The future of the United Kingdom’s power supply has been jeopardised by Brexit and the government must act urgently to ensure nuclear power stations stay open, British lawmakers have warned. EURACTIV’s partner The Guardian reports.
The UK’s influential business, energy and industrial strategy committee said that any gap between the UK leaving a European atomic power treaty and entering into secure alternative deals would “severely inhibit nuclear trade and research and threaten power supplies”.
The cross-party group of MPs said it shared the nuclear industry’s concern that it would take more than two years to hammer out a new deal for regulating nuclear power stations and trade.
It urged the government to delay exit from the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) or set up transitional arrangements, which may need to be longer than the three years proposed by the European Parliament.
In a stark warning, Iain Wright, the committee’s chair, said: “The impact of Brexit on Euratom has not been thought through. The government has failed to consider the potentially severe ramifications of its Brexit objectives for the nuclear industry.
“Ministers must act as urgently as possible. The repercussions of failing to do so are huge. The continued operations of the UK nuclear industry are at risk.”
The committee’s report echoed a warning from nuclear energy lawyers that leaving Euratom without a new deal would see the trade in nuclear fuel grind to a halt and could ultimately force Britain’s reactors to switch off.
A former government adviser had told the committee that the UK nuclear industry would be “crippled” if new nuclear cooperation deals are not agreed within two years. The Euratom treaty promotes uniform safety standards, cooperation and research into nuclear power.
Justin Bowden, national officer of the GMB union, said the committee’s warning “yet again emphasises our government’s lack of anything that could be called a coherent energy policy.
“In a world outside of the European Union, energy self-sufficiency is common sense and nuclear, alongside gas, will be fundamental in that reliable mix,” he said.
“Decisive action must take place now. The electorate will not forgive politicians of any political party who fail in their duty to maintain the electricity supply.”
Wright said: “The prime minister has made it politically unfeasible to remain in Euratom long term. The government now has a responsibility to end the uncertainty hanging over the industry and ensure robust and stable arrangements to protect trade, boost research and development, and ensure safeguarding of the highest level.”
The government argues that the UK must leave Euratom following Theresa May’s triggering of Article 50 on 29 March, but the committee notes that legal opinion is divided.
MPs are concerned that in the long run, the UK will become a “rule taker” – complying with but unable to influence European rules and standards. The committee warns that if UK standards diverge too far from those in the EU, Britain could become a dumping ground for energy-inefficient products.
MPs are also worried that Brexit could distract the government from achieving emissions reduction targets, enshrined in domestic law.
The report recommends maintaining access to the internal energy market and retaining membership of the emissions trading system until at least 2020.
Alternatives include retaining unrestricted energy trade between the UK and the EU, or seeking third party access to the market.
The University of Cambridge suggested that energy cooperation could be reframed as an issue of security rather than trade, and an energy security treaty could be established with neighbouring countries.
“We believe that membership of the internal energy market has been beneficial to UK and EU consumers and has helped provide flexibility and certainty to the supply of energy,” MPs said. “We therefore agree with the government’s intention to retain as free as possible access to this market and the intention to remain an influential player on energy in the EU.
“While there are undoubtedly weaknesses in the operation of some EU policies on energy and climate change, notably the EU emissions trading system, the secretary of state, Greg Clark, acknowledged that cooperation with EU partners was generally mutually beneficial. The UK has consistently been a driver of high standards and ambitious climate change targets.”