A report issued by the House of Lords science and technology committee, titled Nuclear research and technology: Breaking the cycle of indecision, set out recommendations for nuclear policy after the upcoming general election scheduled for 8 June.
In the report, the Lords castigated the government for its “inaction in the civil nuclear arena” and warned that delays in taking nuclear policy decisions have “blighted” the national industry.
If the government fails to set out a strong policy, the committee said, the UK will be unable to be “a serious player in developing nuclear generation technology whether as a designer, manufacturer and operator” and instead will “restrict its interest to being an operator of equipment supplied by others from overseas”.
The report also pointed to the risks the UK could incur if its membership in the European nuclear organization Euratom is allowed to expire post-Brexit without a replacement. According to the report, the UK “risks losing its lead in fusion research as well as losing access to the markets and skills it needs to construct new nuclear power plants, and existing power plants could be unable to acquire fuel”.
Meanwhile, the House of Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee warned in a separate report that interim arrangements need to be made to safeguard the country’s nuclear power industry before leaving Euratom as part of Brexit plans.
Ministers should seek to delay leaving Euratom or agree transitional arrangements, members of the committee said. The recommendation follows warnings from the nuclear industry that a disorderly departure from Euratom could threaten Britain’s energy security by inhibiting trade in nuclear fuel and technology.
“The impact of Brexit on Euratom has not been thought through,” said Iain Wright, the committee chair and a Labour MP. “The government has failed to consider the potentially severe ramifications of its Brexit objectives for the nuclear industry.”
Nuclear regulation was highlighted as the most pressing of a range of challenges for UK energy and climate policy after Brexit. Others included the risk of tariffs raising the cost of imported electricity and gas if Britain were no longer part of the EU’s internal energy market.
“Ministers must act as urgently as possible,” said Wright. “The repercussions of failing to do so are huge. The continued operations of the UK nuclear industry are at risk.”
During testimony to the committee, Greg Clark, UK business secretary, said it was a “very high priority” to put new regulatory arrangements in place for the nuclear industry and he was “absolutely certain that we will be able to do that”.
Addressing energy policy more broadly, the committee said Britain risked becoming a “rule taker” subject to EU regulations but unable to influence them. The UK should seek continued participation in the setting of European rules and standards or risk becoming “a dumping ground for energy inefficient products”.