‘Vague assurances’ on post-Brexit nuclear safety ‘not worth much’

Fianna Fáil expresses concerns about Britain’s capacity to maintain standards

Denis Naughten said Britain’s exit from Euratom was discussed at a recent gathering in Dublin Castle of the UK-Ireland Contact Group, which meets twice a year. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Denis Naughten said Britain’s exit from Euratom was discussed at a recent gathering in Dublin Castle of the UK-Ireland Contact Group, which meets twice a year. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Britain’s energy minister has written personally to Minister for Environment Denis Naughten offering “significant assurances” there would be no threat to Ireland from any changes in nuclear safety standards after Brexit.

The UK is planning to pull out of Euratom, the body which regulates the nuclear industry across Europe, including the safe transport of radioactive materials across borders, after it leaves the EU next March.

Although the watchdog is legally separate from the bloc, membership requires being subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which British prime minister Theresa May’s government is opposed to.

Leaked documents last month show Britain is missing deadlines for putting post-Brexit nuclear safeguards in place, including the delivery of an IT system to track nuclear material and the recruitment of qualified inspectors.

The UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation has identified five “high-level risks” – categorised as “red” on a red, amber, green alert scale – that remain outstanding.

Mr Naughten said Greg Clark, Britain’s Minister for Energy and Industry, wrote to him about planned future arrangements on civil nuclear power.

“This letter provided significant assurances in relation to nuclear safety standards,” he said in response to a parliamentary question.

‘Constructive relationship’

“I have welcomed this information from my UK counterpart which is indicative of the constructive relationship Ireland enjoys with the UK in this area.”

“There are currently no safety or security concerns for Ireland arising from the UK withdrawal from the Euratom Treaty.

“In the first instance, the UK remains a member of Euratom, and the UK nuclear industry remains subject to oversight by the EU institutions, until such time as their withdrawal from the EU is finalised.”

However, Timmy Dooley, Fianna Fail’s environment spokesman, said Mr Naughten should not be satisfied with “vague assurances” from London.

“I have grave concerns about the capacity of the British administration to maintain standards, absent from a European context.

“This is something we should be concerned about.

“In light of everything that is now happening, in terms of the Brexit negotiations, the minister needs to engage much more comprehensively on the issue and not be guided by vague assurances that he is getting from his British counterpart.

“They are not really worth very much.”

Mutual interest

Mr Naughten said the exit from Euratom was discussed at a recent gathering in Dublin Castle of the UK-Ireland Contact Group, which meets twice a year, to deal with radiological matters of mutual interest to both countries.

“The on-going Brexit negotiations, including matters relating to the UK’s decision to leave the Euratom Treaty, are being conducted bilaterally between the European Union, represented by the European Commission, and the UK,” he added.

“Ireland contributes to the process through its representation at the European Council Article 50 Working Party which meets regularly to discuss Brexit related issues, including Euratom.”

Earlier this year, Environmental Pillar, a coalition of 26 environmental organisations in Ireland, warned of “alarming deficiencies” in the UK’s approach to assessing impacts of plans to expand its nuclear power programme.

Particular risks linked to the £20 billion Hinkley Point C power station being built in Somerset have not been properly evaluated, it said.