Printer Friendly

Brussels plans to saddle UK with eu nuclear waste.

Britain will be on the hook for large volumes of dangerous radioactive waste--some of it imported from the rest of Europe--under proposals by Brussels to transfer ownership of a range of nuclear materials to the UK after it leaves the EU.

Almost 130 tonnes of plutonium stored at Sellafield in Cumbria is among the nuclear material that would formally shift to UK control, according to draft documents issued by Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator.

All "special fissile material"--forms of uranium and plutonium used in nuclear fuels and some of the resulting waste--within the EU are technically owned by Euratom, the pan-European regulator of civilian nuclear activity. Mr Barnier's provisional negotiating position calls for a Brexit agreement to "ensure, where appropriate, the transfer to the United Kingdom" ownership of "special fissile material" currently controlled by Euratom within the UK.

Such an agreement would make the UK legally responsible not only for its own nuclear material but also reprocessed spent fuel imported over several decades from Germany, Sweden and elsewhere for recycling at Sellafield.

What was a joint European legacy now becomes a UK home brew, with potentially dire economic consequences for the UK given the sheer expense and weight of this radiological inventory Paul Dorfman

This view was dismissed by others who said the transfer of ownership would not make any practical difference because Euratom's ownership existed only in theory. "Euratom has the right to sequester fissile material in extreme circumstances but it is a historical throwback reflecting the world as it was when the treaty was negotiated in the 1950s and there was a threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union," said Timothy Abram, professor of nuclear fuel technology at Manchester university.

Mr Barnier's proposal for the UK to assume "all rights and obligations associated with the ownership of [fissile] materials or property transferred" is seen in Brussels as a necessary housekeeping exercise to remove Euratom's claim on nuclear fuel used in UK power stations as well as uranium isotopes used in radiotherapy.

But it highlighted the uncertainty facing Britain's nuclear industry--responsible for about a fifth of domestic electricity generation--in the run-up to Brexit. Euratom is a separate legal entity to the EU but is governed by EU institutions and the UK government says it has no option but to leave both at the same time. A UK government spokeswoman said: "Leaving Euratom is a result of the decision to leave the EU as they are uniquely legally joined." UK energy UK nuclear power industry 'at risk' of disruption after EU split Ministers urged to agree transitional deal with Europe's regulators.

As well as nuclear fuel and reprocessed waste, the UK would also take ownership of Euratom property used to safeguard the material, such as inspection and monitoring equipment, according to the EU proposals. The negotiation directives, which are subject to the agreement of the 27 remaining member states, were published as Mr Barnier set out his hardline opening position for talks with London.

Although formal ownership of imported waste would pass to the UK, Prof Abrams said it would not remove Britain's right to compensation for the cost of reprocessing and storing it under the commercial terms agreed with the exporting countries. The UK has struck deals with Germany, France, Sweden and the Netherlands in recent years to take permanent responsibility for some of the plutonium derived from the reprocessing of imported spent fuel.

The government said at the time that this was a mutually beneficial arrangement that removed the need to transport one of the world's most radioactive materials back to the country of origin. Britain has been wrestling for years with the question of what to do with the roughly 126 tonnes of plutonium stored at Sellafield--the world's largest civilian stockpile. About a fifth of it stems from imported nuclear waste. The plutonium is kept in sealed flasks in a heavily guarded building designed to withstand being hit by an aircraft and costs an estimated [pounds sterling]80m a year to store and protect.

The UK spent [pounds sterling]1.4bn in the 1990s on a plant to recycle the plutonium into nuclear fuel but the Sellafield facility was beset by problems and closed in 2011. Various proposals have been floated to spend billions more on alternative approaches to recycling, although some people favour writing off the stockpile as waste.

Source: Arthur Beesley, Andrew Ward, Financial Times
COPYRIGHT 2017 Jade Media Partners
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2017 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:BELGIUM
Publication:Nuclear Waste News
Geographic Code:4EUBL
Date:May 5, 2017
Previous Article:Waste control suspends application to store high level waste in Texas.
Next Article:Indigenous leaders unify against transport of radioactive waste.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |