Examination of Witness

Nuclear Safeguards Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:29 am on 31st October 2017.

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Dr Mina Golshan gave evidence.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire 9:30 am, 31st October 2017

Q I welcome our first witness, Dr Mina Golshan, who represents the Office for Nuclear Regulation. Dr Golshan, thank you very much for coming. Perhaps you can kick off our considerations with a brief statement about who you are, what you do and what you think about the Bill.

Dr Golshan:

Thank you for that introduction. I am director and deputy chief inspector at the Office for Nuclear Regulation. My main responsibilities are Sellafield, decommissioning fuel and waste, but I am also senior responsible owner for ONR’s work in relation to establishing a state system of nuclear materials accounting and control.

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Q Dr Golshan, thank you for appearing today. I know that you are a regular at these things. From your point of view, how critical are safeguards in underpinning the UK nuclear industry?

Dr Golshan:

Establishing a domestic safeguards regime, now that the policy decision has been made that the UK will be leaving the Euratom treaty, is fundamental to the industry in the UK. It is the cornerstone of establishing nuclear co-operation agreements. It is essential for the industry to operate. Without a domestic safeguards regime in the UK that works in line with the International Atomic Energy Agency requirements, the industry simply will not be able to operate.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

Q I want to ask you about the Office for Nuclear Regulation’s capacity to take on the additional responsibilities implicit in the Bill, given your current staffing levels and the large number of people employed by Euratom to fulfil these roles.

Dr Golshan:

Perhaps I should start by saying that, given our membership of Euratom, it has not been necessary for the UK and ONR to build capacity and resilience in this area. Now that we are in a different position, we have started to recruit. The first phase of recruitment is complete. We successfully recruited four individuals, three of whom have already started with us. An area of shortage for us was subject matter expertise. That was a worry for me, but I am pleased to say that we will hopefully be in a position to rectify that by the middle of this month.

Broadly, we need to continue with our recruitment if we are to staff ourselves in order to deliver the new safeguards function. In the first instance we need an additional 10 to 12 inspectors, which will bring us to a level that allows the UK to fulfil its international obligations, but we have already heard from the Secretary of State that the intention is to put in place a regime that is equivalent to Euratom. That will require ONR to recruit further and will mean around 20 additional inspectors. We know that we are dealing with a limited pool of expertise, and our success so far, although encouraging, is by no means the end of the story.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Dr Golshan, can I ask you to speak up slightly, because this is a very large room and we are having trouble hearing you. I am getting older—you know how it is.

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison Conservative, Copeland

Q Thank you for coming here this morning, Dr Golshan. I understand that the ONR currently has the responsibility for safety and security at the Civil Nuclear Constabulary. I am keen to understand how the relationship would work with safeguards.

Dr Golshan:

May I start by saying that we do not have the responsibility for CNC; we regulate civil nuclear security. We currently have a safeguards function, as set out in the Energy Act 2013, but it is not a regulatory function. The main purpose of that function is to facilitate the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Euratom in the UK, among other things. The Bill will give us the powers, on a par with safety and security, to regulate nuclear safeguards on civil nuclear sites.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham North

Dr Golshan, you have mentioned the sort of headcount you will need for inspectors. What is your current total establishment, and by how much do you think you will need to grow?Q

Dr Golshan:

We have a small project team that helps us deliver this function. I have a project manager and a project lead, and we have interactions with our human resources department and our IT department, which in itself is a small group. We need to grow this project team in the first instance to enable the project to deliver and go forward. All in all, we have five key people in the project team—project manager, delivery lead, policy lead, myself and a subject matter expert—and the team overall has links with the HR department and so on, as I described. We will need to grow this project team to help us deliver when we come to 29 March 2019, and we are in the process of doing so.

Photo of Ben Bradley Ben Bradley Conservative, Mansfield

Can you tell us a bit about the ONR’s track record of delivering new regulation previously? Do you feel that you have the right relationships within the industry to deliver this new programmeQ ?

Dr Golshan:

It is fair to say that this is unprecedented territory for us as far as the size of the job is concerned. In the past we have not had to establish a new function from afresh to this extent, but we have got experience of setting out and working with officials from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—and previously the Department for Energy and Climate Change—to bring forward new regulation.

We are working closely with officials at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and we have engaged with the industry—I have had a number of meetings with the industry. We are explaining what we are doing, how far we have gone down this route and what there is left to do. We are working with all our stakeholders to make a success of this.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

Q May I follow up on your earlier answer, Dr Golshan? You have been clear and helpful. From what I understood, you said that you were recruiting an additional 10 to 12 inspectors now, with the potential of a further 20. Is that the whole size of the establishment you might be looking for? I might be wrong, but I understand that Euratom employs about 40 people on nuclear safeguarding in relation to UK establishments.

Dr Golshan:

Let me break it into two bits. Our intention is to start recruiting in the new year for the additional 10 to 12 people we will require. The reason is that we were waiting for the Second Reading of the Bill to give us some certainty in relation to the people we are going to take on permanently. That process will start. In relation to your next question, on Euratom’s numbers, for its own purposes, Euratom carries out activities in the UK that, as a state delivering an equivalent regime, we would not need to deliver. The order of 20 to 25 is not far from what we need to staff ourselves to deliver this function.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

Q This is a sector with which most of us are—with some exceptions—relatively unfamiliar.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Mr Blomfield, could you speak up? Not all of us can hear you.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

Can you give us a little more understanding of the talent pool from which you are drawing, the recruitment opportunities and the training needs there might be to fulfil the skills needs you anticipate?

Dr Golshan:

As I mentioned at the beginning, although these do not seem like large numbers, we are dealing with a limited talent pool here: the expertise is unique. As I said, the UK as a whole has not had to focus on developing resilience in this area, so we are limited in what and who we can recruit.

The next step, if we are getting the right expertise in these people, is to turn them into regulators and inspectors. That means that our training function—training materials and expertise in training these individuals—needs to develop. We have started that process, but it is a long road and I am not going to sit here and pretend that it is all going to be a smooth run.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

Q Could you give us a sense of the length of that road? How long will it take you to get from A to B?

Dr Golshan:

Our aim, currently, is to have a system in place that enables the UK to fulfil its international obligations by March 2019, which is when we intend to leave Euratom. I have been very clear in the past—I will repeat it here—that we will not be able to replicate Euratom standards on day one. That is unrealistic, and given the scale of what needs to be put in place, I fear that if we go that way, the best will become the enemy of the good. So it is important that we focus our efforts on delivering a regime that enables the UK to meet its international obligations.

Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle

NowQ that the Bill has been introduced, what in your view is the main priority in developing a new nuclear safeguards regime for the UK?

Dr Golshan:

There are a number of aspects. The first one is to ensure that the secondary legislation is in place at the right time, because that provides us with the mechanisms to exercise our powers. The Bill itself is an enabling part—it gives us the fundamental powers—and the secondary legislation gives us the mechanisms to deliver. Secondary legislation will also give us some certainty in relation to what guidance and standards we need to develop to make this happen.

For us, we need to have an IT system; a safeguards information management system. It is a live system that enables us to get data from our licensees, to process those data and to put them into a reporting format that the IAEA currently receives from Euratom. We are working on that; it is at proof of concept stage at the moment. Once we have established that we are able to do it, we will need to move into a phase that determines whether we are going to do it in-house, tender it out, or have a combination of the two.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

You mentioned that you were clear that we could not have a complete regime up and running by March 2019, and that the right way to proceed was to get the basics in place, as it were. However, as far as I understand, we are going to have to undertake a series of additional activities in order to get ourselves to a position that would have been equivalent to Euratom in the first place—nuclear co-operation agreements, negotiations with the IAEA, and so on. What do you think is the realistic timetable for getting those agreements in place, so that we actually have a final replication of everything that we were previously doing under Euratom as far as safeguarding is concerned?Q

Dr Golshan:

I should say that, on negotiating nuclear co-operation agreements and completing the discussions with IAEA and Euratom, although we provide advice to the Government, it is not for me to sit here and determine or estimate a timetable. It is really strictly for the Government to conduct those negotiations, and I think that it is perhaps a question better answered by them.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Q But to what extent do you think that the achievement or otherwise of those wider agreements impinges on the basic work that you indicated would be necessary to put in place by March 2019?

Dr Golshan:

It is fundamental to it. We need to have a basic safeguards regime—a domestic safeguards regime—in place that enables the UK to demonstrate that it is fulfilling its international obligations under various treaties. Once that is in place we will be able to demonstrate that we have a rectified domestic safeguard arrangement in place.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Q Right, but as far as I understand it, we need to have, not a concept of theory but a practical safeguards regime in place—

Dr Golshan:

Yes.

Dr Golshan:

Absolutely.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

And those discussions, I understand, are proceeding at the moment but have by no means reached any conclusion. Are you confident that in terms of replicating the UK’s safeguarding function, the basic structure you have outlined to us this morning that needs to be in place will be able to fulfil its functions and, in particular, assure and satisfy the IAEA that it can safely proceed with new treaty arrangements with the UK?

Dr Golshan:

Yes is the short answer. We do not have to have a regime equivalent to Euratom in order to be able to proceed with concluding those agreements and negotiations, so what the IAEA needs the UK to have in place is a domestic safeguards regime that meets its international obligations under the non-proliferation treaty and others. So although there are risks here for us to complete the work we are doing, I think it is a much more achievable objective for us to aim for, rather than replicating Euratom in the first instance. I should again emphasise that having a regime that is equivalent to Euratom is not a prerequisite to complete those agreements and negotiations.

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison Conservative, Copeland

Q Assuming that the Bill goes ahead as written, what will be possible on day one and what will not be possible, and how will that impact on our 17 nuclear sites? I ask with specific regard to my constituency of Copeland, which has Sellafield, the low level waste repository and the national nuclear laboratory.

Dr Golshan:

The Bill is an enabling Bill. It gives us the broad powers in parallel with nuclear safety and security. It gives the Secretary of State the powers to make nuclear safeguards regulations. That is the secondary legislation that I referred to. In relation to what is possible at our nuclear sites—

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison Conservative, Copeland

Q In terms of moving fissile material, exchange of knowledge and those kinds of practical aspects of work that need to happen?

Dr Golshan:

There is a nuclear co-operation agreement and there are a number of states that, as a matter of policy, will not engage with a third country that does not have a safeguards regime in place. So our aim, and the Government’s aim, is to establish a nuclear co-operation agreement with these states as a matter of priority. We are advising the Government and providing subject matter expertise. As to what will be possible on nuclear sites, we will continue to provide reports to the IAEA; that is a fundamental aspect of what a safeguards regime needs to deliver. As I said, the safeguards information management system that we will be putting in place is fundamental to achieve that.

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison Conservative, Copeland

Q I just wonder about the benefits of the transition period, once we have gone through this stage, to enable those bilateral agreements—the 123 agreement and others—with the States and the many other countries outwith the European Union that we work with daily. How necessary is that and how long should it be?

Dr Golshan:

I cannot comment on how long it should be; I think that depends on the scope of the negotiations and what can be achieved within the timescales we have left. From our perspective, a transitional arrangement will be extremely helpful. It will enable us to have parallel working arrangements in place with Euratom to conclude the discussions that we need to have with it, first, to understand what activities it currently undertakes on nuclear sites, but also the Secretary of State has mentioned that there should not be any weakening of standards in the UK following our departure from Euratom. The transitional period, as I see it, will seek to achieve that.

Photo of Dan Carden Dan Carden Labour, Liverpool, Walton

Q The Bill does not cover other aspects of the UK’s relationship with Euratom, such as research funding, and if you were making a plea to the Minister here today, or—

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

As a very tough Chairman, I am going to say that we are not allowed to discuss things that are not in the Bill; we can only discuss those things that are in the Bill. Therefore, no matter what your thoughts on that subject may be, I am very sorry, but you will have to raise them in another Bill Committee at some other time. I am sorry—I hope people do not mind—but we have got to keep to what is actually in the Bill itself.

Photo of Andrew Lewer Andrew Lewer Conservative, Northampton South

Are there any other examples around the world of where national regulators are responsible for safeguarding in the way that this Bill proposes?Q

Dr Golshan:

Numerous examples—a Canadian regulator, the US regulator, the Swiss regulator, and even though Finland is out of the European Union and part of the Euratom treaty, given that safeguarding is the responsibility of state, the Finnish regulator sees itself as being responsible for providing assurance to the state in that regard.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Q You mentioned the different relationships that different countries have, both internationally and with Euratom. This Bill, as has already been set out on Second Reading, is very much a contingency Bill, in the event that—effectively—no other relationship with Euratom is possible after March 2019. How would you see a possible future relationship with Euratom that might assist in any way with lessening the burden that you clearly have on you at the moment to establish a completely new regime, and indeed a completely independent set of inspection and reporting arrangements? Should it be an association similar to that of Switzerland, or would you envisage something rather closer to Euratom for the future, if that can be achieved?

Dr Golshan:

I think that is probably a question better answered by our legal colleagues, but that aside, I am aware that the Euratom treaty provides for associate memberships, either as a whole or in particular aspects, and that article 206 of the treaty in particular facilitates that. However, I am not an expert on that and I think it would be inappropriate to comment as to whether an association membership is possible or on how it would be possible.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Q A final thought for you, rather more for my curiosity than anything else. My understanding at the moment is that the inspection regime under Euratom means that there are effectively inspectors who are domiciled in the UK but working for Euratom. What happens to those inspectors in March 2019? Can we, as it were, steal them for the UK, or do they get exported back to Euratom at that point?

Dr Golshan:

I think that is primarily probably a question for those individuals, and more broadly for the Government, to negotiate with Euratom. As far as I understand it, however, the number of these inspectors is no more than a handful and we will need significantly more than that, as I explained earlier. It is a matter of choice for them. If they wish to join the regulator—ONR—then I am sure that we will be more than happy to absorb them.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Unless there are further questions from colleagues, I thank you very much, Dr Golshan, for your excellent and most interesting information, and indeed for expressing it in such careful, precise and brief terms, which gives us an extra five or 10 minutes for the following panel. So thank you very much indeed for coming.

Dr Golshan:

It was a pleasure to be here. Thank you.