The expert quality of advice from Prospect was praised in the House of Commons last night by MPs from different parties as the Nuclear Safeguards Bill completed its passage through the House of Commons. The Bill was passed unamended after a detailed debate and will now go through to the House of Lords for further deliberation.
Prospect have always argued that this new legislation is necessary as a contingency measure, but that the government should continue to seek a close associate status with Euratom, the nuclear regime that has ensured world class standards in the UK nuclear industry.
Prospect members in the nuclear sector have expressed serious concerns about the consequences of leaving Euratom, and these were expressed by MPs from all parties who piled pressure on the government to seek the closest possible relationship with Euratom after Brexit.
Prospect senior deputy general secretary Sue Ferns was one of a select few witnesses called to give evidence to MPs ahead of the debate and her warnings about the capacity for the Office for Nuclear Regulation to take on the responsibilities of Euratom without significant additional resources were quoted multiples times in the debate, with Shadow Energy Minister Alan Whitehead describing her as an “excellent witness”.
Overall the debate was of a good quality and the efforts of Prospect and the nuclear industry to educate MPs about the complex nature of nuclear policy over the last few months have clearly paid dividends. The government have moved substantially from their previous insistence that we must leave Euratom, to a recognition that the UK should be attempting to negotiate something that looks like an associate membership.
It is especially notable that many Conservative MPs were putting the government under pressure about this, a testament to the success of Prospect’s cross-party evidence-based approach to working with MPs.
The Bill is now passing to the Lords and many concerns remain. We have yet to see an open discussion about how any new nuclear regime will be funded and an honest appraisal from government about the capacity of the ONR to deliver on what it may be asked to do. The government also needs to address the other elements of Euratom that go beyond safeguarding, such as the ability for nuclear scientists to move freely across different research projects in Europe.
Prospect will continue to apply pressure to the government as the Bill passes through the House of Lords and as the UK enters the next phase of the Brexit negotiations. It is vital that the voices of the experts who work in the nuclear sector are heard as the UK negotiates a new nuclear relationship with the EU Prospect will continue to push for policies based on evidence and expert opinion, not on political dogma.