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Transfrontier Shipment of Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel (EU Exit) Regulations 2018

Volume 795: debated on Tuesday 22 January 2019

Motion to Approve

Moved by

My Lords, this instrument will ensure that the UK maintains high standards for the supervision and control of shipments of radioactive waste and spent fuel in the event of no deal. The instrument will set out a regime to ensure that radioactive waste and spent fuel is not shipped into or out of the UK without prior authorisation from the relevant competent authorities. This is vital in order to protect the public and the environment from the dangers of ionising radiation. The instrument will further ensure that the UK continues to meet its commitments to the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management.

This new instrument is made under powers set out in Section 8 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. It is laid to address specific inoperabilities arising from the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and Euratom, and would come into force on exit day only in the event of no deal between the UK and EU. The UK is seeking a wide-ranging nuclear co-operation agreement with Euratom while putting in place the necessary measures to ensure that the UK industry can operate in all scenarios. This particular instrument will revoke the then inoperable Transfrontier Shipment of Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Regulations 2008 and replace these with the new 2019 regulations. These new regulations broadly replicate the procedures under the 2008 regulations for the import, export and transit of radioactive waste and spent fuel into and out of the UK, but will reflect the UK’s independence from the Euratom community. The instrument applies to the whole of the UK.

The UK has ceased reprocessing other nations’ spent fuel. The high-level waste arising from the last of these reprocessing contracts will need to be returned to its countries of origin: Australia, Japan, Germany, and Italy. The instrument will allow for the return of this high-level waste and is of strategic importance to the UK in fulfilling reprocessing contracts and supporting the decommissioning and clean-up mission of the Sellafield site. Further, the UK makes around 400 shipments of radioactive waste a year to Euratom member states. The majority of these are contaminated metals for treatment to Germany and Sweden.

The previous 2008 regulations laid down a set of regulatory procedures for transfrontier shipments that take place within the Euratom community, and a separate set of procedures for shipments entering or exiting the community. Following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and Euratom, the 2008 regulations will become inoperable, as they treat the EU as a single bloc that includes the UK. In order to ensure an operable regime after exit day, the new 2019 regulations will treat Euratom member states and all other countries in the same way. This will result in three operational changes for UK operators shipping to and from Euratom member states.

First, UK operators will need to request authorisation from the relevant competent authority when importing a shipment from Euratom states. The competent authorities are the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. Secondly, UK operators will need to notify the relevant competent authority of the completion of shipments to Euratom states. Thirdly, when importing from a Euratom state, UK operators will need to provide evidence that they have made an arrangement with the exporter which has been accepted by the exporter’s competent authority. The arrangement would oblige them to take back the radioactive waste or spent fuel if the shipment cannot be completed in accordance with the regulations.

These changes do not affect all of the nuclear industry. At present, six UK operators have authorisations to ship radioactive waste. Officials have estimated the total cost to all impacted industry from these additional steps to be between £1,700 and £6,000 every three years, as well as a minor familiarisation cost for operators of between £100 to £900 each.

Guidance for the new regulations will be published online prior to the coming into force of this instrument. Officials have been engaging regularly with operators who will be affected by the regulations to ensure that business operations may continue with minimal disruption.

This instrument was drafted in collaboration with the devolved Administrations, the UK’s environment agencies, the Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. The legislative competence is reserved—however, this collaborative approach recognised that the administrative implementation of the regime is devolved.

All operators affected by these regulations have been informed of changes and more detailed engagement has been undertaken with those involved in regular shipments. Further engagement initiatives have taken place through stakeholder workshops, the Euratom Industry Forum and other industry events.

These regulations are vital to the success of the UK’s decommissioning programme and to the completion of our last reprocessing contracts. Making them would allow the UK to maintain the highest nuclear safety standards, while ensuring that relevant UK operators can continue to operate in a no-deal scenario. I commend them to the House.

My Lords, as far as I can see from reading the material supporting the regulations, they do not involve any change in the operation of the law. As the Minister says, they have been approved by the devolved authorities, therefore they seem to me straightforwardly technical, but as there is no opportunity on the whole suite of regulations being moved today to raise issues about their management, I want to ask the Minister one question to which I hope he will respond when he replies.

In the original publication of the Order Paper, two further orders were due for debate today: the Conservation of Habitats and Species Order (Amendment) (EU Exit) and the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc.) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Order. They were both on the Order Paper published on 16 January for today, but then they disappeared from the Order Paper published today. When I was preparing for this debate, there seemed to be some controversial issues surrounding those regulations, and they raise significant issues to do with natural habitats.

When the Minister replies—by then he will have been able to be advised by the Box—can he say why those two regulations were withdrawn from debate today, having been on the Order Paper on 16 January for today, what has happened to them and when they will appear before the House? Some of us are having great difficulty tracking the progress of these highly important regulations through the House because they seem to appear on and then disappear from the Order Paper almost at random.

My Lords, I have one question for the Minister. He told the House in the previous debate that these are no-deal regulations. Can he identify for the House which parts of these regulations will not be needed if the Prime Minister’s deal with the EU were to be approved by the House of Commons?

I have an observation, rather than a question, to put to my noble friend. He rightly says that these are vital measures, as they are because, in our wisdom, we are apparently to leave Euratom as well as the European Union. Of course, we were members of Euratom before we were members of the EEC. Everyone agrees that Euratom is doing an absolutely first-class job and why in the EU withdrawal legislation we had to leave Euratom remains a total mystery to me. Having made that very bad decision, we clearly have to proceed as my noble friend suggests.

My Lords, I could not agree more with the noble Earl’s views on Euratom.

I have a couple of questions. Has the Minister assessed the cost of introducing the IT systems and the necessary bureaucracy which will be over and above the amount of money we have been spending with Euratom to fulfil those exact functions?

Secondly, Regulation 6, on prohibited exports, talks about how we would be stopped from exporting to countries that do not have the right regulatory framework. Can the Minister say whether there has been any discussion with countries that are part of the same agreement and concerned about exporting to the United Kingdom on that basis? As the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, referred to invasive species, I am tempted to move on to the subject of grey squirrels—on which we have had many debates in the past—but I think I will leave it there.

I thank the Minister for his introduction to the regulations before the House, which were excellently portrayed and explained by his department’s officials in the accompanying Explanatory Memorandum.

Under the UK’s commitment to the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, the present regulations, drawn up while the UK was a member of the Euratom community, become inoperable on exit as internal mechanisms in Euratom members will need to be replaced as far as the UK is concerned. Radioactive waste and spent fuel cannot be moved between countries without these authorisations.

As has been explained, the duplication of authorisation with Euratom countries looks unavoidable, not only because the UK will be treated as a third country but because UK businesses will need to go through both domestic and Euratom procedures. As the Minister stated, this will give rise to a marginal additional cost of compliance, as was also explained in the impact assessment. This is not meaningful, but it allows me to probe into the future a bit.

The Minister will remember the debates during the passage of the then Nuclear Safeguards Bill when he was emphatic that, post exit, the UK would seek to maintain a close working relationship with Euratom. Although the regulations are limited to radioactive waste and spent fuel, does the Minister see any quick, easy wins whereby, at the very least, procedures on this and other exchanges with Euratom members could be administratively streamlined without transgressing the important management of cross-border shipments? More widely, the House would be pleased to receive any further updates from the Minister on the shipping of medical isotopes, which was of such initial concern during the passage of that Bill.

My Lords, I start with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, when he referred to orders that seem to have been removed from the Order Paper. I did not quite catch the details, but I think they related to non-invasive species or something of that nature.

I do not think that those orders related to my department. The noble Lord will be aware from his time as a Minister that all Ministers answer from the Dispatch Box on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government as a whole, not purely their department. I think he would accept from his experience that very often one is not in a position to know why decisions have been made by another department on what has been withdrawn from the Order Paper and what has not. I think he will accept—this is quite fair—that those who advise me on such occasions would be even less likely to know why orders relating to habitats and the other matters he referred to, which are not relevant to the department I represent on this occasion, are or are not on the Order Paper.

I understand the Minister’s point. Will he write to me to let me know the answer and copy in noble Lords so that we understand what is happening? As I said, that business was supposed to be discussed by the House today but it suddenly vanished.

Either I will write to him or the noble Lord will be aware that fairly soon—when we have finished with my regulations, whenever that will be and whether I get the sweets from the sweetie box referred to earlier—I will be followed by my noble friend Lord Gardiner from Defra, who might be in a better position to advise him on these matters. We will certainly pass that on to my noble friend. I do not think it would help if I did write to the noble Lord on that subject; I leave it to him to make that point later. He also wanted to know—I think this was at the heart of the question from the noble Lord, Lord Pannick—what the regulations will resemble in the event of a deal scenario. These new regulations have been drafted for a no-deal scenario. The old 2008 regulations would have remained in effect for the implementation period if there was a deal. In the event of a deal, the future supervision and control of shipments of radioactive waste and spent fuel will be subject to negotiations with the EU. This may mean that the 2019 regulations never come into force, or come into force in an amended form. I do not think I can take that any further.

With the indulgence of the Minister, I ask whether he agrees that it would be helpful to the House if the Explanatory Memoranda to regulations of this nature were to state clearly that they were regulations brought forward specifically for no deal and to explain why the regulations, in the view of the Government, would not be appropriate at all or in this form if there were a deal. I am looking at the Explanatory Memorandum to these regulations and cannot immediately see that we are told they are no-deal regulations.

I thought it was implicit in the regulations. I thought I made that clear in my opening remarks. I hope that will satisfy the noble Lord.

I am sorry to come back to the Minister. I am not questioning his assertion that these are no-deal regulations; I entirely accept that. I am simply saying that when we perform our scrutiny function and look at these regulations for the purposes of debate, it would be very helpful if the material—the Explanatory Memorandum—were to state for the guidance of Members of the House that they were no-deal regulations and what the position would be if there were a deal. That is all.

My Lords, I have now set that out. These regulations have been to the appropriate scrutiny committees. They have not queried that part of the Explanatory Memorandum, and I do not think I can take the noble Lord any further.

Can the Minister clarify something for me? He is saying these are no-deal regulations. Do I interpret his remarks as meaning that, if there is a deal, during the implementation or transition period—whichever you want to call it—we could end up, having reached an agreement with the EU, going back to using the Euratom framework to deal with these problems in future? Is that a distinct possibility if there is a deal?

As I think I made clear, in the event of a deal during the transition period we revert to the old 2008 regulations and they remain in effect for the implementation period. Thereafter, it depends on the outcome of the negotiations.

I come to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, about the cost of some new IT system. All I can say at the moment is that no bespoke IT system is required as a result of the procedures set out in these regulations. The cost relates to administrative working hours.

Finally, I notice the point made by my noble friend Lord Selborne and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, about Euratom. We will leave Euratom; that has been made clear and is cut and dried. But obviously we will continue to work with it, as we have made clear on a number of occasions—not least during the passage of the then Nuclear Safeguards Bill, which now seems an awfully long time ago.

Motion agreed.