Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twenty-Ninth Report


3   Nuclear safety and security

(29718)
10049/08

COM(08) 312

Commission Communication Addressing the international challenge of nuclear safety and security

Legal base
Document originated22 May 2008
Deposited in Parliament3 June 2008
DepartmentBusiness, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
Basis of considerationEM of 19 June 2008
Previous Committee ReportNone
To be discussed in CouncilNo date set
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared

Background

3.1  According to the Commission, the Chernobyl accident highlighted the "catastrophic" consequences of nuclear power plants with a deficient design in countries with a poor safety culture and an inadequate safety and regulatory framework. It suggests that the number of nuclear plants in the world will rise as countries seek to increase energy security, to maintain economic competitiveness at a time of historically high oil prices, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It has therefore sought in this Communication to review the safety and security challenges posed by the increasing spread of nuclear energy, and to make recommendations on the key issues where the Community provides added value, on a work programme based on geographical and technical priorities, and on possible elements of nuclear safety and security packages to assist third countries.

The current document

3.2  The Commission first addresses the spread of nuclear power and nuclear safety. It notes that nuclear power is an established part of the energy mix in a number of developed countries, and that some of these — for example, Russia and China — are looking to expand its use: also, a number of countries (including some in "geopolitically challenging" areas) which do not currently generate nuclear energy have expressed an interest in doing so. It observes that the Community itself has a mature nuclear industry, and possesses the capacity to help others to embark on nuclear activity which complies with the highest standards of safety and security, with safety and non-proliferation issues being two inter-linked pillars of Community policy in this area.

3.3  The Commission recalls that the TACIS[8] Nuclear Safety Programme was established following the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991 to address the challenges arising from the fact that some of the newly independent states had plants of varying ages and designs, but lacked the resources and capability to upgrade them to western standards. It says that the assistance provided under this Programme to Russia and Ukraine (and, to a lesser extent, to Kazakhstan and Armenia) needs to be continued, involving in Russia the early closure of first generation reactors which would be uneconomical to upgrade as well as measures arising from the break up of the Northern Fleet, whilst the main emphasis for Ukraine continues to be on Chernobyl.

3.4  The Commission then addresses the issue of new nuclear projects, commenting that most of the developing countries wishing to start a nuclear power generation programme do not have the necessary legislative and regulatory infrastructure, or the required expertise or industrial infrastructure. It notes that, following the completion of the TACIS Programme in 2006, a new Instrument for Nuclear Safety Cooperation (INSC), with global scope, was adopted to continue the activities of the Commission in this field, with financial resources of some €524 million for the period 2007-13, and that in addition a Euratom loan facility remains operational for Russia, Ukraine and Armenia.

3.5  The Commission says that, as the need for assistance in Russia and Ukraine is diminishing, and new requirements are arising in other countries, it needs to reassess how to prioritise its activities with a view to improving the nuclear safety culture, improving protection against radiation, addressing problems related to radioactive waste and spent fuel, and assisting in implementing nuclear safeguards. It also points out that nuclear safety and security issues are covered by the Euratom Treaty, which allows it to conclude international agreements in this field, and that agreements aimed at fostering cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy and nuclear research have been signed with a number of countries. The Community is also party to a growing number of international agreements with third countries, and is strengthening cooperation with organisations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to promote non-proliferation, nuclear safety and security.

3.6  As regards nuclear security and non-proliferation, the Commission says that, given the possible dual use (peaceful and military) of some materials, equipment and nuclear installations, the growth of nuclear power could increase proliferation risks, and that there are growing concerns that peaceful nuclear technologies could be misused by terrorists. It also observes that tackling nuclear smuggling requires new capability-building at national, regional and international levels.

3.7  It notes that, in order to address these risks, several initiatives have recently been launched with a view to reinforcing verification mechanisms under the IAEA, nuclear export control rules, border monitoring and the "multilateralisation" of the nuclear fuel cycle. Also, a joint statement on enhanced cooperation is being prepared by the Commission and IAEA, aimed at an overall reduction of security risks in nuclear energy. It adds that the Community has been supporting these measures through its 2003 Strategy against the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and by providing full backing to UN Security Council Resolution 1540 of 28 April 2004.[9] It is also introducing a non-proliferation clause in agreements with third countries, and promoting the ratification and implementation of the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities.

3.8  More generally, the Commission says that the Community has been active since the early 1990s in reducing non-proliferation risks, with a special focus on the CIS countries, and intends to address the risks worldwide with the newly adopted Stability Instrument (which addresses a range of issues aimed at preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction). It suggests that the supply of nuclear fuels is also a major factor for countries operating nuclear power plants and for those considering starting such programmes, and that long-term supply contracts are important for both suppliers and users. It notes that Euratom has concluded cooperation agreements with the major supplier countries (such as Australia, Canada, the United States and Kazakhstan), and that these include "peaceful use" clauses. It says that it will continue its efforts to ensure that the highest standards on non-proliferation, safety and security, which are being developed within the Community, are observed internationally, and that, when negotiating and signing Euratom international agreements, the Community will seek to persuade its partners to adhere to all relevant international conventions.

3.9  The Communication concludes by discussing programming criteria for the period 2007-13. It says that for countries other than those which have benefited from TACIS assistance, funding priorities will be based on strategic, geographical and technical criteria. It suggests that the strategic and geographical criteria should include such factors as the proximity of the country concerned, its willingness to cooperate and its non-proliferation credentials, and its political stability and capacity to contribute financially over a long period. From a technical standpoint, it says that consideration needs to be given to the urgency of a problem, the imminence of a country's development of a credible nuclear power programme, adding that various third countries can be categorised according to whether they have operational nuclear power plants, they operate research reactors (and may or may not wish to start a nuclear power programme), or have no research reactor, but intend to start such a programme. It adds that, in addition to nuclear safety issues, some countries will need to improve protection against radiation and to be assisted in implementing nuclear safeguards.

The Government's view

3.10  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 19 June 2008, the Minister of State for Energy at the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Mr Malcolm Wicks) says that the UK supports the Community in this "important" work, which he says is prepared under an agreed mandate, does not imply any development of Community competence in the areas of safety and security, and should be regarded as building on an established policy of promoting best practice in that area. He adds that the Community programmes do not provide support for the development of nuclear power, but attempt to ensure that the essential elements are observed at all stages in the nuclear fuel cycle. He also points out that the UK has worked closely on the programmes in the past under TACIS, and that it intends to remain closely associated with both the policy and programmes operating under the new instruments (where it supports both the activities proposed in the former Soviet Union, and the criteria suggested for future assistance programmes in other areas).

Conclusion

3.11  The issues dealt with in this Communication are of obvious importance, and, for that reason, we are drawing the document to the attention of the House. However, as the Government has pointed out, the measures put forward are essentially building on established policy in this area, and have UK support, and we therefore see no need to withhold clearance.


8   Technical Aid to the Commonwealth of Independent States. Back

9   Requiring states to refrain from supporting attempts to acquire, use or transfer weapons of mass destruction. Back


 
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