Power to amend legislation relating to nuclear safeguards

Part of Nuclear Safeguards Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:35 pm on 23rd January 2018.

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Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison Conservative, Copeland 5:35 pm, 23rd January 2018

The Bill is absolutely essential to the nuclear industry. Without it, after we leave the European Union, our nuclear industry would collapse. As I said earlier, it would be economically crushing not to have a safeguards regime in place. That would have catastrophic implications for every part of the country, which would be felt across the whole sector.

Following the construction and successful commissioning of the world’s first nuclear power station—Calder Hall, in my constituency, back in 1957—Euratom was formed by the Euratom treaty. It was as important then as it is now to apply civil nuclear safeguards in the UK. The UK has committed, as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to have nuclear safeguards in place—a clear demonstration to the international community that civil nuclear material is used only for civil activities.

The Bill enables the UK to set up a domestic safeguards regime to meet our international commitments on safeguards and nuclear non-proliferation standards. Without the Bill, the movement of materials, fuel—including spent fuel—and components, and even the conversations about materials, fuel and components, could not take place.

Euratom provides the basis for the regulation of civilian nuclear activity in the UK, including fuel supply, waste management and co-operation between nuclear states. It implements a system of safeguards, controls the supply of fissile materials in Euratom member states, guarantees high safety standards and funds international research into nuclear fission and fusion. It is also critical for nuclear co-operation across the world.

In a community such as mine, where the income of 55% of the population depends directly or indirectly on work in the nuclear industry, and in our country, where more than 20% of energy is generated by nuclear power plants, not having measures in place as we leave the EU and Euratom would be unthinkable. An effective safeguards regime is necessary for Sellafield’s operations, for the low level waste repository’s business, for the national nuclear laboratory’s research and for the development of Moorside, the new-build nuclear power plant that is expected to be constructed adjacent to Sellafield. All of that is in Copeland.

I have visited 70-something businesses in my constituency, including large global operations now based in Copeland—some of the biggest names in international industry—and our many small and medium-sized enterprises to listen to their concerns and ambitions for the future. Each and every one is wholly dependent on being able to trade globally. Those businesses are not just critical to that sector, but integral to the socioeconomic fabric of daily life. Of the 1,020 apprenticeships that were started last year, the vast majority were in industry and engineering connected with our nuclear sector. But it goes further: those companies are proud, passionate parts of our society, donating to charities, supporting local organisations and providing enormous socioeconomic benefits. I am proud to say that tomorrow, Sellafield is sponsoring “A Taste of Cumbria” in the Jubilee Room here in Parliament, such is its commitment to its community and county.

I cannot emphasise sufficiently strongly how vital the Bill is for Copeland and Cumbria, and indeed for the whole country. I was delighted that the Government committed further to the Joint European Torus and the international thermonuclear experimental reactor projects. The Bill is equally necessary for research and development and for science and innovation.

Our nuclear industry is an international marketplace, which means that we need in place not only domestic regulations but bilateral agreements with countries such as the US, Japan, Kazakhstan and Canada—the list goes on. We cannot even begin to discuss bilateral agreements without there being a domestic safeguards regime in place. We need one to carry out decommissioning work across the country and to consider exporting the skills and products being developed. It is estimated that overseas reactor decommissioning will total £250 billion over coming decades, according to the Government’s “The UK’s Nuclear Future” document.

The Calder Hall reactor I referred to earlier now requires decommissioning. This is a fantastic opportunity for the sector not just to benefit from the skills and experience gained from decommissioning but to leverage wider UK, European and worldwide decommissioning. The iconic golf ball structure at Sellafield, the Windscale advanced gas-cooled reactor, was the prototype power reactor for the 14 EDF Energy AGRs, which currently supply about one fifth of the UK’s electricity. Its core heat exchangers and associated equipment have all been safely decommissioned and removed, thanks to Government-funded projects, demonstrating that a power reactor can be successfully decommissioned.

I hope that Calder Hall can be decommissioned as a priority and a new breed of small modular reactors installed in its place to ensure that we are at the forefront of nuclear technological developments once again. Small modular reactors and advanced modular reactors offer the chance for UK nuclear expertise and manufacturing to lead the world, but we need the Bill to ensure that we are globally compliant with safeguarding, in addition to security and safety.

On the role of the ONR, it is important to understand the differences between safeguarding, security and safety, all of which are critical to the secure and compliant running of our civil nuclear industry. Currently, the ONR has responsibility for safety and oversees the civil nuclear constabulary with regard to security. Bringing responsibility for safeguarding under this one organisation would seem to bring benefits of shared knowledge and skills and combined experience. The ONR is an independent regulator that was made a statutory public body under the Energy Act 2013, which sets out its role, functions and powers.

International oversight will be a key part of the future regime, so I am pleased that the UK is seeking to conclude new arrangements with the IAEA. It is absolutely vital that the IAEA retain its right to inspect all civil nuclear facilities and continue to receive all current safeguards reporting. That will ensure that international verification of our safeguards activity continues to be robust. We must retain our reputation for excellence to ensure that companies in other countries, such as KEPCO in South Korea, which we anticipate will become the new owner of NuGen, want to do business with us.

Our country is a pioneer and global leader in this area and has an enviable safety record. The Centre of Nuclear Excellence in my constituency and all the businesses and livelihoods that are utterly reliant upon an effective safeguarding regime need this Bill. I hope that the UK will continue to play a leading role in the development of international nuclear security and safety standards, including through the IAEA, and I commend the Government’s work thus far. In particular, I would like to thank the Secretary of State, the Minister and his team for answering questions put to me by my community and businesses, including some that have trained up Euratom safeguards inspectors—such is the level of expertise in Copeland. I commend the Bill and I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak.