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Shipments of Radioactive Substances (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

Volume 796: debated on Tuesday 26 February 2019

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Shipments of Radioactive Substances (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.

My Lords, this new instrument is being made under powers set out in Section 8(1) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. It is being made to address specific inoperabilities arising from the UK’s withdrawal from the European Atomic Energy Community —Euratom—and would come into force on exit day only in the event of no deal between the UK and the EU. The instrument corrects deficiencies in retained EU law by revoking and replacing Euratom Regulation 1493/93 on the shipments of radioactive substances between EU member states. This instrument applies to the whole of the UK.

The regulations ensure that advance declarations will continue for shipments of sealed radioactive sources from the EU into the UK in the event of no deal. They enable the UK competent authorities to check that UK importers comply with requirements for the safe storage, use and disposal of sources before shipments are made. This process of advance declarations maintains the oversight of the UK competent authorities of the destinations and recipients of the sealed sources shipped into the UK. Therefore, in relation to imports, the regulations provide continuity for regulators and operators in a no-deal scenario.

The instrument covers the shipment of sealed radioactive sources. This means a radioactive material encapsulated by another material, usually metal, to prevent exposure. Such sources are widely used in industry, agriculture and medicine. Examples include sources to inspect the quality of welds on gas and water pipelines, to kill bacteria in food, to kill cancer cells in medical patients and to sterilise medical equipment. Approximately 100 businesses import radioactive sealed sources in the UK and the vast majority are in England. The regulations do not delay or restrict the UK’s ability to import such sources from the EU as they provide continuity with current practices.

Following exit, UK importers of sealed radioactive sources from the EU will be required, as previously, to make an advance declaration demonstrating that they comply with national requirements for the safe storage, use and disposal of sealed sources before shipments from the EU to the UK can take place. This declaration will be sent to the relevant competent authority in the UK, which will acknowledge receipt as per previous processes. The competent authorities are the ONR for nuclear-licensed sites and the UK environment agencies for non-nuclear licensed sites. The UK importer will then be required to forward the declaration to the EU-based exporter before the shipment can be made. These declarations can last for up to three years and cover more than one shipment. The UK will recognise all declarations made before exit day following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Shipments can continue to be made under existing declarations until those declarations expire.

In the event of no deal, the system cannot continue to operate in exactly the same way as now as the UK will no longer be a member state. The instrument maintains current arrangements in so far as possible, with three changes. First, the instrument applies only to imports from the EU into the UK, and will not apply to exports from the UK to the EU. This reflects the UK’s position outside the EU and that this legislation can cover only the arrival of shipments in the UK.

Secondly, the obligation on exporters in EU member states to submit a quarterly return of all shipments will no longer apply. This is because the UK cannot place an obligation on EU exporters to submit a return to a UK-based competent authority.

Thirdly, the instrument places the legal obligation to make an advance declaration on the UK importer, whereas the Euratom regulation placed the legal obligation to obtain the advance declaration on the EU exporter. This technical legal change is made for jurisdictional reasons but makes no difference to what is required of the importer in practice, since it would have needed to provide the information to the exporter. Therefore, requirements for making the declaration for UK importers remain the same.

The changes do not place any additional practical requirements on industry or regulators. We expect a very small, one-off familiarisation cost to all industry of between £1,400 and £9,000. Subject to Parliament’s approval of the regulations, guidance for operators will be published online in March alongside targeted industry engagement. Officials have been engaging with affected operators through various fora and channels, including the Environment Agency’s small users’ liaison group and the Radioactive Substances Policy Group. My department drafted this instrument in collaboration with the devolved Administrations, the UK environment agencies and the ONR.

In conclusion, the regulations are essential to demonstrate the UK’s continuing commitment to the highest safety standards for the control of radioactive substances and to ensure maximum continuity for UK importers. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his exposition. I acknowledge that this is a complex and highly technical subject, but it is important to all citizens. I note on the first page of the document that “competent authority” means,

“in Wales, the Natural Resources Body for Wales”.

On page two, some lines down, it states that “shipment”,

“means the transport from the place of origin to the place of destination, including loading and unloading, of sealed sources”.

Should we presume that this refers to a sea voyage, as opposed to a road or rail journey? The word “shipment”, on paper, seems a trifle ambiguous.

In north Wales there are two nuclear power stations: Trawsfynydd in Meirionnydd and Wylfa in Anglesey, or Ynys Môn. I believe that the former is dormant and the latter is to be replaced, although I understand that plans for the new Wylfa are now on hold, which is a cause for concern across the island. It is not my intention to query those issues as such, but can it be presumed that shipment from plants such as these—should there be a need for shipment—would begin by road or rail? As I said, “shipment”, as referred to on page 2, is a trifle ambiguous. I recollect seeing the transportation by rail southwards from north-west Wales of a flask mounted on a rail-wagon frame. The flask, which was large and possibly made of steel or iron, was engaged within the train in just one wagon and was easily identifiable to people like me in the locality as a flask connected with the plants that I have instanced.

My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for presenting this statutory instrument. Obviously, this is not just a consequence of the Brexit decision but of the Euratom decision, so I put it on record that we regret that it is necessary. In the debate in the other place, this was billed as the last SI connected to Euratom, although I think the next one is as well, so I am not sure how that works. I know that previous SIs have been dealt with by my noble friend Lord Teverson.

I shall raise a couple of points. First, the Minister was clear that this relates to sealed transportation, yet the Explanatory Notes are clear that it covers both sealed and unsealed transportation, so I am a little confused about that. Certainly, in the debate in the other place, the Opposition Front Bench spokesperson also expressed some concern over how these regulations extend into the unsealed transportation—“unsealed” being vials, for example—of nuclear material. I would welcome some explanation from the Minister of why he chose not to talk about unsealed transportation while the Explanatory Notes are clear on that. Perhaps he could spend some time adding detail to that.

The Minister was clear that this is one-way legislation, which it has to be in that it applies to imports from the EU into the UK. It was clear that this affects about 100 concerns in the UK. On reciprocal travel, I am not aware that there is much material of this nature travelling in the opposite direction, but what is BEIS’s analysis of the traffic in the opposite direction, and what impact would that have were the European Union not to reciprocate in equal measure to the way we have gone about continuing the Euratom process?

The noble Lord behind me—I am afraid I do not know his name—

I guessed it was Wales. The noble Lord mentioned competent authorities, and obviously the ONR is a competent authority to handle this kind of material. What extra competence is required of the environment and natural resource agencies highlighted in the Minister’s speech to manage this process?

Finally—again, this came up in the other place—there was some confusion between the Minister and some MPs in the debate over the ability of this process to continue to track radioactive material as it moves around the United Kingdom. The Minister seemed clear that it was competent to do this, and that was brought into question. The Minister promised to write to the Opposition Front Bench spokesperson on this subject. I am not aware that that letter has gone out but, given that the Minister in the other place saw fit to write on this subject, it would be helpful if the Minister could let us know the content of that letter to underline the competence or otherwise of this process to continue to track these materials as they travel throughout the United Kingdom.

I also thank the Minister for his introduction to the regulations. I confirm my understanding that they just cover the situation under a no-deal outcome and that if there is a deal, these would fall into the future relationship category, subject to negotiation. One might think that even a no-deal situation would lead to a deal of some sort downstream.

Labour agrees that we must have an effective, operable statute book under all circumstances at the time of EU exit and therefore does not oppose the regulations. That is not to say that we are at all happy in the round with having to face a no-deal scenario, which is not supported.

The regulations provide continuity and certainty regarding Euratom and the compliance with nuclear safeguards that the House agreed to last year. The Minister mentioned that the regulations will be implemented through the relevant competent authorities in the UK: necessarily, the Office for Nuclear Regulation for nuclear site licences, but also the Environment Agency in England, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Natural Resources Wales and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, regarding their different agencies for non-nuclear licences.

As the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said a few questions about the regulations were necessarily explored in some depth in the other place. First, on whether the regulations apply only to imports from the EU to the UK, I wondered whether existing agreements on exports to the EU, currently operable through Euratom, would continue to apply. The second point regards the obvious obligations for exporters in EU member states that would fall away. Would a new system be under discussion with Euratom in a no-deal scenario, or would that happen only under negotiations on the future relationship? That is an important point to distinguish under a no-deal scenario.

Once again, I have noted and am grateful that the regulations were drafted in collaboration with the devolved Administrations, all the relevant agencies and the ONR. However, what about Euratom, which will need to continue to be the regulating authority of the Euratom membership? Has it been included in these discussions such that it is happy that we will be fully compliant with IAEA regulations—something that the Minister will have ensured in any case?

As the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, in the other place, there was a query about the extent of the application to both sealed and unsealed sources. The Minister in the Commons stated that unsealed sources are not covered by the regulations, so it is a completely different matter with a completely different system. Against that, the Explanatory Memorandum states at paragraph 2.2:

“The Regulation covers both ‘sealed’ and ‘unsealed’ radioactive sources”.

There is confusion because that apparently was not made clear by the Minister in the other place, so it would be excellent if the Minister could reconcile that to us and follow up the queries to which I, my noble friend Lord Jones and the noble Lord, Lord Fox, drew attention.

Otherwise, I am content with the regulations.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester, Lord Fox and the noble Lord, Lord Jones, of Wales, as we shall now refer to him, if he is happy—I am sure he will be—with such a grand title.

I think the less said about last Saturday the better, but that is another matter. I shall start, because of last Saturday, by dealing with the noble Lord’s question, which is pretty straightforward. I can assure him that “shipment” refers to any form of transport. It might have the word “ship” in it, but it also covers trains, which, as he knows, have been used a great deal over the years to move nuclear waste and nuclear materials around all parts of England, Wales and Scotland. Whether by road or whatever, “shipment” covers everything.

I note also what the noble Lord said about Wylfa. Now is neither the time nor the place to go over that again. We hope that something will emerge in due course, but he knows the reasons why that could not go ahead.

I turn to the questions asked by the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Grantchester. On whether the measure covers both sealed and unsealed transportation, I know that my honourable friend Mr Harrington is meeting his opposite number, Dr Whitehead, about that tomorrow. I hope they will be able to resolve whatever uncertainties there were between the two of them on that matter. I hope also that they will be able to follow up the confusion relating to tracking and deal with the letter to which the noble Lord, Lord Fox, referred.

I thank the Minister for that. I realise that his colleague is always right, but do we have any inkling as to how this question will be resolved? In other words, is the Explanatory Note that states the measure deals with “unsealed” as well as “sealed” incorrect, or was the impression given in the other place perhaps misunderstood and the Explanatory Note correct?

My honourable friend is always correct, but, as the noble Lord knows, even Homer nods, and he might not have been quite as correct as he normally is on every occasion. As I said, I would prefer to have that dealt with tomorrow, between my honourable friend and Mr Whitehead.

The noble Lord asked also about the impact on exports and the reciprocal nature of this. I am afraid I cannot give him any figures about how much is going the other way. If there are some figures on that, I shall certainly write to him. The position in relation to UK exports into the EU obviously sits entirely within the EU’s competence after exit. Operators have been advised that they should seek guidance from the EU and member states on any future requirements on exports to the EU. In that respect, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, that we will continue to maintain close relations with Euratom, just as relations with the International Atomic Energy Agency remain important. It is keen that we bear in mind the standards that it will wish to maintain in this area, just as we have always done. I made it clear throughout the passage of that first bit of Brexit legislation, the Nuclear Safeguards Act—which I am sure noble Lords will agree seems quite a long time ago—that we would continue to maintain close relations with those bodies, and I make it clear it now. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Fox, who asked whether this was the last bit of EU exit legislation relating to nuclear matters but then thought that the next instrument also dealt with such matters. The next statutory instrument is not technically an EU exit regulation, so I think my honourable friend was correct in saying that this was the last of our EU exit statutory instruments on nuclear matters. As he is aware, we still have to deal with quite a number of other EU exit SIs and legislation.

I think that deals with almost all the questions noble Lords asked. The final one was on the competence of the various environmental agencies and whether they have the appropriate skills. All the environment agencies have been dealing with these matters already, so there will be no extra burden on them and no extra skills to acquire. They will continue to work in this field.

Can the Minister confirm that it is about not just their skill set but their resource levels, which must be adequate to take on these tasks? It would be useful to have his confirmation on the financial implications of that.

I cannot give the noble Lord any precise figures at this stage, but I can make it clear that they will continue to be adequately resourced for whatever they need to do. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.