Nuclear safeguards in the UK

This articles examines the key nuclear safeguards currently applicable in the UK, including the Euratom and IAEA safeguards.

26 June 2017

In the UK, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy leads on safeguards policy while the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has overall responsibility for implementation.

The ONR’s wide reaching powers are defined in the Energy Act 2013 as:

"... ensuring compliance by the United Kingdom, or as the case may be, enabling or facilitating compliance by a Minister of the Crown, with the safeguards obligations... and the development of any future safeguards obligations.”

The safeguards obligations referred to are defined in the Energy Act 2013 as including:

The key safeguards legislation currently applicable in the UK includes the following:

  • Commission regulation (Euratom) 302/2005 on the application of Euratom Safeguards which directly effective without being transposed into UK law.
  • The UK Nuclear Safeguards Act 2000 which implements the UK's obligations under the Additional Protocol and provides the legal basis for IAEA safeguards inspections,
  • The Nuclear Safeguards (Notification) Regulations 2004 which make further provision for information required by the Additional Protocol.

What are Euratom Safeguards?

The Euratom Treaty has established a system of nuclear safeguards aimed at ensuring that ores, source materials and special fissile materials in the territories of Euratom member states are not diverted from their declared use. Commission regulation (Euratom) 302/2005 requires nuclear operators in the Euratom Community to communicate the basic technical characteristics of their installations to the European Commission via their national nuclear regulatory authorities. Operators are also required to maintain high standards of materials accountancy and control and open their facilities to independent verification activities by the European Commission, which can include real time monitoring and physical inspections.

What are IAEA Safeguards and how do they apply in the UK?

As well as Euratom Safeguards the UK is also subject to a complementary international safeguards regime administered by the IAEA pursuant to the NPT and its associated agreements. Although most non-nuclear weapons states under the NPT are subject to a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA, the requirements of which are broadly similar to Euratom Safeguards, the obligations imposed on nuclear weapons states such as the UK and France are not subject to any mandatory safeguards obligations under Article 3 of the NPT.

In order to address concerns that non-nuclear weapons states would be subject to a significant commercial disadvantage, the UK (in common with other nuclear weapons states under the NPT) volunteered to accept IAEA safeguards on its nuclear facilities in the form of a VOSA. Although the intention behind VOSAs was to ‘level the playing field’, many commentators argue that their scope and impact are significantly less than the comprehensive safeguards imposed on non-nuclear weapons states and indeed the Euratom Safeguards regime.

For more information on this topic, please contact Ian Salter or Ian Truman.

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Ian Salter

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