintain trade, minimally impact new build, and ensure safety and security standards are continuously maintained, while – over a reasonable period of time – restoring the autonomy that the UK seeks.”

A spokesman for the UK government business department said: “Leaving Euratom is a result of the decision to leave the EU as they are uniquely legally joined.

“The UK supports Euratom and will want to see continuity of co-operation and standards.

“We remain absolutely committed to the highest standards of nuclear safety, safeguards and support for the industry.

“Our aim is clear: we want to maintain our mutually successful civil nuclear co-operation with the EU.”